At the end of the last holiday bragging post, my friends and I had just finished visiting Nijo Castle in Kyoto, and were getting onto a train to get to Nagoya. So began the most intense (travel-wise) part of the trip in Japan; Sunday morning we were in Kyoto, and the following Friday we were in Tokyo, having travelled through Nagoya, Matsumoto, Nagano, and the lakes around Mt. Fuji. Welcome to part two: From Kyoto to Tokyo.
We arrived in Nagoya after a 40 minute ride on the Shinkansen. We literally got to our hotel, checked in, chucked our luggage in the room, and left. We were on a mission to get to the Winter Light Festival, in the Nabana No Sato flower park in Kuwana City. We knew we had to catch a train and a bus, but the information I had found to get there proved to be incorrect. So after 30 minutes of turning back on our journey and figuring out what train station we were supposed to catch the bus from, we eventually got there. The lights were really pretty! The front area had all bright blue lights which were cool, but made us feel a little cold. Then around the buildings the trees were all lit up different colours, which looked awesome reflected in the ponds. At the back there was a couple of light tunnels and a light show set in the Alps which involved a lot of yodelling? Not really sure what was going on there, but it was actually pretty cool because the display changed through the four seasons. We watched the show about four times (it wasn’t very long), and by the end I was well and truly sick of the yodelling. There was a slight drizzle, and we were feeling a little chilly, so we went to an outside hot spring spa where you could put your feet in. Nothing like naturally hot water for weary feet 😀 We would have easily stayed the whole night there if the park hadn’t closed and we were kicked out. It was then that we discovered that we had missed the bus back to the train station by six minutes dammit Japan why do expect everyone to be punctual?! Our only option was to make the twenty minute walk back to the train station, through the back streets and residential areas, and in a light rain. Thank goodness for Google maps. We caught one of the last trains back to Nagoya, and then found a awesome little restaurant-slash-bar, since the food at the festival had been crap. Finally back in the hotel room, the three of us crashed, fully dressed. Travel can be exhausting!
Despite our exhaustion and the late night before, we still managed to wake up pretty early the next day. Checking out of the hotel and grabbing breakfast, we then went back to Nagoya station to buy tickets on the semi-express train to Matsumoto, where I really, really wanted to visit the castle. After an hour’s wait, we went up onto the platform all ready for the train. Except it didn’t arrive; very unusual. It seemed that the mountains were experiencing heavy snowfall, which was why our train was delayed. Thirty minutes after it was due to arrive, we were finally on the train, but no sweat… we still had lots of time before the last admission. Except our train kept getting more and more delayed, having to stop frequently for snow to be cleared from the rails. I began to get a little wary… would we get there before 4.30 pm? Fortunately, I was frequently distracted by the beautiful snowy scenery. We finally go to Matsumoto, stowed our luggage in the lockers, and then made a very brisk walk over snow and ice to get to the castle. We entered the park surrounding the castle at around 4.28 pm… on the opposite side to the entrance. Theoretically, we could have made it into the castle, but we decided to instead enjoy the fresh snow in the surrounding park, and just admire the castle instead. The castle was so pretty, anyway, so I don’t feel like I missed out on anything! We had a couple of snow fights and just played around in the snow. Once the sun set, we decided to get something to eat before continuing on our trip to Nagano. The latest we could check into our hostel was 10.00 pm, and we bought tickets for a train that would get us there at 8.39 pm… except that we learnt the train before ours had been delayed by 40 minutes (we should have really tried to get tickets for that train, but lesson learnt). Fortunately, we did manage to get into Nagano and to our hostel with only a short delay (thankfully the staff stayed up for us!). What a day!
We missed out on breakfast at our hostel due to a late start the next day, and instead went to a cafe at the train station. We then bought our tickets for the Jigokudani Monkey Park, which included train tickets to Yamanouchi, the town closest to the park. Once we arrived at the station, we caught a bus out to one of the onsen, which was the starting point for the walk to the monkey park. The road was covered in ice and slippery, but once we got into the snow it was relatively easier to walk. There was a little souvenir shop at the start of the actual hiking trail, where we stopped for one of my friends to hire correct footwear, and then we were off. The trail was only 1.6 km (1 mile) and a really easy walk. The surrounding national park was really pretty blanketed in snow! Once we started to get closer to the stream, we started to see lots of monkeys wandering around everywhere. They were pretty cute, but we kept our distance from them (I’ve always been cautious of monkeys after seeing them in Bali, Indonesia). We got to the natural hot spring that is used exclusively by the monkeys. Only one monkey was using it, and he looked pretty relaxed, soaking in the heat and steam! There was another monkey that was clearly wet, and must have been using it before we got there… how was it not freezing now?! There were plenty of monkeys not using the hot springs, and we ended up staying in the park until it closed. Afterwards, we continued back down the trail, returned boots, and then waited in a little shed that was the bust stop for the next bus to Yamanouchi. It was a 40 minute freezing cold wait in the dark, but we were back in the town in no time. Our first stop was to find somewhere to eat and warm up, and fortunately there was a great restaurant just around the corner from the station, where we had grilled onigiri, pork katsu, karage, fried octopus, and mixed yakitori. There was another foot spa just behind the station where we spent the remainder of the time before catching the last train back to Nagano.
