This is a long one so bear with…
It was chaos on Sunday as all of the IST were leaving the Jamboree. Some had early starts some ahd late starts. I was somewhere in the middle (be there for 7AM to leave at 8). It was sad to leave and say goodbye to people but also exciting to be heading out on a tour of Japan.
The tour turned out to be jam-packed. On the first day we went and explored two caves. The first was ‘dull and featureless’ to quote our resident speleological expert, Edward Farrow, but the second had some exciting rock formations and a bit of a scrambely squeezy path to follow. We also went up to a view point to look around the surrounding scenery. It was very beautiful and extremely green. It was a bit creepy how it could almost have been the English countryside.
For lunch we had another Bento box with some tempura and sushi and tofu. I’ve constantly surprised myself by how much I’ve been eating new things this trip. I think I’ve finally learnt the lesson of don’t knock it before you try it.
We the headed to the hotel in Hiroshima where I had a lovely long shower/bath before heading down to dinner which was in buffet style. There was broccoli, there were sausages and ham steaks, there were potatoes and there was a chocolate fondue. It was incredible and just what everyone needed after two weeks of camp food. After dinner we went to the karaoke bar and had a few beers whilst belting out some classic.
The next morning we headed to Miyajima, Shrine Island, on the ferry. It was a very beautiful island and filled with loads of wild deer – many a deer selfie was taken. We visited a few shrines and temples and learnt about how the Shinto religion works. It is the indigenous religion of Japan and most Japanese people are both Shinto and Buddhist. The religion is based on spiritual powers called ‘kami’ in the natural world. The shrines are marked by Tori (archways). Shrines are dedicated to different kami such as to the sun goddess or to family and travellers. It was fascinating to learn about and more convincing a faith system to me than most others I have discovered.
After the shrines a few other sand I went caught the free shuttle bus ride up to the start of the cable car line. The ride was an experience in itself as we rammed as many passengers in as possible which meant I was sat on the floor by the gear stick in prime position to go through the windshield.
We had another traditional lunch near the ferry, some speedy souvenir shopping and then were whisked off to the bullet train to make the next stop on our journey. This was a traditional Japanese hotel with natural hot springs, futon style tatami matt beds and a 7 course, or thereabouts, traditional Japanese meal. It was exciting to experience everything, all whilst wearing the kimonos and sandals given to us in our rooms.
We had an early start to make it to Fuji in good time to start our climb. On the coach journey there we caught our first glimpse of the mountain and it was stunning. Mt Fuji stands alone in the countryside making the height and size all the more impressive. After lunch at the 5th station, 2300m, we headed up to the 7th station in groups of around 30 people with a guide for each group. The guides took us at a slow pace with breaks every half hour to adjust to the altitude. The walk itself wasn’t difficult just lots of zig-zags broken up by lodges and stations. At these station you could get a wooden pole, bought at the 5th station, branded with stamps which looks pretty cool.
On arrival at the 7th station lodge we had a large meal of curry and rice before heading to bed at 5pm so we could awaken at 11pm to climb to the summit at sunrise. The guides took us at a similar pace but people were beginning to struggle and so the walks got shorter and the waits got longer. Because of this I was getting super cold and so had to walk off by myself. Near the summit I encountered a queue! It turned out to be a Japanese national holiday and everyone was climbing Fuji, from 5 year old kids to 70 year old men! I nimbly snuck through the queue doing some scrambling and squeezing and reached the summit. 3,776 m, well before sunrise. At the top I found myself a nice view point and watched the colours in the sky appear and change. It was one of the most stunning things I have ever experienced.
As the sun continued to rise I walked around the summit in the hopes of finding some other scouts. I made it to the highest point, had some Japanese people take a photo of me and then completed my circuit. I didn’t find anyone until I made it back to the lodge at the top. We then counted heads before heading down. The walk back down was perhaps harder than the walk up as the path was very gravelly, dusty and slippy. We were back down before 9AM still.
After another lunch break at the 5th station, and some more souvenir shopping we headed via coach to Tokyo. Upon arrival at the hotel we were basically told this is your accommodation, fend for yourself for 2 days now. As everyone was knackered we all had long showers and naps before heading into town for food in the evening. I also got to skype friends back home which was lovely and needed at that point in the trip. Some of the people in my Fuji group and I headed to Shibuya to see the largest crossing in the world at night and then ended up eating at a Hooters because everyone fancied Western food. Never before has a burger tasted so good. Plus Hooters was definitely an experience.
I headed back early to the hotel as I was knackered and took another trip to the hotel’s Onsen, hot spring baths, before having an early night. The next day was similarly lazy, having already done most of the Tokyo tourism during my stay before the Jamboree. I woke up around 9 purely to have breakfast then got back in bed and watched Pretty Little Liars right up to the season finale where a big reveal left me feeling broken.
To calm my sorrows I took a trip to a whisky store with Chris and Rich where I tried a few different Japanese whiskies for 100 yen a taster glass (50p) before buying the nicest one for my Dad as a birthday present/souvenir. We then wandered Yaesu Underground Shopping Centre for a while enjoying all of the Japanese toy shops such as the Hello Kitty and Pokemon stores. A tasty McDonalds dinner before heading back to the hotel to get ready for a grand night out as this was to be most people’s last night in Japan. It was also A-level results night for many people.
Richard and I headed to Akihabara with Curtis to the electric city, to meet some people near the Sega. This didn’t quite work out, there being a few too many Sega stores in Akihabara, and so we had another McDonalds before heading back to the hotel tube stop to find people in the karaoke bar nearby.
The karaoke bar was fantastic and we managed to rack up a pretty impressive tab by the time we left. Never before have I attempted to order 5 pints and been delivered 2 massive pitchers of beer – I’m not complaining though! The rent of the karaoke party rooms is quite expensive so we didn’t stay too long and instead headed up to the hotel roof for some cigars and vending machine beers. Vending machine beers are genuinely one of the best inventions I have ever come across!
The next morning everyone had a lovely hungover breakfast. Most people were staying in the hotel till their coach to the airport as everyone had run out of money and a lot of people were still satisfying their wi-fi cravings. I however had some cash still to burn, though not much, and am not a fan of sitting in a hotel all day so headed to Shibuya with a group to do some last minute souvenir shopping and visit a lovely park and shrine. After returning to the hotel Caitlin and I waved the last coach to the airport off, we had both sorted out our own transport and were returning later.
We had a lovely last meal in an Italian restaurant with a penis statue lamp and a Japanese menu where we couldn’t read a word. Luckily the waiter understood Margherita and so we got exactly what we needed. Indeed the pizza was delicious with lots of basil and tomato – Japan does have the second best Italian food after Italy!
I then said my goodbye to Caitlin before venturing to the train station to begin my journey to the airport. And that journey is an entirely different adventure which deserves its own post…