There are five lakes around Fujisan and in the morning of my return day, I rode with a bus to the neighboring lake called Saiko (which simply means “west lake”), to a traditional reed roof houses village with Fujisan views.
The weather was going downhill with more and more clouds, but Fujisan was still visible. Lake Saiko is smaller than Lake Kawaguchi and has only two small villages at its east and west ends. There is no train line going to the lake. In the past the bus rode from 9:00 in the morning to around 17:00 every half hour, bringing tourists to and from Lake Saiko, but now there are only two buses during weekdays and three buses during the weekend, that’s all! So you have to time it well to get there. It was worth the ride though, since the traditional reed roof house village is a very nice place to see.
Half of the around thirty houses are museums, the other half house crafts shops and I did quite some shopping, pottery items, incense and an arts shop with the drawings of a Japanese artists, he draws Buddhist themes, animals and also dragons 🙂
There are restaurants in three of the houses and I had some udon noodles there before heading back to Kawaguchi. Arrived there I rode once more with the gondola up the hill for more Fujisan views and then headed back home.
It was a fantastic little trip, but let’s be honest, without sunshine and the mountain out it’s only half as nice. You definitely need good weather for visiting the place 🙂 but if you have good weather, lucky you! The pictures do not do the closeness of the mountain justice. It’s an awesome place and I shall surely go there again 🙂
Since I, for the first time ever, had some holidays left that I had to take until the end of March, I took two days off and wondered what to do with them. Our state of emergency had just ended and we were officially allowed to travel again. (It’s possible to travel also during the state of emergency if necessary.) I decided on going to Lake Kawaguchi at the base of Mt. Fuji in the hope to have good weather and get a proper look at the famous mountain. I’ve actually never been to Lake Kawaguchi before, dreading the masses of tourists there. It’s, after all, the main spot for Fujisan. But since the number of tourists is so much reduced, I thought now was a good chance to head there. It’s only two hours by train and off I went. On my arrival day the weather was cloudy and cold and the top of Fujisan hid in the clouds. Nevertheless the base was visible and wow, Kawaguchi is really close to the mountain with no other hill anymore in between. I locked my luggage away in a station locker and promptly rented a bicycle to go exploring. Lake Kawaguchi is exactly north of the mountain and I rode along the northern shore visiting parks and a large shrine.
Lake Kawaguchi is at a height of about 850 meters and was much colder than Yokohama and I was happy for the down jacket I brought. It was so cold and windy that I needed a break and went to the very nice Yamanashi gem museum. They have a large collection of very pretty gems and a nice, big shop also. Then I checked into my hotel and it was perfectly situated at the south side of the lake with a great view at the lake and the mountain beyond it. Said mountain peeled itself more and more out of the clouds and the sunset was breathtaking while revealing the top of the mountain.
Sunrise was before 6:00 and I woke up at 6:00 and couldn’t resist peaking through the curtains and OMG not a cloud in the blue sky and a most magnificent view. After that I couldn’t really sleep anymore and got up around seven, having breakfast while enjoying the view.
In walking distance from the hotel is a ropeway up the hill and I went up there with one of the first gondolas. That hill is 1090 meters high and allows an undisturbed view at the entire Fujisan. Such an awesome sight.
On I went to the train station and rode three stations to a place called Shimoyoshida where there is a shrine and a five story pagoda with a famous Fujisan view. The view is indeed magnificent but you have to struggle up a ginormous over 400 stairs to get up there. It is well worth the climb though. The pagoda is famous for cherry blossom views but I was two weeks too early for that unfortunately.
Back at lake Kawaguchi I rented a bicycle again and rode along the south side of the lake to enjoy the views from there. Last but not least I took a boat ride on the lake with more Fujisan views. In the evening and after another magnificent sunset, there was a surprise fireworks over the lake, which was visible from my hotel window as well and it concluded a perfect day at the incredible mountain.
I spent some more time in the Ryukyu glass village, the idea being to get something nicer for my cocktail endeavors than the standard glasses I used so far. The martini glass was the biggest challenge since it is not among the Ryukyu glass standard but I think I found a nice solution with this one. They have some very fine stuff in the Ryukyu glass village! It’s a formidable place and I hope it stays in business during these rough times when there are so much fewer tourists than in the past.
