Thursday, December 02, 2004

Back from a trip

I just got back from a relaxing 2 day trip to the Mt. Fuji Five Lakes area. Specifically, Ana and I stayed in an amazing hotel/onsen (hot spring) on the shore of Kawaguchi Lake. There was an outdoor onsen pool, and the men's had a commanding view of Mt. Fuji. I got to bathe naked with a Swiss computer programmer who was travelling around the country. What do you ask a guy when you're both sitting naked in the same pool of water? Evidently, "Been in Japan long?" is a good icebreaker.

We also had an amazing seven course dinner with sashimi and nabe (Japanese stew served in the winter), as well as rice and tea. The only part that wasn't delicious was the side soup, which had something that looked like a small testicle floating in it, and evertime you put a chopstick in, it came out covered in fine green seaweed that looked like hair. Ick. There were only 4 other people dining then; the Swiss couple, and 2 young Japanese women. The waitstaff practically outnumbered us. I couldn't see it, but Ana said that every few minutes, one of them would rush forward to see if we needed anything. If we didn't, she'd back away quietly. I never heard a thing, but the moment I finished my little bowl of rice, she was right there to refill it for me. Strangely, I had to refill my water glass myself. Water isn't normally drunk often with meals in Japan, so if you ask for a glass, you get a very tiny glass. I drink a lot of it, so I practically drained the pitcher there.

It was very quiet because we went in the middle of the week, and during the late fall time, after all the brilliant colors have left the leaves. But it was still pretty breathtaking. The major downside was that since we went there on December 1st, lots of things closed or reduced their hours starting that very day. We tried to see a bat cave and nature hike exhibit, but it closed down the day before. But we did find a wild bird park, where several old Japanese men used multi-thousand dollar photo lenses to take really close shots of birds. Walking around, we evidently disturbed the guys, because one came running out and herded us around the side of the building. He never said a word to us, but motioned for us to follow him. He led us around down a small path and he and a friend began using their bird-callers to try and attract some birds. The small birds here literally eat out of your hands, as we learned when we held our arms outstretched for what seemed like an eternity, to have the little ones flit towards us, grab a seed, and fly back to the trees. It was pretty cool, and the old men seemed tickled to watch us feed the birds.

The whole day, we had Fuji-san towering over us. It was a strange experience, seeing such a majestic cone, for someone who grew up in the flatlands of Indiana. Before, I'd only seen Fuji poking above the distant mountains. I don't think I can see it from my window with the same sense of awe as when I had to crane my neck to look up, and that when I wasn't even technically on the slope upwards. It heightens my resolve, though, to climb it next summer. I'll be prepared.

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