Despite being 900 meters high in November, it was a warm night. Fujisan looks grey and ominous this morning. The michi-no-eki Asagirikogen is busy though it is before 7am. Even tour busses are pulling in to unload, mainly elderly, passengers to use the toilets. What time did they leave their hotels? We head out early, though clearly, not as early as some.
Shiraito no taki – Shiraito Waterfall
D. is anxious to get to Shiraito no taki before the crowds as it is a very famous spot. We succeed in this and get to the parking area before the attendants so, free parking for a refreshing change. After a short walk across a huge, empty car park with a sign that says “no parking”, we reach the upper viewing platform.
Although, I must admit, the name Shiraito no taki meant little to me, I recognize the place at once from assorted TV programs, posters and photos. Despite that familiarity, it is spectacular with Fujisan in the frame. Such a picture is, unfortunately, out of the question for our camera equipment.
We walk down to the lower level to get the authentic, waterfall viewing experience. This, of course, includes getting damp in the fine drizzle of spray. Again, I am surprised to note a group of Mallards in the waterfall pond. To me they are park pond ducks but, here on placid ponds they are not. Yet they turn up on the stream cutting through the bleakness of Senjogahara and here under the Shiraito no taki.
A trip to the Dark Side
We cross the bridge and climb some steps to view another fall nearby. At the top of the steps, is a collection of very tacky omiyage shops in the process of opening for the day’s business. The cracked, concrete cladding, rusty awning frames and discarded articles chucked here and there; symptoms of the very worst of Japan’s tourism. Well ,perhaps not the worst but way up on the list of high crimes.
Here the viewing platforms have become too dangerous and eroded so, they are roped off. To see the falls at all, some crude, wooden steps have been constructed. After climbing up and peering down, the falls are a disappointment, perhaps why this side is declining. There are no gift shops on the brighter side however and the closed car park suggests that this particular attraction is no longer as popular as it used to be.
Tanukiko – Lake Tanuki 田貫湖
Next we head to Tanukiko and we almost miss it as D. ,changing her mind, instructs me to U-turn but I park as we have already arrived. The large, serene lake offers a sweeping view of a long, graceful flank of Fujisan giving way to small volcanic cones as the curve flattens out.
Ducks and coots on the water, but no Mallards, I think. At such a place, I can almost understand the appeal it holds for, the few, fishermen. A wonderful spot that has a campsite still open in mid-November but, perhaps it is not so peaceful in high season.
Impressed by this lake, we resolve to visit the other 3 that we skipped yesterday. So, we visit 2 more lakes, Lake Motosu and Lake Shoji, and then go for a walk in the (in)famous Aokigahara woods. Infamous, as they are a magnet for suicides. These woods comprise a variety of trees, some conifers, some deciduous, none very large. All moss covered and clinging to the very uneven lava that comprises the forest floor. There are many crevices and caves due to the irregularity of the tangle of lava. We walk about 4 km. in all, taking pictures and searching the trees in vain for the numerous birds we can hear but never see. We do spot a squirrel though.
＊Saiko Bat Cave(nature centre) – Nenba at Lake Saiko ; about 70~90 min. walk
Hungry after our walk, we pull into Narusawa michi-no-eki. I have a kinoko (mushroom) udon for 450 yen which is a ,somewhat salty, bargain. D. has something more exotic with an egg in it. We eat with a view of the rain clouds gathering over Fujisan in front of us.
Next to the road station, there is some kind of Fujisan mineral museum which, as it is raining and admission is free, has a certain appeal. This place turns out to be the kind of attraction that is set up to encourage you to buy something and, is one of the more egregious.
There are mineral crystals and polished stones, carvings of the 7 gods of good luck in 7 different stones, polished fossils and red, relief pictures of Fujisan. I had often wondered where those red, relief Fujisans came from so, that was one mystery solved.
But that was not all, the place boasted a basement and, on the staircase leading down, there is a huge, animated model (with sound) of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in perpetual death throes as it is being swamped in molten lava. We emerge, gratefully into the rain, having resisted any temptation to buy a red Fujisan, and set off for our 5th. and final lake, Lake Kawaguchi.
Here we hit a minor traffic jam due to an event, a craft festival of some kind. D. is grumbling darkly about musical box museums. We take a final Fujisan picture, though it is hardly visible by now, and make for Nagano and the mountains.
Senior citizens and the deli counter
Looking for a supermarket in Yamanashi, we get trapped in one of those housing mazes of incredibly narrow streets that are dead ends 20% of the time. Finally, we reach the supermarket but, it appears, we are too early.
The special delicatessen has an array of ready cooked dishes not all of which are, as yet, on display. A large group of senior citizens, and I must admit we fit into this category, are hovering like scrawny vultures.
At last the food is displayed, and the seniors, swooping in, grab the provided plastic bowls to scoop up bacon, mushroom and cheese, beef stew, chicken, roast pork in honey mushroom sauce and so on. We notice this in other supermarkets though not to this extreme.
The ready cooked meals in supermarket deli sections are a boon to senior citizens, especially if living alone. There is no way to prepare such complex meals, for one person, for that price even if still having the energy required. From that perspective it is a real service for the elderly. And the shachuhaku community.
Shinshu Tsutaki Juku michi-no-eki
After driving for an hour in pouring rain and heavy traffic, the traffic, at least, eases as we approach the Southern Alps. Arriving at our chosen michi-no-eki Shinshu Tsutaki Juku, we wait for the rain to let up a little before making a dash for the onsen. The bath is very good with only a few locals and some truck drivers. The large rotenburo (outside bath) is very pleasant in the rain.
＊Tsuta no yu (hotspring) ; 600 yen/adult
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.