On my last day I rode my bicycle to my favorite beach of Kita-Nashiro and along some more coastline, then went to sell the bicycle. I had hoped for 4000 yen for it, since it was used only for ten days after all, but they gave me only 3000 yen for it. I am not the negotiating type and left it at that. Had I rented a bicycle I would have paid around a thousand yen a day so that’s what I paid for the new bicycle also. The investment was completely worth it and I wouldn’t have had the holidays I enjoyed without it.
There is one story left to tell and that’s about the feral cats of Itoman. The Minamihama park at the sea, which was a few hundred meters down the road from my hotel, was crawling with feral cats. Some of them looked quite well and healthy, but around half of them had chipped ears, presumably from fighting with each other. Some run away when you come too close, but some, especially this one was very people friendly and allowed you to pet her.
Several people were distributing cat food, but I wonder if they do it regularly and if it’s enough for all the cats around. I would have liked to take one of the cats with me. It makes me sad that they are not having homes. I counted some twenty cats, but I’m sure there were even more. Well, at least some people are feeding them from time to time and play with them.
All in all Itoman is a hot candidate for my retirement plans 🙂 It’s close enough to some nature and also close enough to civilization. I’m far from done exploring though! Apart from remote islands, I also want to explore more of Okinawa’s main island’s middle and north. So until next time, which I hope will be for Golden Week 2021? Let’s see what corona will say… stay healthy, folks
Another “must” when you are in the south of Okinawa’s main island is to go to the peace park next to Mabuni hill in the very south.
I went there on first of January in again brilliant sunny weather. Unfortunately the peace museum was closed for new year, but I made new friends when another metalhead noticed my Be’lakor t-shirt. He’s from Australia and Be’lakor are an Australian band 😉 We chatted for half an hour 🙂 He and another Australian lady are teachers in the JET program and were posted to the remote Okinawan islands of Yonaguni and Aguni. I have been to neither island yet, so that’s a nice opportunity for future trips 🙂 Lessons learned is: always wear your metal shirts, they can be highly communicative! Lol. I rode on to the Mabuni hill and (from the outside) checked out the cave riddled rock, where the locals and also soldiers sought refuge in the last stages of WW2.
Between downtown Itoman and the peace park is another peace museum, which had open. It was telling the story of the Himeyuri girl-student corps who were working as nurses and also forced to bury the dead during WW2. Many of them were killed and the museum commemorates them.
The whole south of Okinawa is riddled with caves and in many locals sought refuge in them from the bombing during the WW2 battle for Okinawa. One notable cave is the Todoroki cavern.
I had intended to go inside, but man that cave was scary and spooky! I’m really amazed they just let it sit there and people can enter it if they want to. I mean it’s hella dangerous, if you fall and break a leg, you have to wait for the odd chance of another idiot stumbling into the cave. It’s apparently huge also. Very interesting but no thanks for going into the pitch black dark. Lol. After the almost cave visit, I rode my bicycle further south again to the rugged but beautiful coastline of Odo.
Due to not so great weather I went to Naha twice by regular bus. On the first trip I did my round of shops that I like and also went pottery shopping in the pottery street, which has become kind of a ritual for me when I’m in Naha. I bought a rice bowl, a plate and two small “plates” where you put your cutlery on (like a chopsticks holder, but for fork and knife), all in Okinawa blue 🙂 I also went to Shuri castle. I was surprised they actually let you onto the castle grounds. The main hall of the castle and several other buildings unfortunately burned to the ground on October 31st 2019. You can walk past where the main hall stood. So sad and I’m very glad I visited the castle when it still stood. I think they plan to rebuild it by 2026… sigh… It’s a nice way to get a bit of money though that they let you in. It’s only 400 yen mind, but better than nothing and there were some people around too, not overly many, but a few.
On my second trip to Naha a few days later, I went to a shrine I had not been to before and also a bunker south of Naha where the Japanese navy made their last stand. They hacked a significant tunnel system into the hill and it’s an interesting site.
