Day 40: THE FICKLE FUJI
We awoke at 5am to very sunny skies. It was turning out to be a clear day and that must mean that Mt Fuji (destination for today) should make itself visible.
So with haste, we got our stuff together and dropped the keys in the box as we tried to quietly make our way out of the Turtle Inn Annex by 5:30am. And that was when we made our little hike while rolling the luggages through the quiet residential streets to the Sogokaikanmae stop.
We felt a little guilty making a little bit of a raucous with the luggage wheels grinding with the pavement. The sun also made things a little bit hot even though it was technically cool in the morning if we weren’t exerting ourselves. Our raucous also woke up some dogs and caused them to bark.
By 5:45am we made it to the desired Sogokaikanmae stop. And the first thing we saw was the timetable at the stop itself. Unfortunately, we showed up an hour too early as the first bus of the day doesn’t arrive until 6:34am. I guess we should’ve seen this bus schedule and remembered it two days ago so we could’ve used the extra half-hour of sleep.
Anyways, this amounted to a delay as we wouldn’t be able to catch neither the 6:01am nor the 6:30am train from Nikko Station to Utsunomiya. The only shot we had was the 6:46am train and that meant our plans would already be delayed.
This was not good because I had hoped for seeing Mt Fuji before the afternoon clouds would show up on a day like this. And we couldn’t assume that tomorrow would have any better weather either.
Sure enough, the 6:34am bus showed up on time and I had to get on the bus with the luggage. These buses definitely don’t cater to travelers with luggage as their walking corridor is too narrow. I’m sure I had to muster all my upper body strength just to even get our luggages onto the bus and then try to lug it onto one of the seats since there was no empty space for them.
Mercifully, we got to the station at around 6:44am and quickly headed right onto the awaiting 6:46am train to Utsunomiya. We managed to get our seats and headed off soon thereafter.
As the train made stop after stop, it seemed that people were piling in. At first it was armies of students in uniform crowding the train and then the workers started to come in. By the time we got to Utsunomiya, the train was almost packed like sardines. So this must be what rush hour is like in suburban Japan.
At 7:30am in Utsunomiya, we got onto a shinkansen train bound for Tokyo except none of the seats were reserved except for the expensive green cars, which were basically premium seats located upstairs on the double decker train. We guessed right when we got on the lower deck but didn’t immediately find luggage space so I hijacked the aisle and one of the seats. Again, this didn’t seem like it was suitable for travelers with luggages and it seemed more suited for commuters both to and from work.
By 8:10am, the train was already on its first of four stops. It seemed like it took forever as I felt bad making people squeeze their way through the luggage in the aisle.
About 5 minutes later, I realized that the back seats had space behind them. So I took the opportunity to move the luggages behind those rear seats and that really freed up space and my conscience. Too bad we were more than half way done with our train ride when I figured this out.
A few minutes before 9am we arrived at the Tokyo Station. We knew to head straight for the Chuo Line (instead of the Yamanote Line like last time) to connect to the Shinjuku Station. The problem was that once we got on the correct platform, we couldn’t figure out which side of the platform we should be going to.
So I went into the train that was currently there and tried to read some of the signs to get an idea of whether it was the right train or not. The signs didn’t help me much though. But just as I was about to leave the train with Julie waiting for me outside, the door closed!
The train was about to move and both Julie and I were separated! Julie panicked and my heart started to race. So both of us tried real hard to force the doors open before the train moved.
Luckily, the door opened and I managed to squeeze out of there just before the train door shut again and the train moved. A few moments later, the train from the other side of the platform showed up and we got on that. Upon reading the signs in there, it seemed we caught the correct train here. Had we taken the one we nearly got separated on, we would’ve been taken further away from Shinjuku!
Whew! Another close call!
