Friday, 17 July 2015

JVlog #22: Mount Fuji & Lake Kawaguchiko Day 2 Part 1 - The Shibazakura Festival

Good Day Everyone,

Welcome to the second day of our trip. If you missed day one then you can catch up here and here. I woke up on the second day after a not so great night's sleep. I don't think I've ever slept on such a lumpy mattress before... perhaps that explained why the rooms were so cheap lol!
Pink shibazakra with Mount Fuji in the background

As it was still early the cafes weren't open yet so we headed to a convenience store for a morning coffee. Japanese convenience stores are fantastic! They cater for so much more than just snacks and often have a small dine in section. They provide complimentary microwaves so you can buy a ready meal, heat it up and eat it there. You can also get hot drinks, toiletries, and sometimes even a shirt and tie set, just in case you've had an all nighter during the working week! How cool is that?!
Mount Fuji

We got very lucky with the weather for our second day with another blue sky morning. Mount Fuji was clearly visible although it did have a marshmallowy white cloud around it's summit. Since we had some time to spare we wondered down a few side streets to look at Japanese houses and gardens, and to admire the different views of Mount Fuji. You can see that and the rest of our day in the video below :o).

We then went back to Kawaguchiko Station to join the queue to purchase tickets for the Shibazakura Festival. Shibazakura, also know as pink moss or phlox moss are teeny tiny flowers that form a beautiful blanket/carpet of colour on the ground when in full bloom.
The festival venue was located just south of Lake Motosuko (the most western of the Fuji Five Lakes) and we purchased a ticket that included entrance to the festival as well as a return coach journey for ¥1,900 each. The coach journey took about 40mins each way and we went past both Lake Shojiko (the smallest of the Fuji Five Lakes) and Lake Motosuko (the image of which appears on the reverse side of the ¥1,000 bill) along the way. Both of these lakes looked very remote and isolated. The surrounding area wasn't particularly built up and there really wasn't much around. Now we understood why people online were recommending that Lake Kawaguchiko was the best for non-Japanese speaking tourists. Also, there isn't much in the way of bus services around the Fuji Five Lakes so you need to get about on the tour coaches or the tourist bus which runs from about 9am-5/6pm, if you don't have your own transport.

We arrived at the venue to a sea of tour coaches. Even though it was still relatively early in the morning tourists were out in force, most probably to get the best photos of the shibazakura before the festival got too busy. It looks like we all had the same idea ;o). We took a leisurely walk around the grounds admiring the shibazakura and keeping an eye for that famous spot where you have a carpet of bright pink shibazakura with Mount Fuji in the background.
The festival area was surrounded by beautiful green mountains of varying shades of green. I can imagine the mountains being particularly stunning during autumn/fall as the leaves change colour. There were also lots of different flowers in bloom that provided a pleasant contrast to the shibazakura. There was a purpose built viewing platform on the grounds that we went up to get some photos, although to get the iconic photo of the bright pink shibazakura in the foreground with Mount Fuji in the background we needed to be lying on the ground, not going up lol. Hubby did a great job of capturing that shot for me, the one that you see at the top of this blog post :o).
As well as places where we could get a light bite to eat and purchase some shibazakura themed delights, there was a little collection of market stalls to mooch around where we could buy Japanese goods including Japanese Peach Tea. The short text on the tea box is typical of the polite Japanese etiquette that we've always enjoyed, although the man looks a bit too aggressive for my liking!

I hope you enjoyed the vlog and this blog post of the second day of our trip. The final part will be coming soon.

Love Sheen xxx
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Saturday, 11 July 2015

JVlog #21: Mount Fuji & Lake Kawaguchiko Day 1 Part 2 - The Chureito Pagoda

Good Day Everyone,

I'm continuing today with the second part of our first day at Lake Kawaguchiko. If you missed part 1 then you can watch/read it here. After checking into our hotel and resting my joints, we headed back out in the afternoon to visit one of Japan's most famous pagodas. 
The Chureito Pagoda with Mount Fuji in the background
We caught a local train from Kawaguchiko station to Shimoyoshida station, and from Shimoyoshida station there are signs that direct you towards the mountain where the pagoda is situated. It is just a short 10mins walk to the foot of the mountain. You can see our journey up the mountain to the famous Chureito Pagoda in the video below, as well as the rest of our day :o).

