Japan (Part 2/3) 1 2 3

Kyoto

As the old imperial capital city of Japan, Kyoto is home to many world famous sights: be it the many temples, the narrow Pontocho Alley with its geishas, the Philosopher's walk, or the nearby Fushimi shrine featuring hundreds of red gates. It is also quite different from Kobe. If Kobe is New York, Kyoto is Los Angeles. Instead of the tall and compact buildings forced onto Kobe by the thin stretch of land it occupies between the sea and a mountain, Kyoto is the definition of urban sprawl. While there is nothing particularly wrong with this, to you as the tourist this means you will need to travel much greater distances visiting the many highlights.

Excellent gyoza in ChaoChao

As I am writing this almost three years later, I no longer remember what hotel we stayed in. I do remember though that it was quite central and close to a well rated Gyoza ChaoChao, restaurant specializing in the gyoza "pot sticker" dumplings imported from China. We walked over there the evening of our arrival. The next day we set off to explore the city. We walked the Philosopher's Walk, although the famous cherry trees were already past their bloom. We also visited many temples and got to try excellent tofu.

The Philosopher's Walk and the Silver Pavilion
It was hot and humid today. I was totally drenched and even my camera started fogging up!
More sightseeing in Kyoto
Tasting tofu in a tofu restaurant
Beautiful red pagoda and the main hall of Kiyomizu-dera
The Nijo castle and its garden
The Golden Pavillion Temple
We also traveled to Nara, a near-by town famous for its deer park - and I guess also general Japanese craziness
Nara deer park
Todai-ji temple in Nara
Visiting the temple
More sights from the Nara temple
And back in Kyoto at night
Walking the Pontocho Alley at night and later enjoying some cocktails
The next day we visited the world famous Fushimi Shrine

Mt. Fuji

From Kyoto we next traveled to the village of Kawaguchiko at the base of Mt. Fuji. Here we stayed in a traditional-style ryokan hotel overlooking the lake. In these hotels, there is no bed. Your room just contains bamboo mats onto which a mattress is placed for sleeping. The rooms also don't have any western style chairs, instead you sit on the floor on a cushion with a backrest. Ryokans generally include a traditional style breakfast consisting of various pickles, fish, and a raw egg.

There it is: Mt. Fuji! Also our room set up for a day use so without the mattress.
View of the lake from our room
That evening we got together with colleagues from IEPC: Rob and Jonathan climbed Mt. Fuji earlier that day. We decided to go to a fugu (blowfish) restaurant, but as none of us died despite the food being very cheap, I suspect it wasn't the real thing.
7-11 is prevalent in Japan but it sells much different items like spaghetti or corn sandwiches! The stores also sell these mystery rice balls. Unless you read Japanese, you have no idea what's on the inside. Some would have tune (good) while others had pickled plums (gross).
The next morning we set off to climb the mountain, wearing just our running clothes and a stash of the mystery 7-11 rice balls.
The `climb' is really just a long hike
There are some steep sections but it doesn't get any more technical than shown here
And here we are on the summit of Japan's highest mountain. Despite being 12,389 ft tall, you don't need any climbing gear to reach the top. There are even buffet stations along the way to buy snacks or drinks. Yet despite of this, we saw many locals with huge mountaineering backpacks. Even more amazing was seeing them breathing from small portable oxygen bottles on the top. There was no need for any of this.
Walking to the summit caldera
The way down is a long and dusty slog. Sandra tried her best to hitch a ride but no luck...
Coming down Mt. Fuji

There is more: continue to page 3 for our visit of the snow monkeys.

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