At around 9:15am, we made it to the Shinjuku Station. We thought it wouldn’t be that big a deal getting a ticket for a 9:40am bus bound for Kawaguchiko. Plus, Julie said she was running out of cash so we thought we mind as well use this time to get some cash from an ATM (too bad Japan is mostly a cash-based society and don’t take credit cards often).
Now I wasn’t about to lug my luggage back into Shinjuku near our old hotel (which happened to have an ATM that accepted foreign cards). So I waited at the information area in the Shinjuku Station for Julie to get the cash. I thought this would be a painless affair.
Well, it wasn’t until after 9:30am that Julie finally returned. By then, we rushed over to the Keiko Bus Ticket Office getting there at 9:40am.
But that was when Julie got the bad news that both the 9:40am and the backup 10:10am buses were sold out! I guess we made a mistake not going for the tickets first and now we were unexpectedly delayed once more. The next bus was 11:10am which was unacceptably late. We mind as well go for the JR Train to Otsuki and then pay for the private train ride to Kawaguchiko. Now I was having doubts as to whether we’re going to miss seeing Fuji the way it should be seen (as I had feared the later we arrived, the more clouds would start obscuring the mountain).
Ultimately, we caught the 10:10am JR Chuo Line to Otsuki. By now, I was at least wise to the way the luggage situation worked out within the seating area. So this time after we boarded the train, I put the luggage behind the back seats without any issues.
We got to the private Fujikyuku Line at Otsuki at around 11:40am. That was when we noticed that we had to pay 1410 yen per person, which was more than the 1110 yen per person we expected to pay. So we didn’t save that much on the 1700 yen for the bus ride, which was the better option had the timing worked out anyways.
That extra 300 yen was because it was an “express” train.
Anyways, this train ride went pretty smoothly and we did manage to see Mt Fuji out the window appearing through the haze. Too bad there were so many buildings and power lines often blocking the view of Mt Fuji, otherwise this would’ve been a superb train sightseeing train ride.
It wasn’t until 1:10pm when we finally got settled at the Station Inn. We did spend a half hour or so at the train station asking about the bus timetables as well as buying a ticket for the return trip to Shinjuku Station as we weren’t about to have another mishap of tickets selling out.
Fuji remained visible from the Station Inn hostel-style hotel as we checked in immediately thereafter. But I could see that the clouds were building. Still, we had to get through the checking in process while removing our shoes (using their slippers instead) and walking up the stairs carrying the heavy luggage.
Once that was done, we headed right back to the train station area for more info.
By 2:15pm, we were finally at the top viewing decks providing commanding views of the iconic Mt Fuji. But unfortunately the clouds had already started to cover the very top of the conical snow-capped mountain. Indeed, we probably missed a clear Fuji by a half-hour or so. So all those delays that led up to this added up and costed us.
We hoped tomorrow might bring similar weather, but you can never be sure about these things.
Still, we did see most of the mountain and it was only a pocket of clouds partially blocking the uppermost parts of the mountain. I guess it could be worse.
After this excursion, we ran a few errands buying some cheap pastries and liquids at liquor stores as well as a few ice creams to cool us down.
The interior had sort of a charming old traditional Japanese feel to it (the vendor said this building was 150 years old). Unfortunately, they only accepted cash payments and the food wasn’t cheap. So we ended up splitting some combo that costed 4200 yen. Fortunately, it was filling but I’d say the food was ordinary. It was really the novelty of it (and the fact it was one of two restaurants that appeared in LP) that got Julie to want us to come here.
When we left the restaurant, we noticed that Mt Fuji’s top was revealed once more. I theorized that perhaps the cooling weather kind of made the clouds start to dissipate again. So we returned to the Station Inn at 6:30pm and tried to take photos of the mountain in its form (boo on those power lines running across the view), but we sure wished we were at the Cable Car or some scenic lakeside view at this point.
And rubbing it in was the annoying crosswalks by the Kawaguchiko Station constantly playing some kind of annoying toy music. It’s driving us insane like the good ‘ol fashioned Chinese water torture.