The weather turned even worse with pretty much of a winter storm, but despite it I went by bicycle to a large shopping mall which sports a new aquarium. It’s in the town of Tomigusuku between Naha and Itoman where I stayed. I almost got blown away and froze my hands off to get there and got pretty wet. Winds were at 50 to 70 km per hour or 15 to 20 meters per second. I almost gave up but then pushed through. The aquarium is super modern. There are no explanatory signs around, instead they make you download an app and there are sensor pads instead of signs, which then load the information about the animals into the app. The aquarium isn’t big but quite nice and you could get astonishingly close to most animals. The sloth and the toucans were just behind a line! So you could even take a selfie with the super cute sloth.
Cape Kyan at the southern end of Okinawa’s main island is one hell of a beautiful place. It also comes along with a peace memorial. During WW2 much of Okinawa was bombed to bits, but the south was especially affected. Ever smaller and lonelier roads lead to the cape, through sleepy fishing villages and then fields. It was a beautiful bicycle ride. At the cape were four people and it was a quite lonely affair.
Then I discovered a great natural beach called Nashiro or Kita-Nashiro (its northern section). Three islands stretch out into the sea, during low tide you can walk to two of them but the third is separated from the others by a quite deep looking canal. It’s an utterly beautiful beach and I especially liked this rock with trees clinging to it. I went to this beach on about every second day of my stay.
My longest bicycle trip was to the Gyoku Sendo cave and the tourist park they created around it. The cave is fantastic! It’s one of the most impressive stalactite and stalagmite caves I have ever seen. The cave is very wet and comes along with underground waterfalls and an underground river.
It’s also lit up nicely. Another bonus point was that there were very few tourists. Of course there are still no overseas tourists and also the number of domestic tourists was quite moderate. I thoroughly enjoyed that cave, even if the bicycle ride there was not so nice with trucks thundered past me half the time. I actually visited the cave on my very first trip to Okinawa in the 90ties, but it was only one stop on a bus tour around the entire island and we were rushed through. It also was probably drier than it was now since it was at the end of summer when I visited back then. I don’t remember it being so jaw dropping. If you ever go to Okinawa’s main island, make sure you visit that cave. Around the cave they built the “Okinawa World” theme park with dozens of huts in which all local crafts are displayed and you can try out a lot of them yourself. Further, they have a small zoo centered around the Habu snake, which is a famous, highly venomous snake living around the Ryukyu islands. But the cave remains the main attraction of this park.
Originally I had wanted to spend Japan’s Golden Week in early May 2020 in Okinawa. State of emergency made me stay home and cancel everything way in advance. In summer I wanted to make the next try but canceled everything 36 hours before departure, as Okinawa declared a stand alone prefectural state of emergency in our second corona wave. Then I waited anxiously for the end of the year and whether the third attempt to get to Okinawa would be successful. It didn’t look good, since we got into the third wave and the new infections per day were higher than ever.
I booked a hotel a week in advance and a flight 48 hours before departure. I debated extensively with myself and others whether it was okay to fly to Okinawa or not. There were no official domestic travel restrictions in Japan at that moment. I booked an apartment with kitchen, so if I go to a supermarket in Yokohama or the city of Itoman it makes no difference. If I ride around with a bicycle in Yokohama or Okinawa, it makes no difference. I didn’t plan on going to any party or even a restaurant in the evening.
So in the end I headed for Haneda airport after all and it was actually pretty crowded. Also the flight was 80 % full. Wow! I was lucky and there was no one next to me, but there were many rows without a free seat… masks were of course mandatory. The flight to Okinawa takes around three hours, since it’s against the jet stream, back it’s only two hours. They break out no food on these flights, but only some soft drinks. Hardly anyone was eating anything so as to not have to take the mask down in contrast to previous flights were people broke out their bento boxes as soon as it was allowed.
I took a taxi from the airport, because my target, the city of Itoman is only 10 km south of it. I was even prepared for something like, we don’t take passengers who arrived from Tokyo, but luckily there was no such thing. My taxi driver was about 80 years old and basically just happy that I could speak Japanese, lol. He didn’t ask where I come from today, or which country either. He only told me proudly about a highway they started to build south (so far there is only a highway to the north) and that some military area has been taken over by the Japanese navy instead of the Americans, those are now only up north. The driver didn’t mention corona in any form.
