Wild Goose Chases

Posted by on Mar 7, 2012 in General Travel, Japan | One Comment

With Kyoto behind us and our remaining time in Japan ticking away, we headed to Mt. Fuji’s Five Lakes region. I had convinced Robin that it would be cool to spend a couple of days at the foot of this massive volcano, so we climbed aboard another Shinkansen and rode the rails to Mishima. There, we planned to transfer to a regional bus for a long ride to Kawaguchiko, a tiny little town with a supposedly great view of Fuji-san. We were dangerously low on cash, and since getting money from ATMs can be a little unreliable in Japan, we attempted to find an ATM close to Mishima’s train station. We only succeeded in walking around aimlessly while getting rained on for 20 minutes. Wild Goose Chase #1…

We arrived in Kawaguchiko about 2 hours later, and it was already dark. We noticed that the skies had cleared and that the moon and stars were visible, so we were hopeful that the next day would bring nice views of the mountain. We hit our hotel-like hostel‘s adjacent bar for some sake and great conversation with the young Japanese bartender. He was thrilled to hear that we were from California, so he whipped out a tourism brochure with a map of the state and proceeded to ask us about all the state parks and where to go for some good rock climbing. We spent our last 700 yen on a second round of Mt. Fuji sake, then wandered out in search of cash and food.

Luckily, Kawaguchiko turned out to be a little bigger than anticipated and it had a plethora of 7-Elevens (at least 3 by our count). For foreigners with foreign ATM cards, 7-Elevens provide guaranteed access to cash while other ATMs are basically a crapshoot. We then found a great Indian restaurant and wolfed down some excellent food.

The next morning, we walked around town to see if the clouds had indeed parted. No such luck. This is what we should have seen, but this is what we actually gazed upon — clouds! I desperately wanted to get some pictures of Mt. Fuji and its reflection in the lake.

We never saw more of Mt. Fuji than this

We never saw more of Mt. Fuji than the base.

More clouds, less Fuji

More clouds, less Fuji.

We spent most of the day hoping that our luck would improve, but the weather never got any better. We strolled around Kawaguchiko’s lake and snapped a few more pics of the mountain, but our trip to the Five Lakes turned out to be Wild Goose Chase #2. No great pics for us. The town, however, had several redeeming attractions:

Mount Fuji Cookie Store

Fujiyama Cookie company. The cookies have a bit of icing on top, to represent the snow coating the mountain.

Hoto in Kawaguchiko

Hoto in Kawaguchiko. Hoto is a local speciality and it consists of lots of vegetables, miso broth, and special curly udon-like noodles. This particular bowl was served at Hoto Fudo (a play on words?), one of two hoto restaurants in town.

Mt. Fuji express at the Kawaguchiko train station

Mt. Fuji express at the Kawaguchiko train station. Gotta love all the illustrations of Mt. Fuji.

With Wild Goose Chase #2 in our rearview mirror, we bused it all the way back to Tokyo. There, we visited the Meiji Shrine. It’s a massive Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken.

Special sake barrels at the Meiji Shrine

Special sake barrels at the Meiji Shrine. The shrine also has an agreement with the French wine region of Burgundy, and each year France sends them barrels of wine!

We visited the Meiji Shrine because it was pretty close to our first stop of the day, the Oriental Bazaar. We’d read that they have some pretty unique gifts and we were looking for something in particular: sushi USB drives. We also paused for some real sushi in a restaurant that served something, um, less appealing:

Rare horsemeat. Ugh.

Rare horsemeat. Ugh. I'll pass.

Grom gelato shop in Tokyo

Luckily, there was a Grom gelato shop just down the street. We quickly forgot about the horsemeat. Notice the realistic plastic gelato display!

The Oriental Bazaar turned out to be a bust, so we asked for some advice and headed to Shibuya (the site of Wild Goose Chase #3). There, we wandered from store to store, hoping to find some freakin’ USB drives. Every store employee we spoke to assured us that another store probably carried them, but these things were clearly not much of a novelty to the Japanese. They were soooo 2008.

After hours of searching, we gave up and headed to the New York Bar for a drink. Made famous by Lost in Translation, this bar is the Park Hyatt‘s jewel and it’s perched on the 52nd floor of one of Shinjuku’s tallest towers. We savored a couple of pricey drinks and snapped some pictures:

The Park Hyatt's New York Bar

The Park Hyatt's New York Bar. It looks like 'Mad Men' in here!

Dashe Zinfandel? What???

Dashe Zinfandel? What??? I worked a grape harvest at JC Cellars in the fall of 2010, which is Dashe Cellars' sister winery. Both are located about 3 blocks from our apartment in Oakland, CA. It was surprising to see this on a menu 5,100 miles away -- and in a weird cocktail.

After dinner, we walked toward Shinjuku station and I decided to try one final electronics store. The sales clerk at Yodobashi camera showed me a large collection of sushi USB drives (salmon, tuna, kapa maki, ebi, etc.) and I picked out a nice piece of salmon for my brother-in-law’s (late) Christmas gift. There you have it: if anyone out there is looking for sushi USB drives in Tokyo, you can find them at the Shinjuku Yodobashi Camera store.

Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku

Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku.

Sushi USB drive (4 GB)

Sushi USB drive (4 GB) from Yodobashi Camera. (Photo from Toxel.com)

The next morning, we awoke at 5:00 am to run over to the Tsukiji fish market. It was pitch black and much of Tokyo was eerily quiet and freezing cold, but we quickly arrived and scoped out the action. Forklift operators were ferrying styrofoam containers full of fish around the market, while hungry merchants were slurping noodles at sidewalk shops:

Noodles at 5:00 am?

Noodles at 5:00 am? Yum!

A merchant lays out some fresh seafood at the market

A merchant lays out some fresh seafood at the Tsukiji market.

Sadly, that marked the end of our sightseeing in Japan. We ran back to our hotel, showered, and took a cab to the Tokyo City Air Terminal. There, we caught a bus to Narita Airport for our flight to Washington DC. The adventure, however, wasn’t quite over: after checking in with All Nippon Airways, I realized that my jacket was still on the bus… with my wallet! The bus had dropped us off a good 15 minutes earlier, so I sprinted out to the curbside attendants and explained the situation. The baggage handler took down my information, asked me where I had been sitting and what the jacket looked like, and told me to come back in 30 minutes.

I was sweating a little, but felt pretty confident that they’d be able to retrieve the jacket and my wallet. It was Japan, after all. Everyone’s honest! Everything works! Sure enough, precisely 30 minutes after I had frantically pleaded for help, a representative from the bus company delivered my jacket in a neat little bundle wrapped with rubber bands. His eyes nearly popped out of his head when I unwrapped the bundle and extracted my wallet from the inside pocket. We had a good laugh and I thanked him profusely.

As our plane climbed steadily into the sky, I looked out the window and saw Tokyo spread out before us. I focused on the Tokyo Sky Tree and the tiny buildings at its base, then gazed out to the mountains beyond the suburbs. “Hey, isn’t that Mt. Fuji?” asked Robin. I looked past the foothills and noticed that the clouds had finally dissipated, and the mountain was almost entirely visible. Yep, sometimes you catch the goose after all.

1 Comment

  1. Ed
    March 7, 2012

    A representative of the bus company hand delivered it to you?? Yes, that’s Japan alright. What a great place!


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