Tourist sgns leading the way to the pagoda
Whilst it was still very warm and muggy the sky had become a lot more overcast and cloudy which was a shame but at least it wasn't raining. The walk from Shimoyoshida station to the foot of the mountain was very pleasant and tranquil as it took us past traditional Japanese houses and gardens. We love the rural landscape in Japan and with the soil being so rich and fertile, it was no surprise to see so many people growing their own vegetables.  
Once we reached the foot of the mountain we were greeted by over 400 steps that we needed to climb in order to get to the pagoda. I found the first 100 or so steps challenging as they were quite high and uneven with no handrail. I've never been the most stable of individuals on my feet but since developing an arthritic knee and feet, I do have difficulties walking and climbing stairs especially if I'm tired, like I was on this particular day. However, I was determined to persevere in order to capture an image that I had in my mind that I knew would make this climb so worth it. That image is the photo that you see at the start of this blog post. Whilst I was gutted that the weather had turned hazy and there was no bright blue sky in the background, I was still over the moon to capture it.
The first set of steps leading up the mountain
Things got a bit easier after the first 100 or so steps because the steps then changed. All of a sudden there was a handrail and the steps became less uneven and not so high. We also noticed a road that seemed to be winding its way up the mountain with people walking along it. That road was definitely going to be our route back down this mountain!
Mount Fuji and Fujiyoshida city
It took us quite a while to climb the mountain as every so often we would stop and look back to admire the views of Mount Fuji and Fujiyoushida city beneath it. However, once we eventually made it to the top, it was simply amazing!
The Chureito Pagoda
The pagoda was built as a peace memorial in the 1960s and forms part of the Arakura Sengen Shrine. The Chureito Pagoda is primarily famous because of it's unique location. It truly is a photographers dream and people flock to it for that reason. The view of the vibrant red five tiered pagoda in the foreground with Mount Fuji in the background is simply stunning. There is a postcard in Japan of the pagoda in spring with beautiful pink cherry blossoms to the left, the pagoda to the right and a snow capped Mount Fuji in the distance. It is one of my most favourite postcards EVER! And the closest I could get to that image was the very first photo you see in this blog post. However, in order to get that shot we had to climb further up the mountain and stray of the path to some seriously uneven terrain with a very high drop that had no barriers... risking our necks all for that one photo ;o).
After getting the photo we started to make our way down the mountain because the mosquitoes had started to come out as the afternoon turned into evening and these pesky little things seem to love me a bit too much for my liking! Going down the mountain proved to be much easier and we came across the Arakura Sengen Shrine along the way. As is typical of the shrines and temples in Japan, there was an area for cleansing at the entrance but instead of the water flowing out of the usual bamboo pipe, this one had a rather ornate dragon from which the water flowed.
Arakura Sengen Shrine
As we made our way back to Kawaguchiko Station, hubby and I discussed our dinner options and decided to go back to Lake Kawaguchiko where we had spotted an Indian restaurant called Alladin, earlier in the day. To our amusement the restaurant was actually a halal restaurant. This was the last place we ever imagined finding halal food, but hey, I wasn't going to turn down the rare opportunity to have meat in Japan. I opted for a set menu that came with a lentil curry, rice, freshly made naan, mutton curry, salad and a yoghurt dessert whilst hubby opted for a vegetable pizza. Yes, it was an Indian restaurant that also served freshly made pizza!
The restaurant was a small place, as is often the case in Japan, and the staff spoke good English as well as Urdu/Hindi, and Japanese of course, so communication was easy for once ;o). The Indian food was hands down the best Indian food I've had in Japan. The curries were so authentic that I could easily have mistaken them as my mum's curries in a blind taste test, and the portions were deceptively large. Those little silver bowls hold a lot more than you think. Hubby's vegetable pizza was.... well... a vegetable pizza but the first pizza he's ever had with cauliflower and carrots ;o).
After dinner we walked down to the lake just to see the lights reflecting of the water before walking back to our hotel. Whilst the streets were very quiet with little traffic on the roads, we felt perfectly safe walking back in the darkness. We noticed that most coffee shops/cafes and stores close around 5-6pm and most restaurants close by 10pm so it's not really the sort of place where you're going to be having a particularly late night. We didn't mind this at all as our partying days are well and truly behind us, plus we were planning on an early start the next day.
Lake Kawaguchiko at night
I hope you enjoyed this video and blog post concluding our first day at Lake Kawaguchiko. Day two will be coming soon.