While there are a few apartment hotels around in Itoman, it’s basically a “normal” town. Checking around in the internet revealed no bicycle rental anywhere. I only found a bicycle shop on the internet about 2km away and walked there first thing in the morning. As I already expected the bicycle shop only sold but did not rent out bicycles. But then again, if I rent a bicycle for a 1000 yen for ten days it’ll be 10,000 yen. The cheapest bicycle that they had was 13,000 yen. I asked them if they would take it back on the 4th of January if I bought it now, the answer was no, but they also told me about a recycle shop around the corner. So I went there and asked if they’d buy it off of me and they said yes and thus I bought the thing.
I promptly rode to the Ryukyu glass village, which was one of my targets and it was only three km away from my hotel. They have a fantastic shop with works of art and of course also usable glassware. They also offer a make-your-own-glass experience. Usually they let you do more process steps by yourself, but due to corona they cannot let people blow glass anymore. They blow it for you and you only do one step of finishing it up yourself. I also checked out the beach 500 meters down the road and enjoyed a fantastic sunset. All that would not have been possible without some means of transportation = my lovely new bicycle!
I’ve been making good use of the company closure days due to the coronavirus crisis and have visited plenty of day-trip targets during the past few months, Kamakura a stunning six times, Mt. Takao, Enoshima, Odawara castle and so on. Looking for new targets, one place jumped back into my mind and that is the castle of Matsumoto. I’ve been to the town of Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture, central Japan, once before and that was on my very first trip to Japan in 1993… OMG! That’s 27 years ago! Ahhhhh… It was quite a trip. I flew with Aeroflot, which was a drama of its own. I was a penniless student back then and yet wanted to stay for almost 3 months in Japan. I cut the visit short by two or three weeks, because I ran out of money, hahaha… After arrival in Tokyo, I soon left it and traveled up the Pacific cost, then on to Hokkaido. On the way back I rode (always with trains) down the Japanese sea coast side and stayed for one night I believe, maybe it was two, but not more, in a youth hostel in Matsumoto before heading back to Tokyo. The northern Japan and Hokkaido trip I did on my own, but I had guest families in Sendai and Sapporo. I also spent a week at a Buddhist temple in Aomori (unplanned). They let me stay for free in exchange for temple cleaning duties (I got lost in search of a famous temple, ended up at a “normal” temple and the priest and his wife invited me to stay after we chatted for two hours, it was a great experience). After some time in Tokyo, I went on a trip south and west together with another German student and we went to Kyoto, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and several other places along the way. But back to Matsumoto. I might not be doing the town much justice, but the absolutely main thing to do in the town is to visit its magnificent castle, which is one of the few original castles that have not been destroyed by fire and war and been rebuilt in concrete, as so many other castles. In 1993, it must have been end of August or early September that I was in Matsumoto and it was hot and humid. The weather was bad, it was raining and stormy, it might even have been the outskirts of a typhoon. I went to the castle but I did not go inside because it was too expensive!
I seem to remember that the price back then was a thousand yen or even more. It was 1993, we still had the German Marks, not the Euro. Lol Japan was just out of its “bubble economy” times where money was let me call it “abundant”, but alas, I was a poor student and didn’t have that money. The choice was, do I eat for those thousand yen today, or do I visit the castle? I chose to eat and did not go inside. But I never really forgot the disappointment to not have been able to visit the Matsumoto castle properly. For many years this was not in focus of course and there would have been plenty of opportunity to do the Matsumoto castle re-match, but it did not creep back to the surface until now. Suddenly it was like, hm… 2.5 hours by train one way, that’s doable as a day trip, I could go to Matsumoto and get my “revenge” after all these years. And that’s what happened on the 13th of November 2020. After 27 years (!) I rode that train to Matsumoto in glorious autumn weather and went to the castle and even the fee had become cheaper and was 700 yen, lol.
While the castle garden is very pretty, the castle itself is dark and cold inside and they make you walk around on socks to be gentle to the ages old wooden floors. I cannot deny though the great satisfaction to have now finally made up for the failed Matsumoto castle visit those staggering 27 years ago. It’s a fantastic castle and now I’ve finally seen it proper 😉
For my last day on Sadogashima I decided to go with the public bus to the other port town of Ogi on the south-western edge of the island. The main port is called Ryōtsu and located in the northern bay. The ride from the southern town of Sawata to Ogi took about one hour and fifteen minutes. It followed the coastline for a bit, then cut inland and climbed over the southern mountains. It was one hell of a lonely ride with only some ten people on the bus. Nevertheless they had a tourist information center in Ogi and you could rent a bicycle with battery assist for a few yen. I of course promptly did that and rode on to the target, the “bathtub ride” at the tiny islands of Yajima and Kyojima. In the old days locals used such tubs to ride along shallow reef coastlines, hunting for urchins and muscles. According to the lady who was my tub’s captain, some people are still doing this even today. I have the feeling though that more tourists are shipped with the bathtubs than urchins are being caught these days. It was fun but quite a wobbly affair and the danger that the tub will lose balance and empty you into the ocean was high 😉 You surely gotta balance your passengers on the tub.
