When I boarded the bus to Mt. Fuji on Day 2 of my stay in Tokyo, I began to wonder about how tiny apartments could be in Japan.
The expressways we drove through gave us glimpses into people’s lives in Tokyo, snaking as they did around buildings, always above ground, always at least two stories high.
I saw many, many one room apartment complexes, a Japanese building climbing up like a straight reed with toy doors and toy windows, and invariably, a flower or plant peeking out from behind the curtains.
If you see the morning crowd rush, you would think the Japanese the most prim-and-propah dressers in the world, the men in suits, even those on bicycles, and the women in knee-length skirts and pump shoes.
None of the layered clothing, pink and green colors on hair, woolen caps, tall, strange shoes and boots and vibrant scarves I had seen on the Ginza yesterday. It is as if there were two Japans, two kinds of Japanese. One more corporate than corporate Europeans, and the other more punk than punks.
Our guide, a bald, white-haired, spectacled Japanese, explained that one-room apartments were the only option for the young people in Japan, because real estate is very expensive. No wonder, given that Tokyo is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
An average worker’s salary, he informed us, was about 48000 usd a year, which was not enough for a lot of things in Japan. His bitter story of Japan’s economic downturn and call for change in the recent Japanese elections continued through the day. We wondered if he had a single good thing to say about Japan. He didn’t.
We were stuck in a jam for most of our one-hour drive through the city. Our only consolation was we could see Mt. Fuji, or Fuji san, as we drove through a clear cloudless day.
The view became easier on the eyes as we hit the inter-state, and soon we caught glimpses of rolling hills and red-roofed toy houses in the green towns and villages we passed though.
The paddy-fields were a gorgeous, eye-catching green, and not even a lecture from our ironically smiling guide who informed us of the poverty of the farmers could dampen our spirits at the sight of the bright vistas that passed by.
When Mt Fuji revealed itself in all its glory, we fell in love with its symmetry, as if a child had drawn a mountain, equal slopes on both sides, the flat crater in the middle.
I clicked a hundred pictures as Fuji san towered over the surrounding landscape, all inhabited, so very different from other mountains, accessible by road to the 5th base in four different spots,and an easy climb for most determined walkers.
As I looked at Fuji san through the window of my bus, he seemed to say something to me, only I couldn’t catch it. Lunch at a hotel surrounded by pine trees. A quiet place, shining, relaxed under the cool breeze and the warm, in-your-face sun.
We then drove down to Lake Kawaguchi, one of the five surrounding Fuji, and from there admired the cloudless view of the mountain again.
I had imagined I would not want to take pics, it was a snowless Fuji that met us after all, but I found I could not take my eyes off its perfect proportions. The surrounding hills and greenery were gorgeous too, but I just could not get my eyes off dear old Fuji san.
We took the Lake Kawaguchi Mt. Tenjō Ropeway up the hill opposite the lake, and the view, as from nearly all touristy rope ways, was not un-spectacular. The thrill for me was going up through the pines though, and being able to see right into the heart of each one: tall proud, stately.
The drive to the 5th station up from Lake Kawaguchi is one of the greenest I have been on for some time, and I live in quite a green country. The road up to Fuji is paved but tiny, barely enough for the width of the bus, and I could imagine it from July through August, scores of climbers walking their way up towards the base, when the road is closed to vehicles. People trudge through the trail at night and climb up the mountain, for what I have heard is a magical, unreal sunrise.
The 5th base of Mount Fuji proved to be an enchanting place. On one side was Mount Fuji, and all around were pine covered hills, blue skies and clouds. Paradise must look like that sometimes.
I sat myself down and looked up at the face of the mountain, wrapped in a shawl I had had to pull out.
It was chilly, and as I sat looking up, it came to me, what the mountain was all about. ‘I am big, and you’re small, and that is the way it should be.’
There was something comforting in its symmetrical, calm, overwhelming presence. Even though I knew this was a volcano, dormant but very much capable of destruction, I sensed a reassuring benediction pouring forth from it into the surrounding landscape.
I kept looking back as we drove down, catching occasional glimpses of the mountaintop and told myself it would be nice to come back and attempt the 7 hour hike to the top some day.
The drive back through the rolling Japanese countryside dotted with cute little homes surrounded by well-tended gardens that looked like pixies and fairies just might live there, was a treat in itself.
We also drove through Hakone, a beautiful town that is on my list of places to stay in if I ever visit Japan again.
The bus tour ended at Odawara from where we took a 40-minute Shinkansen ride to the Tokyo station. While the eventual ride itself was rather uneventful, it was fun watching the bullet trains whooshing in and and out of the station while we waited for our Shinkansen to arrive.
We got back, tired but happy, from the Tokyo station back to our hotel in Shinjuku. It was my turn to explore Tokyo on my own the next day, on Day 3 of our stay in Japan.