Japan: Day 18 — Osaka ...

I had a relaxing morning before making my way to the Osaka Castle. It opened at 9am. I wanted to get there early to beat the crowds but no such luck. There was a huge line waiting to get into the place. The castle was extremely disappointing, especially after my visit to the Himeji Castle the day before. Not good planning on my part.

There wasn’t a great view of the castle. They don’t let you get up close and personal like you can at the Himeji castle. The route basically puts you inside the castle, herds you up a bunch of stairs with a gazillion others to the top floor where you get a view of the city below. Each floor has some history about the castle but overall, it wasn't that interesting.

The waterfall pathway at Minoh Park
I stayed at the castle for 45 minutes before heading on my way. There were gardens next to the castle that I was excited about. I was hoping they would be half as good as the gardens I was at the day before. I took a quick glance before going to the ticket gate and could see it was a big open field with a guest house. I took a miss. I wanted to head to a waterfall outside of the city, so I made my way there instead.

It took 45 minutes by train to get to Minoh Park where there is a 33-meter high waterfall. The area was gorgeous. It was quiet and cooler up in the mountains. There were a bunch of trails but nothing was mapped out. It was hard to know where to go and if the trails would loop around so I stuck to the main trail.

The waterfall at Minoh Park
The waterfall was beautiful and the area was not terribly busy. The walk worked out to be almost ten kilometers. It felt so good to get in some exercise! There was a small bakery beside the train station where I grabbed some fried chicken and a slice of pizza. I brought them home for lunch and enjoyed them with a beer.

I got home around 2:30 and took a nap after my lunch. I was exhausted! I had one more thing on my list that I wanted to see. At 5pm, I got up and wandered over to Dotonbori. It was within walking distance from the apartment I was staying at. I thought the place I went to yesterday, Shinsekai, was busy but this place was ten times busier. The number of people was overwhelming. I got to the canal about one hour before sunset and as it came closer to the sun setting, the streets became more crowded.

I wandered around snapping a ton of pictures. There were so many illuminated signs. My tummy was grumbling and I knew it was time to find something to eat. Most places had long lineups. I walked around for what felt like ages and was getting hangry when I noticed an Indian guy holding up a sign for his restaurant. Perfect! The food was quite good and the restaurant was quiet which was a nice break from what was going on outside!
The Dotonbori Canal at sunset
It was my last night in Osaka so I stayed out a bit later and enjoyed the busy lanes of Dotonbori. It was quite an exciting place after sunset. I giggled my way through the tiny alleys and took a bunch more photos. It was time to head back though. There were too many people and I had a half a bottle of wine in my fridge that needed drinking!

I stayed up a bit later than normal enjoying my last evening in my own space as it would be back to life in a hostel for the remainder of my stay in Japan!

Japan: Day 17 — Himeji and Osaka ...

The amazing Himeji Castle
I awoke to OK weather so I decided to make the trip out to the Himeji Castle. This is said to be one the best castles in Japan. It opened at 9am and was two hours away by train from Osaka.

Finding my way there was fairly easy. I arrived at 8:30am and noticed hoards of people also making their way to the castle entrance. It’s a one-kilometer walk from the train station and the castle is in clear view. With each passing step, I could feel my excitement rising!

I got to the gates just as they were opening. I bought a ticket (¥1000 + ¥40 for the gardens) and went inside. The path leads you through the gates and into the castle. Himeji has wonderful old wooden floors. You must remove your shoes before entering. The floors were perfect for sliding around on! Good fun!

The inside of the castle was packed and it felt like we were being herded through which took away from the experience. I felt myself rushing through the castle, mostly to escape the crowds and the noise. After the indoor tour, the path takes you outside beside the castle. What a sight it was! It is massive! I sat on a nearby bench for a while just staring in awe. It was even better than I had imagined and definitely a highlight of the trip.

The Kokoen Gardens in Himeji
After staring in awe for ages, I made my way to the Kokoen Garden that belonged to the castle. The gardens were absolutely stunning! Best gardens I saw during my time in Japan. Those gardens will be forever etched in my mind!

After my tour of the gardens, my tummy was grumbling. There was a sign for gourmet food under the train station so I went in search of something to eat. It was at B1 level and the floor offered plenty of ready-made food. It was hard to choose something with all the choices, but I settled on some fresh sushi rolls. I got a sashimi tuna roll and a cucumber roll. They cost next to nothing and were ridiculously good and fresh!

I got back to the apartment around 2pm. I wanted to rest but I had four or five things on my to-do list with only one full day left in Osaka. It seemed I didn't give myself enough time for this stop!