Then I rode on to a secret cove and saw some incredible tugged away fishing villages. While I am looking for my prefect island retirement place, this kind of fishing village will surely not be it. The secret cove was a very nice spot though.
Back on the public bus, I changed buses somewhere in the middle of nowhere and rode on to the temple area. There is the Myosenji and the Sadogashima Kokubunji on the same road. The bus rode past Kokubunji and I thought it would be nice to walk back to it after having visited Myosenji and to board the return bus from there. Said and done, I got off at Myosenji, which is especially nice thanks to it’s five-stories pagoda. There was one family there visiting it apart from myself. Then I walked some two kilometers back along the road to Kokubunji and not a single soul was there. What was more, there was no sign of a bus stop. Yikes!
I waited at a parking area, determined to wave at the bus and hoping it stopped. There was nobody around and on the road a car passed me only once every few minutes. I already saw myself stuck there, either having to call a taxi or walking some five kilometers to the next village. But, the bus came, I waved, it stopped! Hya! Thanks! It felt very good to be back on that bus 😉 All things considered, Sadogashima is a beautiful island, remote, rather big, sparsely populated and a nice getaway from metropolis stress. I still prefer Okinawa though, because it doesn’t get cold there in winter 😉 Okinawa offers a “resort” feeling, even in the smaller and lonelier islands. Sadogashima lacks that “resort” aspect, but it has a rich history and is well worth a visit 🙂
On my second day on Sadogashima, I chose to ride with the public buses. They offer an all you can ride pass for up to three days and I took the two day pass. The main attraction on Sadogashima is the gold mine. Gold was discovered in 1601 and mining started soon after. The shogunate operated the mine for over 250 years. The mine ceased production only in 1989. Thanks to that the place is ripe with history. You can do two tours, one of the Edo times mine and one of a Meiji times shaft and if you ever go there, you should definitely do both tours. If you are a cave freak, there are also guided private tours of some two hours, which must be ordered in advance and they lead into shafts where the normal tourists do not go. I was quite happy with the regular tour though 😉 In the Edo period part, life-size robots show the toil of the people who worked there.
Many were “homeless” people who got picked up by the shogunate and were shipped to the island to toil in the mines. Their life expectancy was not very long. In the more modern Meiji period part, you get to go outside during the tour to admire the split mountain. Human hands chiseled away the missing part until that was depleted and they went underground.
Also the industrial relics of a former gold processing plant down the hill, which are all overgrown now, were quite impressive. The mine is definitely a must when you should happen to go to Sadogashima.
I walked from the mine down to the overgrown processing plant and stopped on the way at the reconstructed administration office of the shogunate that managed the mine. It looks nice from the outside, but inside it’s just empty tatami mat rooms. Right next to it is a local art museum displaying paintings of local artists. Most of the objects you can also buy and I bought this print for two thousand yen, waves in winter. I just cannot imagine how ghastly and cold it must be at Sado during winter! Brrrrr… according to Wikipedia Sado gets an average of half a meter of snow in January, average… there’s probably more! What I love about the painting is also that the presumably lighthouse looks like the ghost of some person 😉
My last stop for the day was the Sengaku bay. The public buses on the island don’t run very often and unfortunately I didn’t have enough time for a boat ride around this very scenic and beautiful bay but only snapped pics from above. Those are some fine cliffs 😉
Sadogashima is the sixth biggest island of Japan after the four main islands and the largest island of Okinawa. Sadogashima lies around 50 km off the coast of Niigata city and prefecture and the big car ferry ride there takes two and a half hours. The island has an odd shape with two mountain ridges to the east and west and a flat middle in between. The highest peak on Sadogashima is a whopping 1172 meters high and called Mt. Kinpoku.
