September 24, 2015

Hiking Mt. Fuji x 3 = Perfection!

Call me crazy, but as hiking season was upon us, I heard the beckoning of Mt. Fuji again. This time though, I wanted to hike without the girls. I wanted to spend the day with Matt, enjoying his company and the mountain without mothering anyone.

This picture makes Mt. Fuji look like a hill!

We had initially planned to hike a different trail (there are 5 of them), but after driving around the town for 30 minutes, with no luck finding parking, we cut our losses and headed back to Yoshida Trail, the same one we hiked last year, and the most popular.

I must say, the third time's the charm, as far as weather goes. It was the day that I had always dreamt of. You could even see the lakes surrounding the volcano. There are five lakes in the area, and I think we saw three of them. ( Also, the lake water is actually very warm, due to the volcanic activity underneath. Perfect for swimming!)

Resting at the 6th station.

I can't rave enough about the weather. It was perfect in every way, there wasn't even wind. Just a lovely light breeze. 

I didn't know the sun actually shines on Mt. Fuji!

Made it to the torii gate, at the ninth station.  We both felt great the entire day, and were not affected by the altitude at all. It's always so fun to chat with other hikers, as well.

You'll often see people just laying by the side of the trail asleep. But, these two were SO close to the top. I can't imagine stopping within 10 minutes of the top, to take a nap. But, at 3,776 meters, the altitude can be very difficult for lots of people.

The final ascent!

We found that we preferred not to sit down on our breaks, because it was harder to get going again once your muscles set up a bit.

Victory! And the ubiquitous photo op at the top!

(This was all of us last year. See any difference in the weather?)

On top of the world, or at least Japan!

At the summit, there is a small town, and lots of hikers hanging out, eating and resting. There is also a great sense of unspoken camaraderie amongst hikers at the summit.

(I didn't take my hiking stick this year, because after hiking twice last year, there was no more room for stamps. But I did buy a new summit flag, stamped with the date, to add to my stick.)

We actually saw the crater this time!

Just, a big hole filled with rocks. Mt. Fuji is very much an active volcano, and scientists are predicting an eruption within the next 5 years. Praying that happens on the off-season!

Such a breathtaking view from the top. I FINALLY had a VIEW! I am very sad that the girls missed out on this view, and also, seeing the crater. It was so misty last year we didn't see anything. They will have to return as adults, and hike it again!

We shaved SO much time off of our hike, without the girls. We made it up in 5 hours and down in 2, and spent about 30 minutes at the top, for a total time of 7.5 hours, round trip. (We had an 11 hour round trip with the girls.)

The hike down was like walking through the clouds, literally!

The absence of adversity sure doesn't make for an interesting story, but I felt lighter in mind, body and spirit this trip. It was such a wonderful day hanging out with Matt, and not worrying about the girls. And the Lord delivered the most perfect day! So, since this day could not be improved upon in any way, I can officially retire from climbing Mt. Fuji.......maybe.

(Read about our first and second trip up the mountain-with kids!-here.)

September 16, 2015

Gonpachi, A.K.A. the "Kill Bill" restaurant?

 Gonpachi is a restaurant in the fashionable Roppongi district of Tokyo, and is apparently best known to westerners, as the "Kill Bill" restaurant. I've never seen the movie, so I wouldn't know, but many famous people have also eaten here,  from George Bush, to Lady Gaga.

Apparently an epic fight scene takes place in the restaurant, not really my type of movie, but loved Gonpachi!

There were many types of seating, I liked how these tables had cushions on the floor to sit on, Japanese style. The sandals are to wear to the bathroom.  

Our food was great. The girls ordered the tempura shrimp and devoured every bite. 

I ordered the grilled yakitori, (chicken). There was also a ground chicken mixture on top of the rice. I really loved this meal!

After lunch, my good friend Kayoko took us to the top of Roppongi Tower to check out the 360* view. 

There was such a beautiful view of Tokyo Tower and the rest of the city.

I loved the view and the company so much that I purchased the souvenir photo! (It is also so nice to have a native Japanese speaker in tow, on an outing!)

A detour through the bakery is always a good idea. 

Many public bathrooms will have these changing boards you can pull down to stand on if you have to change clothes. They think of everything! 

This mall also had an automated parking system. 

When you're ready for your car, an attendant retrieves it for you while you wait. No more aimlessly wandering around a parking lot, looking for your car! This was such a nice feature. 

So, movie or not, I will definitely be returning to Gonpachi!

September 9, 2015

A mikoshi parade

A mikoshi parade is a very familiar sight at any Japanese festival. A mikoshi is believed to be a vehicle for the gods, to move them from the main shrine to a temporary shrine during a festival.

Some of the larger shrines had wheels, but they are traditionally carried on the shoulders of participants. 

Patiently waiting for the parade to begin.

This flying cicada landed right next to us. They are enormous, at least three inches long, ewww! 

Four really big shrines were rolled down the street, then they stopped in the intersection facing each other, and there was a sort of performance. Lots of drums, chanting and dancing. 

Also, some very interesting characters. 

You'll always find a dragon somewhere. If he bites your head it is good luck, so next time you see a dragon, stick out your head! 

I always love the costumes.

LOTS of drums, with no particular beat being played. Everyone just played their own thing. 

Many of the men just flat out, had no pants on. The girls were quite perplexed about this. I had no answers. 

The front seemed to be covered with some sort of Speedo, and as far as I could ascertain without closer inspection, the back was bare. I can't see Matt adopting this look anytime soon.

And the main event, the portable mikoshi.

The mikoshi are traditionally carried on the shoulder, so it really helps for everyone to be about the same height.

I thought this little guy was so cute.

The portable mikoshi were carried into the area with the large mikoshi and weird characters, and they danced around for quite awhile. 

Yes, apparently it is perfectly acceptable to wear your silk Yves St. Laurent pajamas to a festival. Sign me up! 

Different teams decorate and carry their mikoshi.  

Large amounts of sake may or may not have been consumed, by this point, too. In fact, there were actually sake wagons following the shrines, as well.

It's nice to see that ladies of all cultures avoid sensible shoes!

This was the mikoshi from Yokota Air Base, our home. 

The guys were having a great time participating, though I sensed not quite as much sake had been involved! 

I liked the backs of their happi, (jacket).

After all of the mikoshi had been paraded out, we wandered around and got a closer look at the characters. 

I'd love to know the meaning behind all of these creatures. 

I never get tired of seeing the ladies in their summer yukata. So colorful and pretty!

Until, next time.....sayounara!