The tallest skyscraper in Japan, the Abeno Harukas
I set off at 4pm making my way to the tallest skyscraper in Japan, the Abeno Harukas. It was only ten minutes away by train. It's a magnificent structure in the heart of the city center. It cost ¥1700 to go to the observatory at 288m. The views were stunning as was the design. Can you say eye candy?! The bathrooms were awesome and to think I almost left without visiting them.

After the Abeno Harukas, I walked over to an area called Shinsekai. There were people everywhere! The place had big lit signs, lots of cheap places to eat and a huge casino where people were gambling. It was an interesting area and I wandered around for some time enjoying the signs and the fake food displays that Japan is famous for.

This area is known for their kushikatsu, which is basically breaded and fried food on a stick! You could order just about anything on a skewer starting at ¥100/stick. I grabbed a cold beer and tried the onion and Chinese yam on sticks. I also ordered some udon noodles. The kushikatsu was delicious!

After dinner, I wandered around. The signs were lit, the place was loud and it was packed with people. It became a bit much so I left the area and walked back to the apartment. I relaxed for the rest of the night and went to bed early a bit unsure of what to do in the morning. The day was calling for rain, again!

Japan: Day 16 — Kyoto to Osaka ...

My Airbnb apartment in Osaka
It was a holiday in Japan as part of the Obon festival and a lot of places weren’t open. I was going to try a restaurant around the corner from my guest house in Kyoto before setting off for a western style breakfast but they weren’t open. Veg Out was on the way to the train station, so I figured I'd stop there for some breakfast but they too were closed.

I set off on the train a tad hungry. Thankfully, Osaka was less than an hour away. Check out in Kyoto was 11am and I wasn’t allowed into the next place until 3pm. I had booked an Airbnb apartment and the lady allowed me to do a self-check-in and drop off my big backpack.

I found the new place easily, got the key from the mailbox and took my pack up to the room. It hadn't been cleaned yet but it was cute. I left my bag in a corner of the suite and went back out into the heat of the day realizing I never really made a solid plan for the afternoon.

I quickly checked my to-do list for Osaka and decided to head to the first thing on the list. It was about a half hour away by train. I didn't realize the place I had picked was in the heart of Osaka nor did I know that Osaka is the second biggest metropolitan area in Japan. Coming from (somewhat) quiet Kyoto, I was overwhelmed at the number of people rushing around. Wow!
Very cool escalators up to the observatory at the Umeda Sky Building
The place I went to see was called the Umeda Sky Building. The architecture was awesome and for ¥1000, you could go to an outdoor observatory on the top of the building. The skies were gray and threatening rain but I went up anyway! There was a cool breeze up there and it was nice to get a complete 360-degree view of Osaka.

Overlooking Osaka from the outdoor observatory
I still had yet to eat and was starving! I looked at a number of menus but nothing was calling to me to stop for a bite. I ended up settling for an Italian place that was quite busy and reasonably priced. I ordered a four cheese pizza which wasn’t that good.

During my late lunch, I got a note from the lady at the Airbnb stating that her place was ready and I was welcome to go back! I headed back to the apartment to unpack. There were a few supermarkets nearby so I went to do a bit of shopping. The place had an extremely tiny kitchen so I didn’t use it for cooking. She had very little in the way of pots, utensils and spices.

I bought some fruit, yogurt and veggies and treated myself to a bottle of red wine! I had some leftover pizza, so dinner was taken care of for the night. I watched some TV and tried making a plan for the next day. The weather forecast for the next few days wasn’t looking promising. I went to bed early and decided to make a decision in the morning based on the weather.

Japan: Day 15 — Kyoto ...

A resting point with stunning views on Mt. Hiei
My last day in Kyoto! I spent it hiking in a mountain northeast of the city called Mt. Hiei. Unfortunately, the skies were threatening rain ... again. It took two trains to reach the base of the mountain and since the weather was a bit wet, I took the cable car part way up the mountain. After that, one could hop on a ropeway to the top but the rain had let up so I decided to walk the remainder of the way. It was a steep hike up.

Mt. Hiei has the second highest peak in Kyoto at 848m. There is a sign at the peak with no view. It was a nice hike up and it was very quiet in the early morning. I had the place to myself!
At the Garden Museum overlooking Lake Biwa
Near the top of the mountain, there is a gorgeous Garden Museum with tons of flowers and Monet style art. (¥1030)  I wasn't sure about going in but decided to do it as it looked like they had some very unusual flowers. It offered wonderful views of the largest lake in Japan, Lake Biwa, and the art was quite impressive as were the flowers.

