Exploring: Mt. Fuji & Yokohama
Our last two days, before heading back home to sunny hot manila, was spent exploring the region of Mt. Fuji and Yokohama. Our 3rd morning brought gray skies, a little drizzle that soon turned to very light snowfall, which was nothing entirely exciting. Our tour guide warned us that the weather didn't look ideal to see Mt. Fuji, but with high hopes we boarded our tour bus and embarked on a two hour bus ride towards our first stop: Gotemba.
That's Mt. Fuji hiding behind clouds. I've heard some people have visited Japan thrice and still haven't seen the very elusive Mountain.
Gotemba Premium Outlets is a shopping area for high end brands, which currently has over 200 stores. Now, I love shopping but I'm not exactly the biggest fan of high end brands so Gotemba to me was so-so. Personally, it's not a place I would visit myself if I were in Japan on my own. The coolest part of Gotemba to me was the Pokemon Store, a place my 26 year old self was giddy to be in but my 11 year old self would have DIED.
Of course, a visit to the Pokemon store would never be complete without selfies with the best three starter Pokemons there ever was:
After two hours in Gotemba, we made our way to visit Mt. Fuji herself. The weather really wasn't all that great, almost dangerous even. The tour guide made some calls and we were permitted to go up until the 5th station. The way up was long, nearly everyone on the bus ended up sleeping. But how could I? The view going up was absolutely beautiful.
I'm a fall/winter type of girl, so you can imagine dead trees, colors of light brown, dark greens and auburn in nature appeals to me the most.
The further we went up around the mountain, the more snow we saw at the side of the road...
And then slowly it started to snow. Our tour guide exclaimed about how lucky we were. Snow in March was not a common occurrence, apparently.
It go stronger and stronger the higher we got. I was giddy. My first snowfall experience.
Beautiful, eerie, makes me want to play Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago album.
We finally arrived at the 5th station, but there were so many tourist busses that we could only stay for about 20-30 minutes. This was the most frustrating thing for me. Suddenly it felt like our tour was being put on a time limit, which sucked. But we tried to make the most of it anyway. I snapchatted, took photos and sent videos to Gab like crazy.
David, Jowee and I being totally cute. Last photo-op before being called back on the bus.
Despite the fact that it was freezing, our gadgets completely depleting (my phone went from 50% to zero because of the cold temperature in a matter of minutes!) and barely feeling our faces -- I was ecstatic. It was one of the happiest experiences I've had in my travels. Definitely the highlight of my Japan trip too, aside from the great food everywhere, of course.
An outdoor sale on the way to our next location (Oshino Hakkai) I wanted to check out but couldn't because we were on the bus.
Oshino Hakkai is a small and charming village known for their 8 ponds with water (snow melt) from the nearby Mt. Fuji that filters down from the mountain through porous layers of lava for over 80 years, resulting in crystal clear spring water. Next to some ponds, you can drink (or even fill up a jug) the spring water straight from the source. The ponds are deep, have beautiful freshwater plant life and even large fish like Karps.
Due to heavy traffic on our way back to the hotel, our tour guide had to cancel dinner reservations and opted to give us our money back so we could eat out on our own. By the time we got back to the hotel, it was already 9PM. David and I were too tired to go far, so we visited the super market across our hotel and bought dinner instead.Onigiri is easily one of my favorites to eat in Japan, aside from the sushi of course!
Here's a tip on saving money when you visit Japan: EAT THE FOOD IN GROCERY STORES.
They taste great, quality is superb (a lot are at par or even better than most Japanese restaurants in the PH) and it's cheap!!! Even Family Mart had great food. On our last day, David bought ramen and he said it tasted just like in our Japanese restaurants here. And that's just Family Mart. ;-)
The next morning, the weather was a lot better, less gloomy, but still freezing cold. Typical, but just the way I like it when I'm traveling. On our last day, our itinerary was pretty full: visit Lake Ashinoko, Yokohama, the Ramen Museum and eat in China Town.
Here's the problem though: TOURISTS. Yes, I know, we're tourists too. But it was peak season and everywhere was packed. Oftentimes, this ruined our plans or we had to make changes. Either way, we made the most of it and always stayed positive. Afterall, we were in Japan.
Saw the Tokyo Tower several times but this was the most decent photo I got from the bus. They say it was inspired by the Eiffel Tower, which rings true only the Eiffel Tower is probably five times its size!
Lake Ashinoko is known for its scenic views of Mt. Fuji, numerous hot springs, and historical sites. A number of boats and ferries traverse the lake for tourists, some of which are designed like sailing warships. The scenic ride take 30 minutes around the lake.
Our second stop for the day was the Ramen Museum where we hoped we could have lunch. Unfortunately, the crowd was too unbearable, and waiting in line would've been an hour, resulting in a ruined schedule for the day. We were able to walk around the venue a bit but even taking photos proved to be a struggle. The Ramen Museum was interesting, the entire place was designed and decorated beautifully to make it look sometime in the 40's, almost like wartime in Japan.
Outside the Ramen Museum was this sign, the chopsticks move up and down. I thought it'd make a cute photo.
We quickly moved on to China Town because the crowd at the Ramen Museum was unbearable -- only to be met with another big crowd. David and I walked around to see if there was any place we wanted to try or at least not filled to the brim with people. We were unsuccessful, but that's okay. We decided to look for a Family Mart and just bought lunch for ourselves. I ended up getting real yakisoba noodles, while David settled for ramen. It was a great lunch, no BS. Their Family Mart food selection is A+++, nothing like the food selection we get here.
Nevertheless, David and I still tried to explore China Town. Jowee and her mom offered us some Buchi and I swear, it was the best Buchi I've ever tried in my life -- of course I might have to retract this statement once I've actually been to China and try buchi there, but I mean Chinatown anywhere is pretty much a legit place to try authentic Chinese food right? I think it counts. :-P
After China Town, we headed to Minatomirai shopping mall for -- you guessed it -- more shopping. Haha Tour groups usually consist of families and older people who love to travel AND shop, which comes to no surprise how much shopping places we visit. They're the kind of travels who love to buy stuff souvenirs for family and friends back home. David and I didn't really spend a lot of time at the mall and opted to just walk around and take quick photos outside.
A theme park somewhere in Yokohama
Right outside the shopping mall was one cherry blossom tree that had begun to bloom. Everyone flocked to take photos with it and I was no exception. How could I resist? Some people might say they're overrated, but no. They're so beautiful in real life that I get why tourists flock to Japan to see it in bloom. Imagine being in a park full of these trees!
There's a radio station in Japan that reports especially for the first bloom of the cherry blossom when the season comes around and people flock to parks to have picnics under these romantic trees -- a tradition they call Hanami.
The next day, we packed our luggages, twice heavier than they were before we left, ready to head home to Manila. I was sad that we were leaving the very country where my favorite cuisine comes from, where locals were extremely helpful, polite and respectful -- but I was also excited because I knew that I'd be back someday soon with Gab. Currently, we plan to go back around January 2017 (originally October this year but we moved it due to Gab's work).
Special thanks to Airlite International Travel & Tours for giving me this opportunity to see Japan in a way that I probably never would've on my own. If you're interested in touring Japan (or other places!) with your family, you can check out their FB page or their website for more information.