TOKYO 5: Oshima Island, Hakone and an Absent Mount Fuji

DAY NINE

My fifth and final blog about Tokyo isn’t really about Tokyo at all, for on day nine we awoke bright and early to catch a bright pink jet boat out of Tokyo Bay. I would post more pictures so you should count yourselves lucky that I fell asleep shortly after our departure.

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Our destination? Oshima Island for the glorious Tsubaki Matsuri (Camellia Festival).

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Almost as soon as we stepped off the boat we were greeted by islanders clad in traditional dress. This lovely lady found Phil and I somewhere to store our luggage and helped us to buy a coach ticket to take us to Oshima Park for the Matsuri.

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As if the pink boat wasn’t enough the buses were pink too!

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Shortly after our arrival at Oshima Park we had the opportunity to watch a group of women from Oshima perform traditional dances. Beautiful – I wish I could post videos to this blog to share the experience more completely with you.

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Inside the park there were hundreds and hundreds of Camellias to see: some were grouped according to species or growing requirements, whilst others were grouped in respect of their floral colour or flowering period.

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Even the fallen flowers were beautiful.

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Some the most interesting Camellias were inside this glasshouse.

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These are some of my favourites. Starting from top left: C. yuhsiensis; C. yuhsiensis; no name given; C. semiserrata; C. longicarpa; C. longicarpa; C. ‘Cara Mia’; C. ‘Elizabeth Dowd Silver’; C. chrysantha; C. nokoensis; C. ‘Tama Vino’.

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I thought the Camellia displays in the park’s museum-cum-shop were rather well done too.

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And I just couldn’t resist these little jewels made from Camellia seeds.

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Before leaving Oshima Park I even had the opportunity to try on the traditional kimono and apron which I had seen the ladies in the dance wearing. Go ahead, laugh if you must – everyone I have shown this photo to so far has had a good giggle at my expense. Especially Tomoko sensei. How can something look so elegant on the local women and yet so utterly ridiculous on me? I think it is the headpiece which does it.

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From Oshima Park we caught another bus, this time to the base of Mount Mihara, one of Japan’s many active volcanoes. Sadly we didn’t have time to climb to the top of this 764 metre peak; we were both very disappointed. Interestingly and rather morbidly, Mount Mihara was once a popular site for suicides as it was once possible to jump into the crater from a vantage point at the top. As many as 600 people jumped into the liquid magma of Mount Mihara in 1936 and the Japanese Government had to erect a barrier at the base to prevent further suicides. Or at least that’s what Wikipedia says. Anyway, I digress…

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I decided to try a local delicacy from one of the shops in the vicinity – some kind of shell fish which looked rather intriguing. It was only when I had eaten the second of the three ‘shellfish’ I had purchased that I realised that they were almost certainly snails. Phil ate the third one for me: enough said.

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We were even able to see Mount Fuji from a viewing point at the base of Mount Mihara.

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That is of course a lie. The image above is a photo of a photo of Mount Fuji at the aforementioned viewing station. This is my best shot of the much fabled volcano.

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Where is it? Well precisely. Rotten weather…

In the absence of Mount Fuji it was back to the port area for a little wander.

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One of the lessons I learnt today is that Japan is, in terms of natural disasters at least, not a very safe place to live. At the base of Mount Mihara was a sign advising people to flee to the port area in the case of an eruption; now down in the port area there were signs advising people of what to do in the case of a Tsunami. Quite sobering really.

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It was then time to catch another jet boat – this one painted bright pink and green!

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It wasn’t back to Tokyo that the second boat took us but to Atami, from where we travelled onto our hotel in Hakone via a series of buses, trains and, finally, a taxi. Our hotel was so high up in the mountains that it was snowing by the time we arrived. I took these snowy photos from and around our hotel the following morning.

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There was nothing for it but to warm up in the lovely natural hot spring water in our hotel’s open air onsen. The smell was a bit of a deterrent at first until I realised that the hot springs in this region of Japan were full of sulphur, and it was this that was causing the onsen (and indeed the whole hotel) to smell slightly of rotten eggs.

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DAY TEN

The next morning I awoke nice and early to make use of the onsen a second time. Before coming to Japan I had read in my Lonely Planet guide about the many delightful onsen and ryokan in Japan. The photograph which accompanied the text had shown a group of men sat in a wooden-framed Jacuzzi-type pool with sides open to the glorious snow-covered mountain scenery in the backdrop. This is what I dreamed of (the onsen, not the men) and this morning my dream finally became a reality as I gazed out at the winter wonderland from the lovely hot spring water of the onsen.

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Of course there was a bit of a downside to the snow. Our main purpose in visiting Hakone was to see Mount Fuji, as from one of the stations on the Hakone Ropeway is one of the best Fuji viewing spots. In order to seen Fuji-san, as the volcano is endearingly referred to by many Japanese, the weather must be clear in both Hakone and on the volcano itself. Our chances of the seeing the famous snow-covered peak today were slim to nil. Indeed, on further research there are on average around 6 days per month when conditions are suitable for viewing Fuji-san. Still, I had not given up all hope as we trudged through the snow and along a busy road in search of the nearest bus stop.

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We arrived at Gora Station for the Hakone Ropeway via a series of different bus journeys. Luckily this is Japan not the UK and no sooner had we disembarked from one bus than the next one arrived to collect us. Even though we knew we would almost certainly not have the opportunity to see Mount Fuji we decided we would still do the full Ropeway course to Togendai Station and back again, as all the guide books indicated that it would be a great experience. It was pretty fun and there were some lovely views but I was fairly disappointed not to see the famous Mount Fuji. I had my heart set on it.

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I rather enjoyed reading the English blurbs for some of the food products in the shops at the Ropeway Stations. Hmm…which of these shall I have for dinner tonight?

Salted fish guts?

Skipjack and cloudear flavoured rice topping?

Or a fermented food substance made from ‘Bonito’s chosen internal organs?’

I went for the third option in the end (genuinely).

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On finishing the Ropeway course we took the Hakone Tozan Train (also an experience) to Odawara Station then a train journey back to Tokyo. This time we were staying in the Ochanomizu region, so after checking into our hotel we decided to make use of the last hour of the day to visit the nearby, Kanda Myojin, Tokyo’s largest Shinto shrine and one of the few to escape the World War II bombings. It is possibly the most impressive shrine we have yet visited, even though the approach to it was decidedly less than grand.

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DAY ELEVEN

Finally it was time to return to Tokyo Station and make the long journey home to Awaji Island. We were quite looking forward to it to be honest: we had a wonderful time in Tokyo, but really there is no place like home.

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