After that, I hiked a few kilometers through a wonderful forest, making my way over to another cable car called the Sakamoto Cable Car, which is the longest cable car ride in Japan at 2,025m. I thought it would be a nice way to end my hike.

One of many gorgeous flowers at the Garden Museum
I dawdled through the forest, taking in the stunning views. There were a bunch of temples to visit along the way but they all had entrance fees. The closer I got to the Sakamoto cable car, the busier the pathways were.

The cable car was going to drop me down the mountain at a very different place from where I started. There was a JR Line which would take me directly back to Kyoto station in 22 minutes! Perfect!

My tummy was grumbling upon my arrival so I stopped at the Hub for some fish and chips and a pint of beer on my way back to the guest house. The day was getting on and I needed to do some laundry as everything I had with me was dirty.

The guesthouse didn't have in-house laundry but there was a coin operated place a few minutes up the road. It was ¥300 for laundry with soap included and ¥100 for every ten minutes in the dryer.

While waiting for my laundry, I went to a 7-11 to stock up on food for the night and for the next morning. I hung around the hostel in the evening and started making a game plan for my next stop, Osaka!

Japan: Day 14 — Kyoto ...

The final steps to reach the 342m peak of at Mount Wakakusa in Nara
Finally! Blue skies and the sun! I was up early and decided to head to Nara for the day. It was only 45 minutes away by train and I arrived in Nara just after 8am. There were very few people around.

A group of deer escaping the hot sun
Minutes away from the train station, I ran into a huge group of deer. They were everywhere! In the parks, on the streets and some even in the stores. You could buy deer crackers for ¥150 from small street stalls to feed the deer but I didn’t bother to do this. I did have fun looking at the deer. As I continued on my walk, I was amazed! It seemed there were no places without deer.

My goal for the day was to climb Mount Wakakusayama. (¥150) I hiked up to the peak which was 342m and offered lovely views of the city below with almost a 360-degree view. There was a huge group of deer up at the top resting in the shade. It was a glorious day but a hot walk up in the sun. The weather couldn’t have been better.

I took a different route down the hill and when I got to the bottom I had a look on my phone for any restaurants in the area. There was a burger place called Sakura Burger right across from the train station. It had rave reviews on trip advisor so I thought if I could find it easily, it’d be worth a visit.

Deer warning sign
On the way back to the temple, I stopped at the Todaiji temple. It was extremely busy and I found myself wondering why the deer stayed where they did. Some people seemed to be chasing after the deer even when there were signs that clearly asked people not to do that. People were also pulling on the deer's antlers which I am sure the deer didn’t like. I felt a bit disappointed at people’s stupidity. It would be interesting to learn how many people got bitten, butted or kicked in a day.

The Todaiji Temple
The Todaiji temple had an entrance fee to get in and I didn’t want to pay to go into another temple. I took a picture from the outside and made my way towards the train. My tummy was grumbling.

The burger joint was easy to find. They had a variety of burgers available or you had the option of building your own! I got a burger with avocado and cheese. It was terribly messy but oh, so good! I enjoyed it with a cold beer and was glad I stopped there for lunch.

I made my way back to my neck of the woods and stopped for dinner snacks and cold beer on the way back to the guest house. I rested for the remainder of the day and watched some TV.

Japan: Day 13 — Kyoto ...

Walking through the Torii Gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine
I was up very early to make my way to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. I read online that the best time to visit was early morning. The shrine was three stops away from the closest train station and it took less than ten minutes to get there. I hopped on a 5:45am train and was surprised at just how quiet it was!

A map of the 4KM loop walk
The walk itself is a 4KM loop that took less than two hours to complete. There were a number of stairs and I dawdled my way up and down them while taking a ton of pictures. It really is an amazing place! Apparently, there are over 10,000 Torii gates. Each gate has been donated by an individual or a company to give thanks to the shrine.

The hike wasn’t too challenging and I found myself giggling along the way. It was a very exciting place and having it all to myself was wonderful! I made it to the peak of the mountain at 233m and this is when it started to rain lightly. I headed back down to the start of the trail and was shocked to see that it was absolutely packed with people. It was only 7:40am. Boy, was I glad I went as early as I did!
At the Sanjusangendo Shrine
I got on the train to head back home but since it was so early, I decided to stop at another recommended shrine, Sanjusangendo, that was just up the road from my guest house. (¥600) This place has 1,001 human-sized, golden Buddha statues. It was an amazing sight but unfortunately, photography inside was forbidden.

I got back to the hostel around 10am, grabbed a shower and took a rest before heading back out. I wanted to see more of the Kyoto train station.

