After a stint of temple gazing in Kyoto it was back on the big old bus to Tokyo, only this time I would not be greeted by the u-bend of a toilet with more buttons on the arm rest than James T Kirk’s favourite arm chair. Instead we were guided by a lovely Japanese fellow, back in town to visit his son who he had not seen in about 10 years, through the maze that is the belly of the underground and into the ticket office to buy our bus tickets to Fuji-Kawaguchiko….
Now say that again ten times over.
Mt Fuji modestly covering her best bits (Right)
The plan was to travel straight to Mount Fuji and stay near one of the lakes that sits in the shadow of the mountain. After a surprisingly short journey we got to the hotel in pitch darkness and pouring rain only to find nobody there. It appears the owners were out on an emergency. After much scrambling with our torches to retrieve a hidden key we got into our new home only to discover it was kitted out as a traditional Japanese ryokan with all the trimmings! Sweeeet!!! Whats more we had the place all to ourselves. Think Tom Cruise in “Last of the Samurai”, and that was us for the next 3 days, but with less body armour.
Mt Fuji is surrounded by five lakes, of which Kawaguchi is one. The only downside was that, due to the time of year, Mt Fuji was half covered in cloud and too dangerous and windy to ascend. We were not about to try. Instead, we spent much or our time here exploring the lake and the surrounding country side on bikes, appreciating some of the most breathtaking scenery we had scene on our trip so far. Kawaguchiko is such an incredibly peaceful and tranquil part of the world that cycling from one lake to another has such a soothing effect. For anyone who does wants to let off some steam by smacking a few baseballs around then they have some batting cages here which we decided make use of before heading off.
After a few days we headed back to Tokyo and the final leg of our stay in Japan. So what of Tokyo? I could mention the constant rain, salivating to sushi, drinking sake, mouth-watering kobe beef, getting into a bow off competition with a waitress, the Sony building, locals performing Kata in the street and the heart of technological geekdom that is the Akihabara district. However, there can be only two things that made it impossible for me to say no to Japan. baseball…..and karaoke!
Some might call it the beautiful game, others maybe not. One things for sure, if you call it rounders here then you will get karate-chopped to the ground. Love it or hate it the Japanese have been revelling in baseball for the last 100 years. Our chosen team, the Yakult Swallows, are potentially the worst team in the Japanese League and desperately in need of our support. With us cheering them on what could go wrong? The best thing about Japanese baseball is the spectacle of the fans and seeing them cheer, groan and sing a different song each time one of their players come to bat. Armed with blow up batons a true devotee will know the words to every song and wave and chant in unison with the crowd at every available opportunity. I thought the Yanks were nutters for baseball, but here they all open up big green umbrellas and twirl them in unison whenever a Swallow hits a home run. Sadly the actual game was the most dissaponting I have seen in a long time with the Swallows getting hammered 1-10. Not one for baseball folklore.
And so on to the magical land of karaoke. Japanese karaoke. Our initial enquiries revealed that most of the places in downtown Tokyo just seemed to be some kind of “mega-karaoke” more suited to the hardened karaoke goer or large groups of Japanese desperate to burn the midnight oil by stretching their vocal chords as far as is humanly possible. Perhaps not for us, and as we trudged back to our hotel knowing we had only one day left and had not yet grabbed ourselves a mic, we heard some unusual noises coming from what looked like a small house, certainly not a karaoke bar – surely?? I opened the door and a group of locals wheeled round, mics in hand and potentially a few sheets to the wind. Only a few sheets though. We both took a deep breath and pushed ourselves through the door being all British and not wishing to impose too much. We were greeted by the owner of the bar who ushered us to some mats on the floor. They had all been singing and ‘passing the mic’ for a while seemingly and there faces lit up when we told them we were interested in karaoke. One of the group, a very smily and confident lady, handed us what can only be described as the Bible of karaoke which was as thick as two Korans with English songs. The gods of karaoke were smiling upon us as we got stuck into some sake and other Japanese delicacies then a side of Micheal Jackson, a sip of The Beatles washed down nicely with a pint of Guns n’ Roses. At the end of the evening we left to much bowing and the promise that we would be back the following night. Which we did, much to our enjoyment and mutual satisfaction might I add. What a great way to say ‘sayonara’ to the land of the rising sun…
Next stop? Beijing and the Great Wall….