Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Japan Trip // Tokyo Day 11 & 12: Winding Down

I've been to Tokyo previously twice and have enjoyed it both times. However, after exploring the Kansai region for almost two weeks, I now despise Tokyo and its metropolitan glory because it's like being in any other big city, except they all speak Japanese and are more well behaved and polite. Give me back Kyoto!

We can't break our architectural streak now so we visit the Tokyo International Forum, which is a pretty cool place, even though it feels like an airport.

I particularly liked how they used the outdoor space as an area for people to chill and interact. There was an event going on that night with food trucks and music performances. Just a fun and chill Friday night.

The next day we had omurice for lunch at the famed Taimeiken restaurant in Mitsukoshi.

Honestly, I was very, very disappointed by this place. The omurice egg was pretty dry and nothing else of the dish was spectacular. Even the hamburg was on the dry side. I can make something even better myself at home. The hunt for the best omurice in Tokyo continues!

You can't escape her. She's everywhere :) This was taken in Shibuya.

And on my way to Omotesando, I saw this awesome dude. It was Vogue's Fashion Night Out, which is probably why he was dressed like that....or maybe he's just that cool every single day.

My souvenirs from Japan: snacks and ramen!

With that is a conclusion of this epic Japan trip. On previous visits to Japan I've enjoyed it, but never fallen in love or wanted to live in Japan. This trip has completely changed that. If someone gave me an offer to live in Kyoto I would accept it in a blink of an eye. I can't wait to be back in Japan again. It feels like the moment I start feeling more comfortable speaking Japanese again after so many years I have to leave.  じゃ、またね、日本!是対にもう一度あいます。

Japan Trip // Hakone Day 10: Relaxing The Japanese Way

Of course, the rain refuses to give us a break even in Hakone. *waves fists* Etau, I'm looking at you!

We're still pretty sore from Fuji, but that's not gonna stop us from being tourists! Though we did agree to take it easy today, so we'll be on the bus for most of the day. This photo was taken on the bus ride to the famous Tori gates. It also adequately sums up what it was like on Fuji.

Hakone is a really mountainous place and perfect for dramatic fog. It definitely made our Hakone experience different than what people usually see.

We take a ferry on Lake Ashi to another side of Hakone. *Cue Pirates of the Carribbean music*

On clear days you're supposed to see Mount Fuji in the background too. That did not happen...and I STILL have yet to see Fuji itself, even though I've been on it.

I feel like I'm on the Black Pearl, destined to forever be on the sea.

Beautiful grassy field that we passed while on the bus back to the ryokan. It's a park that you can walk through but we didn't have the energy or time.

As an award for the pain and suffering we endured on Fuji, we booked a fancy Japanese ryokan that included an onsen, gardens, and breakfast. It's a ryokan that's been in business for over 100 years and has entertained some famous people as guests.

Our room, which was a view of Japanese maple leaves by the river. Each room has different scenery.

Yummy breakfast, minus the tofu.

Hakone is known for its onsens, so we had to also try this outdoor onsen. It was a bit hot outside, but it is fun doing outdoor onsens. Plus the views here were gorgeous.

I can't believe our epic trip is about to end. Finally, our last stop: Tokyo!

Japan Trip // Gotemba Day 8 & 9: The Ever Elusive and Epic Mount Fuji

It's the big day that we've been excitedly talking about even before arriving in Japan- hiking Mount Fuji! Except it's raining. Aaargh. We arrive at Gotemba Station to catch the bus that will take us to the 5th Station where we will begin our ascent. The guy at the ticket office informs us that there's a typhoon headed this way and that climbing Fuji is at our own risk.

What's going through our heads:
  1. But we can't cancel our Hakone reservation! That place is EXPENSIVE. I'm not going to let that money go to waste.
  2. It's just a typhoon....just some rain and wind, right?
  3. Mount Fuji is high enough that we'll be higher than the clouds! No clouds = no rain/wind/weather, right? (We're so logical)
  4. This is our one and only chance to climb Fuji! (Like I said, we're so logical. *snicker*)
Because we're still stuck in ultra-tourist thinking and desperate to tackle this bucket list item, we downplay the (obvious) dangers and board the bus. Look how innocently we're smiling on the bus!

I even recorded a pre-climbing video! (But oops, it's upside down, sorry)

We arrive at the Subashiri 5th Station and as predicted, it's raining. There are multiple paths to climb Fuji and we chose the Subashiri Trail because it's supposed to have more trees. Look at them cutely peeking behind the sign. Surely they'll keep us covered from the wind and the rain, right? 