Sado has a rich history, first as an island where political and religious figures unliked by the establishment were banished to, and second it is one of the very few places in Japan with natural resources, namely gold. Alas, the goldmine is long depleted. It took me twenty years of living in Japan before I went to this island with my usual interest more in the direction of the Izu islands and the Okinawa islands. But the company asks its employees in times of coronavirus to take their annual paid leave and so I made the rather quick decision to take a few days off and to go there.
Despite its decent size it’s a pretty quiet island with only some 55.000 inhabitants. That there are so few around might also have to do with strong winters and half a meter of snow, which I find hard to imagine! The boat ride from Niigata was a very lovely affair in nice weather, with seagulls following the ship the entire way, being fed with shrimp crackers from the tourists.
On my first day I borrowed a free bicycle from my hotel in the middle of the island and rode down south to the sea town of Sawata. There was nothing much going on on the several kilometer long beach and that was a smooth ride.
I tried to get to the south-eastern tip of the island, but without an electric assist and the sun and heat coming out, that became too daunting a ride through the hilly mountain roads. With a battery assist I would have pushed on, but not without it, considering the over fifteen kilometers I would have had to ride back. It was a lovely day on the bicycle though and I enjoyed every bit of it.
With the mercury ever rising and rising, I saw no way to do e.g. temple sightseeing around Numazu. A third trip to Osezaki also seemed kinda boring and thus I decided to get higher up to escape the brooding heat and that was an extremely good idea! I wanted to go to one of Mt. Fuji’s 5th stations (there are four or them) but I soon found out that Mt. Fuji is closed for the climbing season of 2020 due to the coronavirus. This may sound odd, but: around 100,000 people climb Mt. Fuji every year, most of those climbs happen during the climbing season in July and August, when there is no snow even on the top of the 3776 meter mountain. Also, usually, the huts on the stations 5 to 9 are open during those 2 months. But, this year, everything was shut down. However, one of the bus services up the mountain still went to the 2nd station on the south side, which lies at 1450 meters. That sounded high enough to me and I rode to Mishima by train and from there around 90 min with a normal city bus, not a coach bus, as I had expected. The bus passes also Fuji Safari Park, but I’ve been there once before and it’s “only” at 900 meter elevation. The bus usually climbs up until the Fujimino 5th station but ended this year at the 2nd station with its park called Mizugatsuka.
At Mizugatsuka is a large (pretty newly built) souvenir shop and restaurant, a parking lot for a thousand cars and that’s it. It offers various walking routes around the area. It also has jogging/running courses around the car park and hordes of runners galloped around there. The by far best thing of the place was the temperature – a balmy 23 degrees Celsius. When I returned to Numazu in the evening it was 37 degrees Celsius there… Mt. Fuji itself, which you can theoretically see from a clearing in the forest and from atop a nearby hill, was shrouded in what I have come to call the mothership cloud. If there are clouds, they get stuck at Mt. Fuji, since it’s in their way coming from the sea barely a few kilometers away. It looked to me like the clouds were starting at around 2000 meters elevation. I then ventured on one of the walks/hikes that start from the car park of about 90 min to a shrine at the flank of the mountain. The path was fantastic. Very easy to walk, almost no ups and downs as it went parallel to the mountain and since it had been super wet all of July, every log and rock around was covered in very green moss.
It was absolutely beautiful to walk through these woods. The path was sometimes hard to discern, but every few meters pink ribbons in the trees helped to identify the path and here and there were also signposts. The shrine was standing guard over a cave and a few underpasses, but the cave itself was off limits and also didn’t look very big, just for one person to be able to crawl through, which is not my kind of thing 😉
At the car park were maybe a hundred cars, on the trail to the shrine, I met maybe ten people. It was a great walk and a welcome respite from the omnipresent heat. The bus had around eight passengers along the route. I don’t know how busy the area is during non-covid times. I once attempted to climb Mt. Fuji some 15 years ago. It was end of July, the bus from Shinjuku was full, there were hundreds and hundreds of people on the same trail. (Despite wonderful weather in Tokyo, there was a thunderstorm around Mt. Fuji. It rained like hell, I slipped on the wet rocks and hurt my knee and gave up, spending the rest of the night in the 8th station hut). I’m not sure how many people would be at this second station and Mizugatsuka park in a normal year, but I surely enjoyed the relative peace and quiet. It was kind of just right, a few people there to make you feel not too lonely, but not enough people to disturb you. So, even though I didn’t see the top of the mountain, I thoroughly enjoyed the walk to the shrine and the fantastic temperatures.