The Kyoto Train Station
The station is massive! There are fifteen floors with open outdoor escalators. There is a big stage where people were playing music. On the very top, there is a rooftop garden with clear windows for viewing the city below. The station was super busy and it was a great place for people watching. Once again, I was blown away by the futuristic architecture that Japan seems to offer!

My next stop was for a late lunch/early dinner at an Irish pub called Man in the Moon. It is a tiny restaurant on the south side of the station. The guy working there was Irish and very friendly. I  enjoyed a cold beer and a cheeseburger. The burger was delicious! There was an American couple at the table next to me and we shared some stories and had another beer together before they set off for their train!

I spent another hour or so exploring the city before making my way back to the guest house. I had trouble keeping my eyes open that night and gave into sleep early!

Japan: Day 12 — Kyoto ...

Tengu, as seen outside the Kurama train station
It was a holiday in Japan, as part of the Obon festival. One of my classmates from MCU is studying Japanese in Kyoto and had the day off, so we went on a small trip together. We headed to the northern mountains of Kyoto to a place called Kurama. It took one hour by train to get there.

Upon our arrival, it was raining ever so slightly. We opted to take the cable car that went up the mountain for ¥200. At the top, there was a big temple called Kurama-dera. It was quite impressive and offered some nice but cloudy views. After visiting the temple, there was a path that led us through a wonderful lush forest. The hike itself wasn't difficult and it was lovely to be in nature! Thankfully the rained had stopped! The trail popped us out at another temple that was packed with people!
One of many restaurants over a fast running stream
Besides the temple, this area had a ton of restaurants with tables set up directly over a running stream. It looked like a very cool place to eat but the prices were astronomical. Wayne knew of one place that was reasonably priced but there were about 200 people waiting in line to eat there. Although hungry, we made our way on foot down the mountain road in the direction of the train station.

Tree roots along the hiking trails
The narrow road up to this particular area wasn't wide enough to fit two cars so there was a constant line of cars on the road unable to move. Men in aprons from the restaurants were shouting at drivers to move this way or that. As we neared the bottom of this tiny mountain road, I noticed parking lots full of cars. The restaurants had shuttle buses picking people up from the train station and the parking lots. More men in fine attire were calling out names on lists, trying to find those who had made reservations for the bus and the restaurants. It was a crazy place. Never have I seen anything like it.

Wayne and I made our way back to the city and grabbed some lunch at the place where we needed to change trains. There was an Indian food place right across the street from the station! Yes, please! The place was packed which is always a good sign and we were given a small table in the back of the kitchen since the main part of the restaurant was full. The prices were reasonable for the amount of food we got. It wasn’t the best Indian food I’ve had but it was still pretty tasty.

After our late lunch, I headed back to the hostel. I stopped at a 7-11 along the way to pick up some things for dinner along with some cold beers. I stayed in for the remainder of the day and made a game plan for the next few days! 

Japan: Day 11 — Kyoto ...

The weather forecast wasn't looking too good. The skies were dark and rain was a definite possibility. The night prior, I had decided to visit a popular shrine in the area but I wasn't motivated for an early morning departure. I decided to visit the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) instead. It opened at 9am.  (¥400)
Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)
I got to the temple a half hour early in hopes of beating the crowds but there were tons of people hanging around the area waiting for the place to open. As the time neared 9am, a line started to form and thankfully I was near the front. There were easily 300 people in line. So much for having the place to myself.

It was a mad rush when the doors opened. People were pushing to buy tickets and then scurrying around to find the temple. I got a few shots in but it became harder to find an open space as time ticked on. Selfie central! Oh my!

The gardens surrounding the Pavilion
The pavilion is gorgeous as are the gardens surrounding it. I followed the pathway around the lake and before I knew it, I was walking out the exit. It took 20 minutes from start to finish. That included dawdling and a bathroom break. 9:20am ... now what?!

The Nijo Castle (¥600) was on the way back and a place I wanted to see. It was also packed with people but a very impressive castle. It took 1.5 hours to go around the outer and inner parts. The gardens surrounding the castle were lovely. I could only imagine what Japan would look in the spring or fall. The gardens are magnificent when they are green! They must be magical in autumn with the fall colors!
The Nijo Castle
I slowly wandered around the castle and at some point near the end of my visit it started to rain. I made my way back to the train and back to the guesthouse. I stopped at a Family Mart for some cold beer, a bagged salad and some sushi rolls. I had lunch in my room while the rain came down.

