Three to Tango, Part V - Jumping By Fuji

Trip Start Jul 22, 2006
Trip End Aug 15, 2010

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Flag of Japan  , Yamanashi,
Sunday, April 25, 2010

The last day of our journey dawned bright and clear, though being up in the mountains as we were, it was rather chilly.  The weather must have felt a bit sorry for the miserable time we'd had the previous day, and we were appropriately grateful for the sunshine.

Matsumoto boasts one of the best castles in Japan, according to People Who Know These Things, so we thought we'd do a drive-by castling and check it out.  After breakfast -- no pictures, so sorry, though there was the requisite pasta salad -- we loaded up the car and drove all of ten blocks to a parking lot near the castle.

Since the day was so lovely and we'd driven over a pretty little river, I ran back to take some pictures while Laura and Emily went on ahead.  Along with the river and colourful manhole covers, I discovered "Kaeru Michi" (Frog Road), a little lane lined with old-fashioned wooden shops.  Unfortunately, it was too early for most of them to be open, and I didn't have time to try to find an explanation about the importance of frogs in Matsumoto.

Back at the castle, I caught up with Laura and Emily, who had found some plum trees still in bloom.  We decided to forego an actual visit of the castle and settled for walking around the moat and taking pictures of each other jumping, with the castle as a set piece.  This tradition started on top of Mount Fuji (the jumping, not necessarily having a castle in the background, though we do include any handy castles), and continued throughout the travels I've shared with Emily and Laura.

Once we'd gotten the important things out of the way, including buying new and exciting flavours of souvenir KitKat bars (I will post about Japanese KitKat bars at a later date), it was time to head off to Kawaguchiko, a town north of Mount Fuji, where we'd promised we'd meet our friend Tiffany for lunch.  We were in high spirits, admiring the lovely mountains surrounding Matsumoto, and later getting excited about seeing Mount Fuji rising before us in the south.  Emily kept up a conversation with Tiffany via text messages, assuring her that we were on our way, and that there wasn't much traffic.  Because we hadn't yet learned our lesson, Emily sent a cheerful text message saying that we'd probably be there shortly after noon.

Would you be surprised to learn that we arrived at half past one?

In our defense, it wasn't entirely our fault.  We again chose a route that kept us mostly off the expressway, so much time was spent waiting at traffic lights and driving down winding, residential roads in small towns.  However, once we were actually in Kawaguchiko, heading for the train station where Tiffany was waiting, the gods of traffic really started to have fun.  Every single light we approached turned yellow.  I'm not even kidding; it took us ten minutes to drive a distance of perhaps 3km, and this time it wasn't because traffic was backed up!

At long last, we pulled into the train station, and I slowed down long enough for Tiffany to hop in.  Then there was a u-turn, and we headed back part of the way we'd just come so that we could find a place to eat lunch.  We'd seen several places advertising houtou, which is a local specialty, so in true Japanese touristing fashion, we couldn't leave the area without trying it!  (For the record, while not possessed of an incredibly unique taste, it was very good and very filling, as a thick broth with noodles and vegetables ought to be.)

Kawaguchiko is the name of both the town and the large lake by which it is located, one of the five lakes north of Mount Fuji.  The area is known as Fuji-go-ko, meaning... The Fuji Five Lakes.  Kawaguchiko is probably the most famous of the five, and certainly offers a beautiful view of the famous volcano.  When my family visited last year, I drove them out there for a day, so they could appreciate Japan's most famous sight.

Looking up at the top of Mount Fuji, still covered with snow, Laura, Emily and I marvelled at the thought that just last year, we were standing up there ourselves, after a night of intense climbing.  It seems unreal and unbelievable, but we did it, and you've seen the pictures that prove it!

We spent some time on the shore, taking pictures of ourselves jumping.  Indeed, I'd brought my tripod along solely for that purpose, and we put it to good use.  Once we were satisfied, we drove on to the next lake, Lake Saiko -- and yes, it is pronounced "psycho", and yes, many jokes were made about the Saiko Hospital and the Saiko Bat Cave and many other Saiko things.  Then a few minutes were spent at Lake Shoji, and we had some ice cream at a lakeside restaurant before getting back into the car for the home stretch.

Our plan -- feel free to start laughing at us -- was to be on the road by 5 so that we would be back in Tokyo by 8.  After all, when I was there with my family last year, it had taken us a bit over two hours to get back.  And it was indeed 5 when I pulled out of the restaurant's parking lot.

At first, the going was fine, but by the time the expressway started taking us through tunnels, I saw an electronic sign announcing at least 2 hours to get to Takaido, which is near where I live.  We'd already been on the road for nearly an hour.  As darkness fell, traffic slowed down to turtle speed, and it was with some relief that we made it to a rest area so we could avail ourselves of the facilities and get some supper in our bellies.

Back on the road, things had mostly ground to a halt, and a decision was made to get off the expressway as soon as possible and take local roads back.  This greatly alarmed Navi-chan; in addition to her usual cries of "Error!  Zero!  One!", which resounded each time we approached a toll booth (since our car was a rental, we of course weren't subscribed to the electronic payment system), we were now going off course!  I pulled over to change the route, and all seemed well until we encountered what is possibly the most poorly planned traffic light in the country.

Actually, it probably isn't all that poorly designed for normal traffic conditions, it just wasn't programmed with the idea that someday, half the population of Tokyo would be trying to turn right at that intersection.  I think my mind blanked out the amount of time we sat there as two cars turned at every cycle of the lights. I timed the cycle, in fact: the light was green for us for all of fifteen seconds, and nearly two minutes the other way.

All of us had to work the next morning, save Laura, and Emily and Tiffany had to take the train back to Chiba, and we were all tired and sick of being in the car, so the mood was not the jolliest during those last two hours.  Once we got through the Traffic Light of Extreme Frustration, though, we stayed in motion pretty much all the way back to Kichijouji, and I got the car back to the rental place only an hour later than the time I'd told them when I signed the papers.  I made it home a bit before midnight.

A couple of weeks later, I was telling another friend about our adventure.  "Oh, it's too bad you didn't have that ETC pass for the expressways," she said.  "They've started this new thing where if you're a subscriber, you get unlimited mileage on weekends and holidays for only Y500."

Which would explain why every single person in Japan was on the expressway between Nagoya and Osaka, I guess.  And here I thought it was just because of the long weekend...
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