Day 7

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2007 (DAY 7)

Well this is our only “free day” so to speak and I have something quite interesting planned.  The JFMF people helped me secure this adventure, as I wanted something different. I am already in a big city, so I wanted to go to nature.  At 8:45 a bus came and picked me up from the hotel.  Oh, did I mention that I had shared this idea with a few other people and thought it was great and they signed on too.  That made a total of 9!  The bus took us to another location where we boarded another bus.  This program was being run by Gray Line, which have an outstanding reputation around the world for extraordinary day trips and tours.  Tourists from other hotels joined the group and shortly we were underway.  We were on the Tomei Expressway out of Tokyo, heading north, I think.  After about an hour we stopped in a rest stop for a few minutes.  We had just traveled through the green tea plantations, so this stop was selling packaged green tea and also chilled or hot teas, along with all kinds of other stuff.  I bought some tea and some chocolate covered mushrooms, and some sort of salty trail mix in a bottle.  Off we went.  There were beautiful mountain ranges in front of us.  All volcanoes, some active some dormant.  No, the active ones weren’t smoking.  There were clouds just sitting on the tops of the mountains, when suddenly the clouds broke and like a giant standing over dwarfs, there was Japan’s biggest and tallest, and one of the most famous of all volcanoes:  MOUNT FUJI !  It looks just the way the pictures showed.  The guide said that Fuji is shy, as it is rare to see all of it, as it hides in the mists and clouds.  We were seeing all of it.  Snow covered at the top and black and red down the sides of volcanic material.  This is one of our destinations for the day.  75 minutes later we arrived at what is known as the 5th station.  This station is the final point for hikers going up to the summit of Fuji.  The official climbing season is only July and August, and the trails are now shut.  We got out of the bus at the 5th station.  The trail was open for a little ways, so I took it.  Wow,  it is steep and the air is very thin.  It is very cold, too.  The ground is sharp and rough with the green, red, and black volcanic cinders.  The trail up is just carved out of the cinders, no other materials added.  The time went so quickly.  The views out to the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding mountains/volcanoes were beautiful, but hazy.  There was a small gift shop that I had about 5 minutes in and then time to go!  It took another couple of hours to wind down the tight mountain roads and across the valley and up over another volcanic rim, where there was once a volcano, but it fell in, and the crater filled with water part way creating a crater lake known as Ashi, in the region and national park of Hakone.  The Hakone volcanic area is covered with cedar trees that produce such a heavy pollen that in the spring the people must wear masks for a couple of months due to severe allergies.  The government is considering a plan to reduce the amount of trees and replace them with another type of cedar tree that isn’t quite so pollen-ful.  We arrived at a hotel where there was a lunch awaiting us.  It was almost 3pm, already!  The lunch was a chicken breast on noodles with vegetables and then a giant tempura shrimp on top.  By giant, I mean giant.  It was as big as your hand!  After that, we boarded the bus and then headed to the lake.  We had to be quick.  We boarded a “pirate ship” (actually a somewhat replica/copy of the HMS Victory, an old British battleship commanded by Admiral Lord Nelson) into the first class cabins.  I went up on deck.  Away we went across Lake Ashi.  The views of the red water shrines, the surrounding volcanic rim, and the buildings were amazing.  Suddenly, large birds swooped down.  They were fish eagles.  Before we knew it, we arrived at the other side of the lake and the bus was waiting for us.  Off we went again, and drove steadily and slowly up part of the volcanic rim.  We arrived at our destination.  Hakone Ropeway.  I really thought we would be going down, but no, we got off the bus to go up!  Giant glass cable cars carried us up the rest of the way to the top of the volcano.  The view down and back was spectacular.  It was so quiet, and it seemed like it was getting dark and we were approaching the gondola house to get out…I thought.  This wasn’t a gondola house at all, just a support point, and then BOOM!  The wind struck the sides of the cable car like a large kettle drum sound and we were over pits of boiling water and sulfur deposits in a side vent of the volcano….still very, very active.  How they ever built this thing I am not quite sure!  The smells were strong, and it was suddenly brighter as we were on the side and top of the volcano.  As we progressed across the pits, there was Fuji in the distance with the sun setting at its side.  Awesome!  Oh my, what choices to look at.  Then the gondola arrived in the house on the far side of this volcanic vent.  We had about twenty minutes to look around.  It was windy and cold.  But the views spectacular.  I hurried over to the side of the volcano and was able to get close to the boiling waters and visited a shrine that was built there.  It was getting darker and darker as the sun set behind the volcanoes that surrounded the foot of Fuji.  It was time to return to the bus.  Again, we descended down the side of the mountain and headed to a small town.  We arrived there in about an hour or so and a few of us had elected to return back to Tokyo a different way.  The driver gave us our tickets and wished us well.  The ticket was for the Shinkansen….the famous bullet train!  Instead of about three hours back to Tokyo, we would be back in 35 minutes, tops!  We went to the platform to wait for the train.  One bullet train went through the station, never slowing.  It’s speed was 247 kilometers per hour.  They can go over 300!  Ours arrived next and on we went.  It was like an airplane, only tons more room. Everything was a blur as it raced past.  We were home..well, back in Tokyo.  We transferred from the train then, to the subway and arrived back to a place that we knew.  It was time for dinner and there was a McDonalds on the way back to the hotel.  I ordered the combo meal…the shrimp burger combo meal…really! And I added a hamburger.  I got back to the hotel about 9pm, rode the elevator back to my floor.  There are rock musicians staying here, too, right now.  They are from Poison.  At I rode up in the elevator with them.  Quite interesting.  I got into my room and collapsed into sleep, until tomorrow, then.  What a day!