Southern Kyushu: Shrines, Volcanoes and Unusual Sea Views

The Golden Week holiday in Japan is the perfect time to get out of the city and explore the country. A few years ago, I spent early May on a road trip around Kyushu, Japan’s southern main island. I was lucky to have the trip planned for me, but that also meant I had no idea what sights we were going to see. I’m usually the one planning, so it was nice to just sit back in the passenger seat and enjoy the ride… I was in for a lot of unexpected sights. Continue reading “Southern Kyushu: Shrines, Volcanoes and Unusual Sea Views”

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Spring Hiking at South Takao

Happy Earth Day! On Sunday, the hiking/charity group I’ve joined for the past five years, went on a 15km hike along the South Takao Ridge. It’s been a while since I did a solid hike, and what better time to get back into it than a day dedicated to spreading awareness of the need to protect and preserve the world we live in. Continue reading “Spring Hiking at South Takao”

Spring Day Trips from Tokyo

After the whirlwind cherry blossom season has swept across Tokyo, leaving only fond memories of streets blanketed in pink and perhaps a throbbing head from one too many drunken hanami parties, we remember that a world does indeed exist outside of our beloved city. Continue reading “Spring Day Trips from Tokyo”

Five Days in Sakura Paradise

I don’t recall ever experiencing a cherry blossom season that came as quickly—and ended just as quickly—as this year’s. Since we had an extremely cold winter, I couldn’t believe it when the Japan Meteorological Corp announced in February that the first buds were forecast to open on March 17th. Usually cold weather prolongs their dormancy, and I had expected a late-March start date. Continue reading “Five Days in Sakura Paradise”

Nagoya Castle: My First Spring in Japan

I’ll always look back on Nagoya as being a safe haven.

Last week was the 7th anniversary of the Tohoku Earthquake. The events that unfolded back on March 11, 2011 are just insane. An intense jolt in the ocean bed not only triggered a 9.0mag quake that shifted the Earth’s axis, but caused a 40m high tsunami, an endless string of powerful aftershocks, the meltdown of the coastal Fukushima nuclear power plant and the loss of tens of thousands of human and animal lives. Continue reading “Nagoya Castle: My First Spring in Japan”

Enchanted by Fuji

WPC: Wanderlust

I feel like I’ve seen more of Mt Fuji this year than I have in any other year, and we’re only in April! I used to think that the Fuji Five Lakes region was very far away from Tokyo, and for the longest time I didn’t even know how to get there. It wasn’t until last May that I finally made it to one of the five lakes. After you make the trip once, you realize it’s not too bad and can even be done as a day trip from the city – although staying overnight would allow you to enjoy Fuji and its surrounds early in the morning, an advantage that the majority miss out on.

After the first visit, the mountain keeps calling you back, again and again, with its enchanting powers. Each season shows the mountain in a different light. Every town shows the mountain from a different angle. You can see Fuji in combination with one of the lakes, with the sea, with cherry blossoms, with Japanese maples, with snow, or through the mountain ranges from one of the nearby peaks. Once is never enough.

This month, I went to a few places on the northern foothills of Fuji and was blessed with amazing weather…

Koyodai near Lake Saiko is an easy hiking trail up a mountain that gives you an awesome view of Mt Fuji. You get a nice view of Lake Saiko as you walk up, and from the top you look out over a vast forest called Aokigahara. Some people may know this as the ‘suicide forest’, where many Japanese go to take their own lives. The forest is enormous and it was a bit eerie looking down from the viewing platform knowing there are bodies lying below the canopy.

Not far from Koyodai is Narusawa Road Station, and from there the views of Mt Fuji are insane. I’ve never seen snow-capped Fuji so close and it was captivating watching the clouds circle around the summit casting shadows over the white slopes. At sunset, the peak turned a beautiful shade of red. Like a curtain closing across a stage, the sunlight made its way up the mountain until it reached the very top, then suddenly, the show was over.

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The view of Mt Fuji from Chureito Pagoda near Lake Kawaguchiko is widely used in tourism brochures and commercials, so it’s come to be one of the most famous landscapes of Japan. It’s about 400 steps from the road up to the 5-storied pagoda. Since Fuji is behind you, you’re constantly stopping to look back, which is also a good excuse to catch your breath! From the top, the view is stunning. I’ve been here once before last year, and unfortunately the clouds didn’t budge. This time, it was cloudy again when I arrived. But, determined, I waited it out and an hour later the clouds magically disappeared and we were left with a perfectly clear view of Fuji! Combined with the cherry blossoms, it was an unforgettable sight.

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Chureito Pagoda

To end with, a few Fuji fun facts:

  • On average, from the foothills, Fuji can be seen for roughly 1/3 of the year. From Tokyo, it’s even less – around 90 days a year. And it’s common for the whole mountain to be hidden behind clouds and the thick humid air during the entire summer season.
  • For most people, the shape of Fuji is a symmetrical cone with a flat top. But actually, there are ridges and gullies that are only noticeable from certain angles. So, for the people who live around the mountain, depending on where they live, if asked to draw Fuji, they’d all draw different shapes.
  • Fuji is on the border of two prefectures, Shizuoka and Yamanashi, but the summit of the mountain belongs to neither. The top is privately owned by the Sengen Shrine, and is considered as belonging to “Japan”.