I hand washed some clothes and took a nap. I slept longer than intended and that didn’t really motivate me to do anything else for the day. There was also the rain. My stomach started rumbling around 5pm so I ran around the corner to the Thai place to try more of their food.

At some point during dinner, the rain started pounding down. I had a cold beer to wait it out. The rain let up briefly and I made it back to the hostel just in time. By the time I got up to my room on the second floor, it was absolutely pouring outside. Good timing! Thanks, Mother N, for not soaking me again.

After a long hot shower, I played around with some images but the lights went out at 9pm! Zzzzz.

Japan: Day 9 and 10 — Kyoto ...

Day 9 was spent in transit. I was scheduled on a 10:20am bus from Kawaguchiko to Mishima. The bus ride offered gorgeous scenery and it was a quick trip. I reached the Mishima train station around noon. I purchased a one-way ticket for ¥11,300 (reserved seat) on the high-speed train to Kyoto. It was a comfortable 2.5-hour journey to the Kyoto train station. I managed to catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji as we sped by and in my heart I knew I wasn't done with her yet! She remains on my bucket list.

The Kyoto train station is massive and it was a bit overwhelming on where to go upon my arrival. The day was hot and humid so I grabbed a taxi to the guesthouse (Kiyomizu Gojo Guest House) which I had booked via Airbnb. I had my own room for a week (shared showers and bathroom) and was looking forward to it. It was a traditional Japanese style room with tatami mats and a small table with two chairs that sat on the floor. There were futons in a closet and directions on how to make your own bed. It was comfortable for sleeping but the room itself has seen better days. The walls could stand a coat of paint and some fixing up.

There was no laundry nor was there a kitchen though they did have a tiny fridge. The hostel offered free cold and hot water along with tea and coffee. The showers are closed from midnight to 8am which is inconvenient if one wants to go out early.

Papaya salad and spring rolls at Kinkao
 I completely unpacked for the first time since arriving in Japan and then set out to check out the area. The guesthouse was in a quiet neighborhood with some very cool looking Japanese houses but there wasn't much in the way of restaurants or convenience stores nearby nor were there any grocery stores. I did find a Thai restaurant (Kinkao) around the corner where I had an early dinner and a cold beer. The food was delicious!
Day 10
I awoke much earlier than expected (4:30am) and decided to get up and enjoy a morning coffee. I got ready and set off for the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama. I read that going early morning was best otherwise it will be overrun with tourists. I was on a 6am train which took thirty minutes and three transfers to get to Arashiyama.

I immediately set out in search of the Bamboo Forest. The first few walkways of the bamboo forest weren’t that impressive and I found myself thinking, really?! This is it? But as I got deeper into the forest, it started to become much more clear what all the fuss was about. I wandered around slowly and pretty much had the place to myself. It was a wonderful way to spend the early morning!
The Bamboo Forest
There were a few other attractions (temples, a famous bridge and a monkey park) in Arashiyama but nothing too impressive. What did blow my mind was Owl Forest. It said it was an owl and cat café but it wasn’t a café. It was ¥1,400 to walk through the owl forest and play with Bengal Cats (with one free drink) for thirty minutes. I went in to see the owls first. It was so cool! I mean, how often does one get to see a variety of owls up close and personal?!

Love that face!
The owls were chained up to perches but there was a note saying they mostly sleep during the day and aren't bothered by this. The owls do (apparently) fly around all night and have regular visits to the vet. I hope they are treated well. You are allowed to pet the owls but I opted not to touch them. They are amazing creatures and I wandered around slowly to enjoy each and every one!
What a beauty!

The Bengal cats didn’t seem too interested in playing with me. I was able to pet some of them and they have the softest fur ever. I enjoyed watching them run around for a bit before leaving the area!

Tofu sandwich at Veg Out
It was just coming on to noon and I was hot, tired and hungry. I stopped at a Vegan place (Veg Out) near my guesthouse for lunch. It was so good! After lunch, I went back to the hostel. It was blistering hot outside and I wanted to avoid the heat. 

After a long rest, I headed back out around 4pm. I hit a park in the neighborhood and then went to the Kyoto Tower. A ticket to the top (100m) was ¥770. It was nice to view Kyoto from way up high.

On my way home, I passed by a British pub called the HUB. I decided to stop in for a cold beer and an early dinner. The food was delicious and I had a seat near the window which was great for people watching!

Japan: Day 8 — Mt. Fuji ...

Mt. Fuji - an amazing shade of red in the morning
I got very little sleep after realizing I had a fever. People started getting up as early as midnight to make their way to the summit. The girls beside me left around 1:30am. I was still not feeling well and was desperately trying to get some shut eye. Check out was at 5am and since I was hiking alone, I had a big decision to make. I could feel my frustration building as I was lying there.