Again we're warned about the typhoon, but we find another American couple who are crazy like us, so, LET'S DO THIS!!! *fist pump* 

The climb starts out okay as the trees keep us relatively shielded from the rain and the wind. But as we hit each station, we realize that they're all closed because of the typhoon and that there are no other structures to give us a temporary break from the weather. So we're only left with one option- to keep going, because we're too far in now to turn around and give up.

We then hit the altitude where there aren't any more trees and it's just us, volcanic rock, and Fuji, with the wind and rain beating down on us and dropping temperatures. Thank god I bought the North Face jacket, which kept me warm and dry. For all the doubters, that jacket really does do everything it says it will. It's what kept me alive on this climb. But back to the story.

Hour four or so the hike is really starting to take its toll and I'm falling way, way behind the pack, to the point where the American couple ditch us. Then we meet a fork in the path. Up or down? At this point we're starting to lose light and are beginning to seriously panic. We choose the path going up, but after hiking for ten minutes change our minds and continue down the other way. We finally see a light up ahead, which renews our hope, but I'm also progressively getting even more slow.

My friend goes ahead to make sure we're following the right path. Now the sun is completely gone and I can barely see in front of me with all the wind and rain. On top of that, I've lost my friend. Fuck. I do still see the light though and try my best to walk towards it, calling for my friend and help simultaneously and about to seriously lose it. Images of the shrine dedicated to people who died climbing Fuji that we passed crosses my mind. Thank goodness in the end I was saved and (literally) hauled up to safety by the people at the hut.

And surprise, surprise, we weren't the only crazy ones! There were the American couple that we started the journey with who made it there a little before us, some Chinese exchange students, and an Australian and American duo. Here's what the inside of our hut looked like.

And everyone's wet hiking gear hanging to dry. Originally we made reservations at the 8.5 Station, but we only made it to the 8th Station. We've just now come to our senses and completely regret the decision to climb. We can't even make it to the summit because the conditions are way too dangerous. (The original plan was to rest at the hut and then embark for the summit in the middle of the night to catch the sunrise.)

The next morning we wake up to this lovely sight. Typhoon is on, full force. Then 11:00 am rolls around and the hut workers try to inform us in the nicest way possible that we need to leave by 11:30 or we'll have to pay for another night's lodging. And like that, we're kicked out and are back in the typhoon.....

It was terrible descending the first half hour. The wind slapped at our faces and I literally thought I'd fly away because of the strong winds. However the further we descended, the more the weather conditions improved and stabilized. Eventually when I finally reached the 5th Station again, which is where we started our journey, the weather was actually pretty nice, albeit winds were still strong and temperatures still cold.

I still don't get a view of Mount Fuji itself as it is ever elusive and still engulfed in clouds.

We finally make it back to Gotemba Station and still, I'm robbed of my view of Mount Fuji.

I don't think I'll be attempting Fuji again any time soon since I'm still scarred by the experience, but I'm sure under normal conditions it's a great and rewarding albeit challenging hike. Typhoon Etau, I will forever remember you. But hey, this'll definitely be a story that I'll tell the grand kids ;)

Japan Trip // Awaji Day 7: The Worst and The Good of Tadao Ando

Took a bus from Kobe to Awaji Island for some more Ando fun! Except it turned out not to be that fun because, well, Ando has had better ideas. I'm definitely over him after this trip. No more concrete buildings please!

Bye bye Kobe!

The Westin Awaji Island Resort

Probably Ando's most large scale work, this place was seriously humongous. It stretched the whole side of the mountain, yet it was like a ghost town. Uninhabited and depressing. Not really sure why people would have a fancy island vacation resort here (I would choose Okinawa), but most are probably here for the conference center.

Like I said, the grounds that this project covered were massive.

Except there were probably only like 20 people making use of it the day we went.

I wonder if architects like Ando ever reminisce about a past project and think, "yeah...I don't know what I was thinking then. Oops"

The redeeming quality of this place was the view of the ocean and the sky gardens, which it is also famous for. Pity that many of the plots were empty, but that's probably because we came during the wrong season.

Don't these flowers remind you of brains or pictures of microscopic cells? Something like that...I'm not much of a science girl.

Awaji is known for onions, so I thought I'd order this onion with meat sauce and cheese dish thinking the onion would be stuffed with meat or cheese or something.

But nope, it was literally a baked onion in a sea of salty meat sauce and cheese. Can't fault them though because it turned out exactly as pictured on the menu.

Water Temple

Another Ando work. This one was loads better. But please, no more concrete! I can't handle it anymore.

It's been raining consecutively for the past few days and we're supposed to hike Mount Fuji tomorrow. Though the forecast says 100% chance of rain, I'm hoping that it'll be a fluke or that Fuji is high enough so that we'll surpass the clouds and then have no rain?