The next day was one looooong day of travel. We had to get ourselves sorted for the trip to Mt. Fuji, and after having breakfast at the hostel, we made sure we were packed and ready to go. And then disaster struck… the zip on my suitcase split. Closer inspection revealed that the track had been damaged, so the zip wouldn’t be able to go back over it. Fortunately it was only the one corner of the suitcase that wasn’t closed, so if I was gentle enough with it, it would survive. My hopes sank as we saw the moderate snow fall outside; something that had obviously been going on since early, as the streets were thick with snow. It’s not much fun trying to pull a suitcase that is moments away from bursting through snow, but we eventually got to the train station. At the nearby shops, I bought two sturdy looking luggage straps, so I was at least safe for now. We decided to buy our train tickets from the counter, since our trip was an unusual one, and found out we were going to be travelling via Tokyo. No problems there; we boarded the Shinkansen for the 2 hour trip, the delays from the a few days ago no longer a worry, and we were off! We even bought bento from the trolley lady! At Tokyo, we were suppose to buy a ticket for a 2 hour bus ride out to Mt. Fuji, but we discovered we’d missed the last bus by 30 minutes. Bummer. Instead, we caught a train to Otsuki, and then a local train to Kawaguchiko, and finally arrived at 7.30 pm. We then had to walk across more icy and snowy roads to get the hotel, but at least it wasn’t snowing this time! After checking in, we went out for our first full meal for the day, but since it was so cold, it was back into the room not long after. I tried to fix the zip on my suitcase, but made it worse… now one zipper was completely off the top track! I went to bed hoping the straps would be enough to help it survive.
We spent two nights around Lake Kawaguchiko, right next to Mt. Fuji. On our first day, we bought a two-day tourist bus pass from the station, and jumped on the bus to check out the lava caves in Aokigahara, the “sea of trees” (and also known as Japan’s suicide forest). The bus ride took about 50 minutes, and the views of the surrounding area were absolutely beautiful! The first cave we visited was the Fugaku-Fuketsu (Wind Cave), which was quite small but interesting, and we were in and out of it pretty quickly. After trying some unusual corn-flavoured ice-cream, we walked around the corner to the Narusawa Hyouketsu (Ice Cave). This cave was shorter, but deeper, than the Wind Cave, and more difficult to get through. We had to pass through “Hell’s Cave”, where the lowest point of the ceiling is 93 cm (3 feet) from the floor! This cave had a lot more ice inside, but again, we were in and out pretty quickly. The souvenir shop next to the cave had some interesting things inside, and after a bit of shopping, we caught the bus back into town, before changing to a different bus to take us further around the lakes in the opposite direction. We were keen for some houtou noodles, a speciality of the area, and the small restaurant we visited served us a really large and delicious serving! There was a light display a littler further around the lake, and we went to visit them after eating. Some of the lights were half-buried in snow, and it all looked super pretty. We went to catch the bus back to our side of the lake… except we had missed it by 20 minutes (are you sensing a theme in this post yet?). So, at around 8.00 pm, in 0°C (32°F), we had a 5 km (3 mile) walk back to our side of the lake. Stomping through knee-high snow and slipping along on icy roads, getting weird looks from locals passing by in their cars, and laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation, we finally made it back an hour and a half later. All I can say is thank goodness Japan has drink vending machines everywhere. Fortunately, the next day didn’t involve any silly mistakes like that; instead we checked out of the hotel, stowed our luggage in the lockers, and caught the bus to the “Kachi Kachi Ropeway” for views of Mt. Fuji. We caught a cable-car up to the top, and although the peak of the mountain was initially covered in clouds, it cleared up while we were there. Plus we also got to see just how far we had walked the previous night! We explored a couple of the shops at the bottom of the ropeway, including one selling Fuji cookies (delicious), before deciding to get a move on to our next destination; Tokyo! But that’s a story for another post…
Phew, what a journey from Kyoto to Tokyo! If I were to do it again, I would definitely give myself more time in each of the areas we visited, especially around Matsumoto, which was super pretty. I probably would avoid the hectic Nagano to Mt. Fuji trip again, but you have these experiences so you can learn 😛 Keep a look out for the final part next week!