Numazu is not such a popular Mt. Fuji destination as Hakone or Gotemba or Lake Kawaguchi, but I chose Numazu because it is located at the sea 🙂 Deprived of my visit to Okinawa I wanted to have at least a little bit of ocean in August and actually I got more ocean than I expected 🙂 Numazu downtown is rather sad, I must say. I’m not sure if it is COVID related or not, but many of the shops in the Main Street down from the station towards the port had their shutters closed. After checking into the hotel, I walked down to the beach and was a bit disappointed. First of all the beach is gravel, not sand and second it was not maintained but loads of wood debris and plastic among it lay on the beach. Another point of disappointment was that a mothership cloud huddled around Mt. Fuji and it was not enticing the eye.
However, I made one discovery. I saw something like a ferry leaving Numazu port. Yeah! Boat! Back at the hotel I found out that this is a ferry which goes only during the summer to a place called Osezaki, on the northeastern tip of the Izu peninsula. I went to the port and the ferry promptly the next morning and had a fantastic little day trip. It was nicely windy and the 33 Celsius felt like 33 Celsius instead of 41 or so in the city. Blue sky, blue sea, boat, great views of the surrounding hills and at the end of the boat ride awaited a sleepy beach village of some twenty houses only, and I wonder if anybody even lives there when it’s not summer. The ferry was built for 200 passengers but only 15 or so were on board. I feel so bad for all these summer holiday providers all over the world who are not making good business this summer. One of the staff on board sold shrimp crackers for the seagulls and I admired their flight skills and several took the snacks from my hand without harming me. Their precision is amazing.
Arrived at the beach there were at least some normal summer activities going on but even there all sales staff at whatever stalls wore masks and some of the guests too.
The Osezaki peninsula has a shrine and a pond with carp to offer and some very old trees and is altogether beautiful. In other weather it must look even more amazing to have Mt. Fuji across the bay, but the mothership cloud hung over the mountain the entire time, seeming not to move even a centimeter.
I thoroughly enjoyed the place and the wind and it truly felt like summer vacation. Arrived back in Numazu port, I went to the small deep sea aquarium there. It’s nice, but cannot compete with the great and huge Notojima aquarium the week before. On the way home I crossed paths with a not very well looking guy in his fifties. His face was super red, he was not wearing a hat and he was walking very fast while staggering a bit. He looked like a dangerous case of heat stroke… I am sure there were many that day in Japan, which saw temperatures sore to over 40 Celsius in some places and that with high humidity… uh.
On my second day in Numazu I actually did the same thing as the day before, I took that ferry to Osezaki. It seemed the most sensible thing to do in the insane heat. It was even hotter than the previous day due to less wind. But luckily on the ferry and at the Osezaki peninsula tip there was still some wind to be had which made the heat bearable, if just barely. But my second trip was rewarded with the very tip of Mt. Fuji peaking above the omnipresent mothership cloud. I had contemplated to go into the water, but a prickly heat rash from the day before on my legs made me decide against it, that rash would have definitely gone worse in the merciless sun. Nevertheless I had a good time at the beach in the shade and with some wind in my face.