If I attempted to summit and started feeling worse, it would mean relying on complete strangers for help and perhaps ruining their trip in the process. I knew this was something I could not do. It would be selfish and unsafe. I decided to call it quits at 3,100m.

I got out of bed at 4am, packed up my things and headed outside. It was freezing! There was still hope in my heart that I was going to feel great once I got moving. When I got outside, I attempted to eat to see if it would bring my energy levels up but the loss of appetite that happens with altitude sickness had set in. Putting food in front of my mouth only strengthened that feeling of wanting to throw up.

There was a clear view down the mountain and I could see the city lights below. I had come up 800m in elevation the day before and still had about 700m to go. Although there were just two kilometers left of the hike, those two kilometers were going to take three hours to complete which gave me a fairly good idea of the intensity of the trail.

The entire trail is in the sun (thankfully it was cool)
As the sun came up, tears started streaming down my face. I was disappointed and frustrated. The feeling of nausea is not fun. Much to my chagrin, I put on my pack and started my descent. It was a gorgeous sunrise and I tried to think positively on my way down the mountain. I had made it more than half way up Mt. freakin’ Fuji!

It only took coming down 200m to feel better, which is so stupid. Part of me wanted to turn around and go right back up. I knew it would take me 30-40 minutes to re-climb that 200m and who knew what I’d feel like along the way. Another 100m down and I started to feel hunger in my belly. At the 2,700m mark, one of the huts was selling Chai tea. I got a big cup for ¥400 and sat down. My mother magically called me on FaceTime during my Chai and I had to fight back tears when I told her I wasn’t able to summit. I am glad she was able to share a moment with me on Mt. Fuji. Bill, her and I enjoyed the views and chatted about altitude sickness. They said all the right things to make me feel proud of where I was and what I had done.

It was a lovely hike down and I enjoyed every moment of it. I made it back to the 5th station around 8am. I found the Yamarent return table and gave them back the gear I had rented and then set off in search of the post office and the bus. There was a 9:30am bus back to Kawaguchiko station.

A torii gate at one of the mountain huts
When I got back to the hostel, I took a long shower! I was hoping to relax for the day and get some laundry done. There was a typhoon in the area and the weather was doing all sorts of crazy stuff. I suppose in the end, the altitude sickness saved me from a very wet and windy climb down Mt. Fuji. 

I decided to venture out to the store when there seemed to be a break in the rain. The hostel wasn’t near anything which made it difficult when it came time to meals. There was a grocery store about ten minutes away on foot. I went there on memory and took the wrong street. I was wearing a light rain jacket that wasn't standing up to the rain that was coming down. I ran undercover to check my GPS only to realize I had left my Pocket Wifi charging in the room. Deep breath.

The only dry clothes I had were on my body and they were now soaked from the rain. I headed out from the shelter and back into the pouring rain and was angry with myself for not checking the directions. Once I got back to the main road, I remembered where to go. Although I was soaking wet, I decided to go to the store as I did need food. The store was heavily air conditioned and I was freezing by the time I finished my shopping. Thankfully, the rain had let up for the walk home.

When I got back, I found a free dryer. I had to be creative in what I was wearing as everything I owned was wet. I hoped no one could tell I wasn’t wearing a single thing under my light jacket.

I enjoyed a couple of beers and some food and then went to watch some TV in bed. My eyes closed around 8pm that night and I slept right through until 7am, dead to the world. It had been an emotional two days and I guess my body needed the rest.

Japan: Day 7 — Mt. Fuji ...

Out of the heat of Tokyo!
Mt. Fuji day! I left the guest house just after 6am as I wanted to be on the 6:40am bus to the Fuji Subaru Line 5th station. (2,305m) The weather forecast was showing rain at noon and my goal was to reach the hut (at 3,100m) before it started. There was a clear view of the volcano while I was waiting for the bus and I could hardly contain my excitement! The bus ticket was ¥2,100 for a two-way ticket, valid for two days.

The ride up was beautiful and took one hour. When we reached the 5th station, I was surprised how busy the area was. I had a look around before hitting the trails. The first kilometer was a long path that had a slight incline and a slight decline. After that, it was straight up without any breaks in the path. There were endless steep switchbacks on volcanic ash. The ground was loose which made the inclines tougher.
The steep switchbacks

The sun came out briefly during my climb and it got super hot super quick. The entire trail is in the sun so I was thankful for the cloud cover though I couldn't see anything down below but gray.

