Wednesday, August 8, 2018

JAPAN JEWELS - DAY 4 - MOUNT FUJI

We were travelling from Hiroshima to see Mt. Fuji before going to Tokyo. Our excitement was doubled because were going to take the Shinkansen or the bullet train as we know it. We have been hearing a lot about bullet trains in recent times and are expecting the same in India in the near future.

We checked out of our hotel and boarded our coach at 5.15 am 

and reached Hiroshima station at 6.10; as it was early morning, there wasn't much traffic. We got breakfast boxes which we decided to enjoy during our train ride. Our tour guide gave us clear instructions. Our Shinkansen was scheduled at 7 am; it would reach Nagoya station at 9.20. We had to be alert to alight there, cross over to the next platform and get into our compartment in the Shinkansen leaving for Odawara at 9.26 am. Pretty tight, right? Our excitement was clouded by nervousness but our tour manager reassured us that everything would be fine and we'd make it alright. The second train journey was of one hour duration. 

As we sat ourselves in the waiting room, our thoughts were full of Shinkansen.
Shinkansen, colloquially known in English as the bullet train, runs on a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan. Initially built to connect distant Japanese regions with the capital Tokyo, to aid economic growth and development, it is now also used as a commuter rail network. The network consists of 2,764.6 km of lines with maximum speeds of 240–320 km/h. Shinkansen, connecting Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, Japan’s three largest cities, is the world's busiest high-speed rail line. Since its inception more than five decades ago, it has carried over 10 billion passengers; in the one-year period preceding March 2017, it carried 159 million passengers. 

The Shinkansen is very reliable thanks to several factors, including its near-total separation from slower traffic. It has been reported that its average delay from schedule per train was a mere 24 seconds and that included delays from natural calamities and uncontrolled factors! The record was 18 seconds in 1997.
I am sharing this post I recently received on social media about the height of punctuality of Shinkansen.

Another incredible fact is that there have been no passenger fatalities due to derailments or collisions, despite frequent earthquakes and typhoons. Injuries  have been caused by doors closing on passengers or their belongings; attendants are employed at platforms to prevent such accidents. However there have been suicides by passengers jumping both from and in front of moving trains.  
We reached our platform on time. Our train arrived on the dot; 
we got inside Coach No.14, found our seats and seated ourselves. It was a vestibule train and we could go from one coach to another. Restrooms were located alternately at one end of the coaches. Each seat had a fold-able table and it was convenient for our breakfast.

The train picked up speed very quickly and we could see the city scenes whiz past ...... then patches of countryside .... another city ... We also passed through several long tunnels. You see there was this friend from our group who was capturing the scenes passing by on her iPad. And she started talking to another friend. 
Minutes ticked by before she realized that we were passing through a long tunnel and the iPad was shooting a video of the darkness outside!

A young officer / attendant (we couldn't make out, as all are dressed in suit), walked down from the rear end of the coach, went past us and before opening the door to leave for the next coach, made a bow and then exited. Every official - lady or gentleman offered courteous bows as they left each coach. Such humility!

All of us got off comfortably at Nagoya. What did we see? The Shinkansen we had to take to Odawara was bang on the next platform and our car (compartment) No.14 was right in front of the spot where we had alighted. We boarded the train and it left exactly at 9.26! We enjoyed the speed of the Shinkansen for another hour. As we were nearing our destination, one of our friends at the window seat, let out a loud shout of delight and pointed outside. All of us crowded around and let out a collective 'Ooooh!' 
There was Mt. Fuji in all its glory - the first glimpse was 
 simply breathtaking.

We reached Odawara and then boarded our bus. After an hour's drive, we reached Lake Ashi. 
Also known as Ashinoko Lake or Hakone Lake, it is a scenic crater lake in the Hakone area, lying along the southwest wall of the caldera of Mount Hakone, a complex volcano that last erupted in 1170 at Owakudani. The lake is known for its views of Mt. Fuji, its numerous hot springs, and historical sites. Tourists can enjoy rides in pleasure boats and ferries to enjoy scenic views. But we did not get glimpses of Mt. Fuji. 
We could see at the far right end, the Hakone Shrine (orange structure) that has been visited by shogun, samurai, and many travelers over the centuries.
After taking in the scenic beauty of the lake, we went to the eatery located there for yet another unique experience - a Japanese lunch. Our local guide Iako had warned us that we'd find the dishes very bland, even less on salt (Japanese use very little salt, spice, and sugar). There would be some spices like wasabi and soy.

As we entered the huge dining hall, we saw there were separate sections for vegetarians and non vegetarians. 
Needless to say, most of our group made a beeline towards the 'safe' vegetarian section.

The meal looked inviting and colorful. There was just a pinch of salt on each of our plates - wish they had provided more - as it turned out every item needed salt!
The fritters ('bajji') were tasty - low on salt but of course! An assortment of zucchini, green chilli, pumpkin and egg plant.

The sweet potato tasted great - just as if it had come from our home kitchen.
The cabbage was brown and sour and tasted good. Ditto with beans - both were minuscule helpings but they sufficed.
We tried using our chopsticks to eat .....

There was rice, but what were we supposed to have it with? 
One of our friends added a seasoning and suggested we do the same. I added that rather gingerly to a portion of my rice and a little bit of salt and mixed it. It tasted great - something like roasted 'til' rice! So I had another helping of the same. 


The Japanese tea was insipid - I had it only to claim that I have had it!

The cottage cheese with herbal seasoning, was totally bland too. Nevertheless, we managed to make the most of the Japanese lunch and enjoyed it too.

One of our friends, Yash Pendse shared pics of the non vegetarian delicacies. 
I didn't dare to visit that section - we had heard that Japanese like everything fresh and raw, 
with minimal cooking.

After that we boarded our coach and started our drive to Mt. Fuji. 


During the drive, we got to see cherry blossoms which filled our hearts with cheer and joy.

We were informed that during the previous day there had been rain and snow and visibility was very poor; tourists could not reach up to the 5th station. But we were lucky to go there on a sunny day and we were assured of great views. 

What fabulous views we got as we neared our destination! 
I have shared some awesome clicks of Mt. Fuji and 
the 4th day's sightseeing by our friend Yash Pendse.


After a two hour drive, we reached the 5th station, Mt. Fuji. 


And there it was in all its glory. 
Our cameras could not do justice to its ultimate beauty.

The winds were trying to carry us all way. 

We went berserk rushing here and there trying to click as many pics as we could before our numb hands totally froze and we and our cameras got blown away. 


At the entrance of Mt. Fuji World Cultural Heritage building, there was this statue of a man standing with his finger pointing towards Mt. Fuji and my husband chose to pose with it.

Hot coffee warmed us and we were happy to board our coach in an hour. 

As we were driving to Tokyo, we made one more stop to capture the scenic Mt. Fuji for one last time. 
We would have lingered on forever enjoying the awesome spectacle......

I wish to share some exotic photos clicked by our friend Yash Pendse.

After a three hour drive, we stopped at 'Masala Kitchen' and had an early dinner at 7. 
We then checked into our room at Shingawa Prince - Annex Tower at 8 pm.

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