Considering the ridiculous heat in Kanazawa, which increased every day, I was looking for something to do without too much heat exposure and came upon the idea to go to Notojima (Shima, or jima means island) it’s an island off the shore at the tip of Ishikawa prefecture but close enough to the shore to be connected by bridges to the mainland. It’s about 70 km from Kanazawa. Across from the island, on the mainland is a famous hot spring spa place called Wakura Onsen. On the island are two main things to see, a glass manufacturing place and a glass museum and an aquarium. Originally I wanted to check out both, but discussing with the lady at the information desk in Wakura Onsen, it turned out to be logistically impractical because the bus going there is only operating once every two hours. The three kilometers between the two sites seemed impossible to walk considering 35 degrees Celsius humid heat. The lady then recommended to concentrate on the aquarium. I am not big about informing myself in advance of my exploration targets. It’s like, there’s an aquarium, fine, let’s go there. I had no idea how huge the aquarium was and that I would need all three hours I had there. How come there is such a huge aquarium at the end of the world? It’s 16km from the train station and the public bus goes only once every two hours. It’s first of all of course a car destination. Also the hot spa town is getting a regular flow of visitors (in normal, non covid times) and they are probably organizing visits to the aquarium. Nevertheless, the thing’s size baffled me. It was constructed in the late seventies, early eighties during Japan’s bubble time, which also explains its size and it also means that it’s pretty old by now, but it’s also well maintained. Right at the start you get to see the giant tank with two whale sharks and a multitude of other beasts. It’s cleverly made because you get to see the top of the basin and then spiral your way down alongside plenty of large and small windows. There was some interaction at the top of the basin with this giant dude who was fooling around at the edge of the basin glaring at you. It was a lovely moment of who is looking at whom, the fish inspecting the landlubbers or the other way round?
The two whale sharks are smaller in size, meaning younger than the whale sharks of the even bigger main tank at the Okinawa Churaumi aquarium. I hope the basin is not getting too small for them as they grow.
The whale shark tank seemed younger than the rest of the aquarium, the core part of the original aquarium has another large tank in the classic style, only one way to look at it, from the front. Inside that tank was a swarm of small fish that entertain with the patterns they make. There was feeding time for them too and the explanation lady said there were 10.000 of them. Then there were plenty of smaller tanks with loads of inhabitants and the usual seals, penguins, turtles, also dolphins and otters. The dolphins had two tanks, one for the performing ones, one for the perhaps retired ones, with a glass tunnel through the basin. They also had a giant sea otter and I was surprised by its huge size. In two areas they were working cleverly with mirrors, duplicating the fish and also the tanks with jelly fish. There were only four tanks, but it looked like many more thanks to the mirror reflections.
Last but not least they had a kind of cinema with a tank of swarm fish that was being lit in all colors of the rainbow. I hope the fish don’t mind the constant change in color. As for visitors, there were quite a few around, but much less than usual I suppose, which became evident during the dolphin show. Four dolphins performed and one seal and the ranks in the outdoor theater were not very full. For me the amount of visitors was kind of just right, a few there so you didn’t feel odd about it, but few enough to be able to enjoy each tank at your own pace. One way or the other, the aquarium was quite amazing, especially considering it’s remote location and it was well worth the visit.
My second day started out with a walk through the Nagamachi samurai district and the Omicho fish market but both were pretty much deserted and many shops and stalls were closed. While I didn’t feel the lack of tourists really the day earlier at Kenrokuen, here it was all too obvious that the place is a tourist town and that there is now a lack of them. There had been not too many people in Kenrokuen but a few had been around and I had perceived that as an advantage, but in the samurai house district and the fish market the disadvantage became truly obvious. Luckily there is still some local tourism in Japan. I cannot even imagine what e.g. Angkor Wat is looking like now, since Cambodian people have in general not enough money for tourism. Siem Reap must be so sad now and all the locals who depend on tourism for their livelihood are out of jobs and probably struggling to survive.
I wandered all the way to the Higashi Chaya tea house district, and at least there were a few people again and a few shops were open. I had an excellent Yuzu (a Japanese lemon variety, very tasty!) shaved ice in one of the open cafes and cooled off a bit thanks to it. The heat that day was pretty insane.
Giving in to the heat, I rode with a bus back to Kenrokuen and the museums around it and visited the Ishikawa Prefectural Art museum. They have a standard exhibition of pottery, lacquer ware and paintings, but they also had a special exhibition going on of a local artist called Rei Kamoi (never heard of him before). He lived in Paris and Spain for a while it seems. His paintings are mostly portraits of elder people, most of them pretty dark and close to depressive. He did not vary his style very much, all those people have their mouths open in some form and their eyes are just holes. He also painted churches, cubic things without resemblance to real churches. It was interesting, but didn’t knock my socks off. I wondered around a bit outside again to two shrines, then made a stop at the very minimalist D. T. Suzuki Museum. He was a Buddhist philosopher who introduced Zen Buddhism to the rest of the world. The museum is tiny, but has great architecture stressing clarity of thought in its minimalist style.