Love Sheen xxx
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Tuesday, 7 July 2015

JVlog #20: Mount Fuji & Lake Kawaguchiko Day 1 Part 1 - The Kachi Kachi Ropeway

Good Day Everyone,

Before leaving Japan, hubby and I were very keen to go see Mount Fuji closer up and today I’m bringing you the first part of our two day trip to Mount Fuji and the Fuji Five Lakes. There are many organised tours and day trips to the area surrounding Mount Fuji, and if you are pushed for time then these are definitely a good option, especially if you don’t speak Japanese. However, we opted not to go down this route because, firstly the organised tours typically depart from Tokyo (and we were living in Yokohama), secondly as we weren’t pushed for time we wanted the freedom to go where we wanted (rather than where the tour took us) and do what we fancied rather than adhering to a schedule, and finally the organised tours were working out to be more expensive compared to doing it ourselves. We opted to go on our trip mid-week in order to avoid the weekend rush.
Mount Fuji from the Kachi Kachi Ropeway observation deck
Mount Fuji is surrounded by five lakes to its northern side and after a lot of online research we decided to head to Lake Kawaguchiko, the second largest of the five lakes as this is the most developed, and recommended as being most suitable for non-Japanese speaking tourists. Hubby had managed to find a travel agency near Yokohama station that offered a coach service directly to Lake Kawaguchiko, taking about 2.5hrs. Although Kawaguchiko has a train station, there are no direct services from Yokohama.
I woke up super excited on the day we were leaving because not only was the trip a welcomed break from all the packing but it was also a dream coming true, to go see Mount Fuji. We had an early start that day as the coach departed from Yokohama at 7.30am but hubby and I both manage to snooze on the journey since it took an hour longer than expected due to heavy traffic. 
Kawaguchiko Station with Mount Fuji behind it
As you can see in the video below, it was absolutely amazing to get off the coach at Kawaguchiko station only to see Mount Fuji behind the station. We headed to our hotel which was directly across the road from the station to drop off our overnight bag, and then we went straight to tourist information. Luckily, the staff at tourist information spoke good English and provided us with maps in English and directions to our first attraction, Lake Kawaguchiko. The lake is just a short 15min walk from the station. At the lake there are paddle boats for hire and boat trips that take you around the lake. You can’t see Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchiko unless you go further out into the lake on one of the boats. The lake is surrounded by beautiful mountains, some with snow-capped peaks in the distance. There are a few cafes, restaurants, tourist shops and convenience stores on the main road leading to and around the lake.
After admiring the lake we walked towards Mount Tenjo to get the Kachi Kachi Ropeway, a cable car ride, up the mountain. A return journey costs ¥720 per person but there is also a hiking trail back down the mountain which takes about 30mins. The ropeway is open from 9am-5.20pm and the journey up takes just 3mins. The Kachi Kachi Ropeway is decorated with large rabbit and raccoon cartoon characters as Mount Tenjo is the setting of a folk story in which a rabbit gets revenge on a thieving raccoon by setting him on fire and drowning him in a river… not the most pleasant of stories but at least the cartoons are cute ;o). 
Lake Kawaguchiko
At the top of the ropeway, which ascends 400 meters, is an observation deck sitting more than 1,000 meters above sea level with the most breath taking views of Mount Fuji, Lake Kawaguchiko and the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park with its Guinness World Record breaking roller coasters. Whilst I love the excitement of amusement parks and crazy rides, neither hubby or I actually tend to go on them due to our joint problems which is why we prioritised other sights over Fuji-Q. However, if its something that you enjoy then I'd highly recommend a visit. You can pay an entrance fee and then pay per ride or alternatively you can get an all inclusive ticket which gives you access to all of the rides - great for thrill seekers!
Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park
There is a small shop at the observation deck where I indulged in an ice lolly made with water from Mount Fuji to cool down as it was quite a hot and humid day, before we made our way back down the mountain to go eat our lunch by the lake. We still had a while before we could check into our hotel room so we headed back towards Kawaguchiko station and passed some time in a little coffee shop, whilst sheltering from the afternoon sun.
Most hotels around the Fuji Five Lakes area offer a whole Japanese experience where your breakfast and a traditional evening meal is included, and you sleep on a Japanese style bed. Hubby and I did not want this as we’re not fans of Japanese food and have a number of dietary restrictions. Plus as we were only there for one night we literally just needed a place to sleep and so opted for a room only hotel stay. Whilst our room was very basic and worn, it was clean and conveniently located across the road from the station, plus for ¥9,500 it was pretty cheap, although that was reflected in the quality of the mattress! Given that we were only in Kawaguchiko for one night we didn’t want to splash out on a fancy hotel when we’d be spending most of our time outside, doing the sights. After a brief rest we headed back out to visit one of the most famous pagodas in Japan, The Chureito Pagoda. To be continued....

