Jake and Katy visiting (part 2, Kawaguchiko)

After visiting Kamakura we got on the train again and made an unnecessarily long journey to Kawaguchiko, a town name after it’s lake. Lake Kawaguchiko is one of the “Fujigoko”, 5 lakes of Mt Fuji. We arrived late in the night in this peaceful town, everything was quiet and sleeping. We were shattered but luckily our hostel was just across from the station. We chucked our stuff in our room and decided to relieve our aching bodies with a wash. I discovered on the top floor an onsen, a Japanese style public bath, although an unnatural one. The rules are pretty simple for use. You have to wash before you can get in the steaming hot bath, and only naked. No swim wear or towels allowed. Luckily when I braved it and went in there was only one other man, who left soon after I got in. So I got the whole place just to chill out.

In the morning I washed in the onsen again and was pleasantly surprised by the breathtaking view out of the wall sized window that had been obscured by the dark the previous night. There I was sat relaxing in a steaming hot bath with postcard perfect sight of Mt Fuji. What a great way to wake up. We left to have a wander and find our hostel for the next night that was located nearer to Kawaguchiko lakeside. Kawaguchiko town is not much less sleepy in the day. It is small, cute and barely interferes with the natural beauty it is surrounded by. We had to walk through the town and cross the bridge over the lake to get to our hostel, constantly stopping to take pictures of the increasingly arresting views of Mt Fuji. We checked into our hostel and hopped on the free bikes it provided and went for a little explore around the lake. An old man tried to sell us a speed boat ride around the lake with a enthusiastic pitch, despite his limited English. He just repeated “fast, fast, fast, brrrrrraaaaww!!”, accompanied with crazy arm movements and he assured us that we could stand up on the boat as well, which I don’t think convinced us anymore. Instead we settled for the slower, cheaper, and probably safer tourist boat that took us on a gentle 20 minute ride around the lake and as part of the boat ticket we could also go on a cable car up the smaller Mt. Tenjosan to view Fuji and the lake. Here it was nice to sit and have a break taking in the scenery. We got a free postcard made of us in front of Mt. Fuji brandishing Fuji-kun (Fuji Boy) plush dolls posing around a big Tanuki raccoon dog model. Apparently there is some kind of folklore story about these Tanuki tied to Mt. Tenjosan. I am not quite sure what it is, although regardless of not knowing their story, Tanuki statues are always amusing as they are depicted with a garish smile and huge bollocks, even in the childrens’ books.

After enjoying our touristy excursions we thought it would be nice to make our way by bike around the lake to get back to hostel. A little way around the lake a sandy peninsula stretched out with a cute little shrine perched on the end. Me and Jake found it fun to practice skidding on the sand with our bikes. The route around the lake was fairly gentle and rewarding, although we slightly miscalculated how long it would take and did not get back to the hostel until after dark feeling a little spent. To wind down we went to a local restaurant and tried Kawaguchiko’s noodle speciality, “Houtou”. The noodles are big, wide and flat and are served in a broth with vegetables. Everyone chose it with pumpkin, which turned out to be a bad choice as it was disappointingly dry and flavourless. Following dinner we made our way up a steep dark road to go an all natural onsen, named “天水 tensui” or heavenly water. It was a quintessentially Japanese place, mostly made from wood, with paper sliding doors, tatami mats all subtle in appearance. We paid and me and Jake parted ways with Katy to the men’s baths. After stripping down and having a quick wash we followed the door to the outside pools. There was a series of large steaming rock pools molded into the contours of the hill. It was a bit chilly being butt-naked standing outside in the cool springtime night so we did not hesitate to join everyone in the water. At first it was a bit weird bathing with a load of naked strangers, and your brother, which felt like regressing into early childhood. But after some awkward man noises it was amazing to settle and allow the therapeutic qualities of the hot fresh water sooth our aching bodies. We spent time chilling out in all the various pools even the few inside. Even though I was getting more used to the open nakedness, this man decided to bend down and clear the floor of soap in front of the pool I was sitting in, which unfortunately gave me the clear sight of his arse and dangling balls. It was a little bit unsettling. About then was time to get out. Feeling fresh, clean and rid of aches we went back to the hostel. The owner was seemingly a little restless and offered us some whiskey. We chatted for a while sipping our whiskey but soon crashed out.

The next day we took the bikes out again to have a explore. We decided to ride to Lake Saiko (literally meaning west lake), the next lake on from Kawaguchiko. This was a spectacular route and we took a few rests along our way. Human life seemed to become increasingly scarce. One stop we made was at a little cafe perched on the edge of Lake Saiko surrounded only by hills. An old man served us some coffee and cake and we sat and admired the peacefulness. It felt almost eerily different to our shenanigans in Tokyo, nonetheless the contrast was soothing. We carried on round the Lake and visited a “bat cave”. It soon came apparent why we needed hard hats as there were no attempts to make the cave wheelchair/OAP/person accessible. Although we had fun crawling around on our hands and knees we did not see any bats. I think it was the wrong season. Next, a little further on we visited an “ice cave”. Here there was ice, lots of it. This made it dangerously slippery as well as cramped and inaccessible. Health and safety would have gone crazy. Nonetheless this added to the excitement and the icicle room is worth a visit. From here we started to make our way back to Kawaguchiko area and along the way we stopped for a bite in a cafe that conveniently had benches facing the inescapable view of Mt. Fuji, saw children gathering at a spectacular school surrounded only by that same view, and a strange remotely placed shop that only sold wood and stone carvings of Japanese deities and traditional figures. When we returned to the hostel we dropped of the bikes and crashed out. We felt exhausted and were dreading walking back to the station as in those two days we had probably cycled around 50km. Luckily the hostel owner was a great guy and drove us to the station. From here we caught a night bus to our next destination, Kyoto.

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