In November, I finally got to go on my dream trip - 2 weeks in Japan! At the time I was going, a good friend of mine who I met in Australia when I was on a summer internship was now living back in Tokyo, and my best friend Jason was teaching abroad for two years in Kobe. As luck would have it, I had a place to stay for almost every night of the trip! My brother Jeremy joined me for the second half of the trip, so he'll be making appearances in later blog posts. I took roughly a quintillion pictures, of which I have finally gotten past the halfway point as far as editing for the masses to enjoy. So, it's about time I finally start what will likely be a very long series of photo posts spread out over the next who-knows-how-long.
After 18 hours of traveling, a handful of chores at the airport, and a few stumbling conversations, I was on my way from Narita airport towards Tokyo to meet Masa (from Australia), who I hadn't seen in nearly 10 years. Upon arrival at the Suidobashi station, a few blocks from where we were going to meet, I was quickly greeted with my first two obstacles. Number 1 - the lockers at the train station were way too small for me to stow my luggage for the next few hours, so off I went towards the pub lugging everything I had brought with me. Number 2 - the notorious rainy weather of Japan immediately struck, resulting in my first major cultural experience - purchasing everyday supplies out of a vending machine. I bought an umbrella from a vending machine for about $10, crammed it between my armpit and my neck, found the most optimal way of holding all my luggage at once, and off I went to meet Masa in a comedic display of tourist fail.
Masa and I met, had some food and a drink, recollected old memories, and then it was back to his apartment for the night. I was finally settled in Japan.
The next morning was one of a few mornings where I had made several plans to choose from, where I could make my decision each morning based on the weather and how I was feeling. I woke up at some ungodly hour, pulled out my phone, and checked the weather. Today was going to be the only day of the next few to have a forecast of clear skies - specifically, a 2% cloud cover at Mt Fuji by noon. It was settled - I was going to knock out possibly the most important sight to me of the whole trip - Mt Fuji.
One of the best places to observe Mt Fuji, as well as do other tourist-like things, is a spot just southeast of there called Hakone (HA-ko-neh), which is little more than a small little town built around a caldera lake that runs along the old feudal highway that connected Kyoto and Tokyo. To get there was going to take about 90 minutes by several modes of transportation - train, bullet train, mountain train, cable car, ropeway, and boat.
On to the pictures!
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. While waiting for the mountain train after the shinkansen, I ordered this from a noodle shop inside of the train station, then proceeded to devour it while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with two Japanese businessmen that were crammed up to the only eating surface in the shop. Cultural experience #2 completed.
While waiting for the cable car to arrive, this platform worker thought it would be best to ensure the safety of all passengers standing on the platform... by standing on the tracks with an incoming train.
The ropeway up to Owakudani, where the views of Fuji were to first be visible. Exploding fall colors were everywhere in Hakone, which is higher elevation than Tokyo. Tokyo wasn't quite peaked yet, but that was fine by us because Kyoto made up for it a thousandfold. The Japanese call the fall color explosion "koyo".
Up on the ridge of Owakudani. I had spent about 20 minutes hoping for a glimpse of Mt Fuji, which was still covered with clouds by the time I got there. This girl was as persistent as I in getting her chance, and not a few minutes later, it finally paid off for both of us.
(l) either this old guy has already seen the mountain a hundred times, or maybe I should have done the 'ol head nod to indicate that there's something right behind him. The first time Fuji came out from behind the clouds, it literally took my breath away. I wasn't expecting for it to appear above the clouds! (r) Owakudani literally translates to something like "big boiling valley", because the area is highly volcanic and has big plumes of sulphur gas seeping out from underground.
As pretty as this view is, nothing short of a 3D camera could really capture what is so impressive about all 12,000+ feet (starting at nearly sea level) of Mt Fuji. The ground leading up to the peak is the most impressive part - it just buckles and exponentially shoots up towards the peak.
After the descending ropeway down to the lake, it was time for a short boat ride to the other side of the lake. In a surprisingly un-Japanese move, the boats were designed to look like pirate ships. Here is a sliver of Hakone from the boat, with the peaking koyo of Mt Komagatake behind.
Also from the boat - Hakone shrine, an important Shinto center in the area.
How to tell you're in Hakone - Lake Ashinoko, pirate boat, and Mt. Fuji. Check.
I had seen this angle in a picture somewhere, but I had no idea where it was until I literally stumbled upon it while walking the old highway. The gate (torii) is part of the Hakone shrine.
Old guard station from the feudal days. I can't figure out of those are guards or prisoners. Doesn't look like a fun spot to be a guard, either way.
This little man wouldn't stop screeching at me, so I shot him. With the camera.
Two varieties of my new favorite trees - Japanese maples - in full koyo mode.
All I saw when I took this picture (from far away at 200mm) were two cute dogs hanging out of a car. It wasn't until I opened this up on the computer at home and brought up the background that I realized I may have simultaneously been a victim of a snipe attack. Girl even had the same 5D Mark II as me!
After that I enjoyed a nice quiet walk for a few miles along the old Tokaido (east sea road) back towards the train station. Stopped at a quaint tea shop in the middle of nowhere for a snack and to rest my legs, then hopped the next bus down to the station to begin the journey home. Definitely did not skimp on the activity on Day 1!
Edited to include map:
View Japan Map #7 - Hakone in a larger map