I hope you enjoyed part one of our trip. Part two shall be coming soon :o).

Love Sheen xxx

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Thursday, 2 July 2015

Moving On

Good Day Everyone,

I hope you’re all keeping well. It certainly has been a while since I sat down to write a blog post! Life has been all sorts of craziness these past couple of months but things have finally settled down, albeit only for a short while ;o).

As you may know, our Japan adventure came to an end in May. Japan was always going to be a short term thing, and I know some people may question whether it was actually worth it for just nine months. Moving to a new country requires a significant investment of time, energy and money but for us it was totally worth it. Japan is sooo unique and different to anywhere else in the world that we just couldn’t pass it up when the opportunity arose. Having visited Japan a few months prior to moving there, I can tell you that living in a country is a completely different experience to visiting the country as a tourist.

Mount Fuji

Once we found out that our Japan adventure was coming to an end, there was one trip that we just had to make, and that was to go see Mount Fuji. This famous sacred mountain is visible from Yokohama, where we lived, on a clear day but we just had to go see it closer up. Fuji-San (as it’s known locally) is surrounded by five lakes to its northern side, and so hubby and I planned a two day trip to the Fuji Five Lakes. This is what will be coming up in subsequent blog posts and on my YouTube channel.

Our last sunrise from our Yokohama apartment

We spent most of May in a bit of a whirlwind. We had days where we were drowning in bubble wrap as we started to pack up our belongings into shipping boxes, and days where we were rushing around taking in some last minute sights. I tried to capture as much as I could on my vlogging camera so that I could continue making videos about Japan once we returned to the UK. My arthritis riddled body can capture footage more easily than it can edit it into vlogs so please bear with me.

We also had the challenge of selling all of our furniture that we’d only recently bought. We soon learnt that Japan does not have a big second hand market and recycling furniture is a very costly affair. If we hadn’t managed to sell our furniture, we’d have had to pay a lot of money to have it collected by a recycling firm. This explains why expats often give their furniture away for free on the local Craigslist. Luckily for us, we managed to sell everything, albeit at a fraction of the price we paid, with just a week to go!

This meant that we then had to spend our last week staying in various hotels. We spent three nights in Tokyo and used it as an opportunity to visit a few of the sights (I’m sure there will be a blog post &/or vlog coming soon). The rest of the week was spent in Yokohama liaising with the local authorities and utility companies to wrap things up before we left.

On our way back to the UK, we stopped off in Singapore for six days to de-stress as the last couple of weeks in Japan were pretty taxing, and to catch up with friends. It was sooo good to be in a country where we could speak the language and get vegetarian and halal food ;o). I did do a bit of vlogging whilst in Singapore and will post that on my YouTube channel soon.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore
The iconic Singapore Merlion

We adjusted to being back in Singapore so easily that it was a bit like coming home, although I had forgotten just how hot and humid Singapore was! The heat definitely got to me, as did the stress of the move and consequently I spent a couple of days on bed rest as my body started to react to the past few weeks. The six days went by way too quickly and before we knew it we were on another plane making our way back to the UK.

Cora the Caravan - our current home

We’ve not been back a month yet and already Japan and Singapore feel like distant memories, more so for me, as hubby has had a trip back to Singapore for work purposes. It feels strange to be back in the UK after four years of living in Asia. And what feels even stranger is living in a caravan…that’s right, hubby and I are currently living in a caravan. Not something I ever imagined doing but then again, I never imagined living in Japan either ;o).

Love Sheen xxx

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