The tough switchbacks turned into boulders at which point the hike became a rock scramble. The rocks were sharp and not easy to navigate around.

The steep and sharp rocky scramble
From the 2,900m mark to the 3,100m mark, I struggled. I was exhausted but making excellent time for my goal. It took me forty minutes to climb the 200m and during the last 100m, I started feeling nauseous and dizzy. It had also started raining at this point but only lightly. So much for beating the rain!

I reached my hut, Taishi-kan, just before noon and was the first to check in. The hut was nice as were the people who worked there. I got the first bunk on the floor against a wall, which is what I wanted. I was allowed to have two spaces to give me more space and he put a divider across for privacy. I used one sleeping bag for sleeping and one as a pillow. They did offer pillows but they weren’t terribly comfortable. The hut for the night was ¥8,500. The price included a simple but hot dinner and some breakfast to go. They did ask that you pay ¥100 each time you use the bathroom which I felt should’ve been included in the price of the bed. Note: the bathrooms were ¥200/use (honor system) the whole way up.

The sleeping room at the Taishi-kan hut (3,100m)
After an introduction of the hut and the rules, I took a rest while I had the place to myself. I fell asleep until the next guests arrived. At that point, I got up and wrote some postcards and then went to have a look outside. The skies had cleared a bit and there were some views of the mountain trails below. I was feeling tired and a bit weird at that point and I assumed it was the lack of oxygen. A lot of people were sucking on cans of oxygen and I wondered if I should’ve purchased a can before the hike.

The view before dinner (actual colors on Mt. Fuji)
I continued to rest until I got the call for dinner around 4:30pm. It was a simple dinner with rice, Japanese curry, a small piece of fish and two extremely small portions of some kind of pickled vegetables. I don’t know what they were. There was also a very small cake for dessert and a jelly type thing. There wasn’t a lot of food given but for me, it was enough. For the three big men sitting next to me, they looked like they were just getting started. We were given our breakfast for the following morning which consisted of sweet potato bread and some kind of chicken and rice in a bag. The men at the table next to me ate their breakfasts. Dinner obviously wasn’t enough.

After dinner, I looked outside and it was pouring rain. There were a ton of hikers out there waiting it out. People hike Fuji at all hours of the day and night. It was quite cold outside and I was thankful to be spending the night in a (somewhat) warm hut.

It took me awhile to fall asleep and when I woke up around 10pm, I had a high fever and was feeling nauseous with a headache. Oh no. Here we go again. My second high mountain hike and my second time experiencing altitude sickness. Ugh.

Japan: Day 5 and 6 — Tokyo to Mt. Fuji ...

K's Guest House in Kawaguchiko
I was scheduled on a 12:15pm bus from Shinjuku Station. The bus was brand new and it was very comfortable. It took just over two hours to get to my next destination. The bus dropped me off at a place called Kawaguchiko which is near the base of Mt. Fuji.

The Kawaguchiko Station (900m) was extremely busy. I wanted to go to the tourist information desk but there was a lineup out the door. I waited for a taxi to take me to my guesthouse but there weren't any around so I decided to walk to K’s Guest House. According to Google Maps, it was seventeen minutes from the station.

I got to the hostel around 3pm and was able to get into my room on the third floor. It was a mixed dorm that slept five. I set myself up before venturing out for food. I was starving. I went for a quick walk to the lake and the skies were threatening rain.
At Lake Kawaguchi

I found a grocery store and bought some things for the next few days as there wasn't much in the way of restaurants around the guesthouse. I also wanted to prepare for the hike up Mt. Fuji.

That night, I took it easy at the hostel and watched some TV. I was in bed early as I wanted to be up early the next morning.

DAY 6:
Fuji-Q Highland day! I had been looking forward to this park ever since I learned about it. This amusement park has four big roller coasters and all have held world records at some point.

I walked back to Kawaguchiko station and took the train one stop over to the theme park. The entrance was right there as I got off the train! A ticket to the park was 5,300yen with a discount coupon I had from the hostel in Tokyo. I was one of the first people in the park and got on the first roller coaster quickly!
World's steepest roller coaster: Takabisha

The first ride was a lot of fun but very jolty. I had to wait about an hour to get on the next roller coaster. It was once the longest and tallest coaster in the world. It was my favorite ride of the day! I had to wait at least 1.5 hours to get on the third roller coaster. This one launched riders at 172km/hour. It was cool! The fourth and final roller coaster was fun as well. It has a 120-degree drop, the steepest roller coaster drop in the world.

The other rides in the park were easy to get on with no wait time as they weren’t main attractions. I, of course, went on everything and had some good laughs.

Things I liked or noticed about the theme park:
Workers high-fiving the riders
• Each ride had separate lockers with a lock and a key for riders. When you get on the ride, you put your stuff in a locker, lock it and take the key. The key was on a wristband. This is a great idea as no one has to worry about his or her things while on the ride.
• Single riders don’t get to move ahead quicker. At other theme parks, they will call out single riders to fill up the coasters. In Japan, that didn’t seem to be the case. If you were a single rider, they left you single and the seat next to you was empty. I wonder why they do it this way.
• One other thing I thought was funny is that all the workers on the rides say a chant and clap their hands along with the chant before sending you off on your way. As you leave, they bow and high five you on the way out. When you return, they welcome you back with applause. It was quite cute!

I stayed at the park until 2pm at which time I set off in search of Yamarent to pick up my gear for Mt. Fuji. There were no taxis so I decided to walk the 1KM over. The day was hot and humid and I was soaked with sweat by the time I got to the shop. Thankfully it was easy to find.

After getting my gear, Google Maps showed that my guesthouse was just over a kilometer away. I decided to walk. As I was a few minutes away from the hostel, I remembered that K’s Guest House has two locations, one near the lake and one not near the lake. I was at the other hostel. I redirected myself via Google Maps and it showed my guesthouse was another 2KMs away. Damn. Sometimes the joys of traveling aren’t always joyous. I enjoyed the walk and laughed off my mistake. When I finally arrived at my guest house, I was hot and tired.

I packed my stuff for Mt. Fuji and everything fit into my rented backpack perfectly. I set out to the grocery store to pick up some sushi for dinner. I relaxed for the evening and watched some TV and went to bed early. I wanted to be on the first bus out to the 5th station in the morning!

Japan: Day 4 — Tokyo ...

I was up early to make my way to Mt.Takao. I had originally planned to change rooms for a night at a business hotel near the mountain but it seemed silly to lug all my stuff to another place for one night. It also seemed that the best way to get to Fuji was by bus from Shinjuku so I would’ve had to get myself back to the city center anyway.

Trail Map of Mt. Takao
A friend of mine from Taiwan, Alan, was in Tokyo and we were going to hike Mt. Takao together. The train ride out there was about 1.5 hours. It was easy to navigate and we had a plan on which routes to hike. Mt. Takao has six trails with the number one trail being the easiest and the most used. For those who don’t want to climb the mountain, there is a cable car and a chair lift to take you up the mountain.

We hiked up trail six as it suggested this was the most challenging route. It wasn’t challenging at all but it was beautiful and not too busy. When we reached the top (599.15m) Alan informed me that he got a call on the way up from his family. His grandma had passed and he needed to go. We enjoyed a cold beer and some snacks at the top of the mountain before he set off. I chose to hike down trail three as it was the longest trail through a dense forest and was apparently not so popular. I passed two ladies at the start of my walk and didn’t see anyone else for the rest of my hike.

As I was making my way down to the start of trail three, I saw a kid fall over the mountain. It was kind of horrifying. He was playing around and skipping backwards just as there was a bend in the trail. He tripped over some rocks that were along the edge and went head first backwards over the edge. I couldn’t believe I had witnessed it. He fell a short ways down the mountain but the thick bush stopped his fall. Had he done that at several others points along the trail, he would’ve fallen a much longer way down and most likely would not have survived.

His mom was talking him into climbing up the bush as I left the area. It was causing quite a scene and people were getting a little crazy. I couldn’t help nor could I stand to watch. Not too much further along the trail, I heard hysterical screaming. I didn’t know what it meant but it made my stomach turn. I felt very uneasy and nervous for the remainder of the hike and I made sure to hug the mountain side all the way down.
 The number three trail matched up with the number two and I decided to keep along this trail since there were very few people on these trails. The trails were through a lovely forest that was a bit challenging and slippery in parts. I followed it down to what I thought was a different waterfall but the trail looped around to the waterfall along trail six. All in all, it was an excellent day of hiking and offered the right amount of exercise before the Mt. Fuji trek.

I got home around 4pm and went out for dinner. I found another middle eastern place and had yet another kebab. It was delicious! Japanese food hadn’t drawn me in. A lot of restaurants didn’t have English menus and the food was quite expensive.

After dinner, I went back to the hostel and did a load of laundry. I didn’t pack many clothes and the few clothes I had were smelly and in need of a wash after two days of hiking. I had some beer and relaxed for the remainder of the night. Exhausted, I went to bed early. The next day was a travel day and I was trying to sort out some plans for the move.