Fuji behind the clouds

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After my visits to Shinjuku and Shibuya, despite a canicular heat in Tokyo, by the time I caught the bus at Shinjuku station, for Mount Fuji, it was starting to get gloomy. And as I got on the way, torrential rain started hitting the highway, giving me an idea of the weather ahead, leading to an encounter with Mount Fuji behind the clouds.

On board the bus for Mount Fuji.
On board the bus to Mount Fuji

As we headed through the Japanese countryside on one of those perfect highways, the bus kept going fast, despite the thunderstorm.

But Japanese bus drivers are as safe as rigid in their timetable and practices on board. The bus was taking me only to the Fujiyoshida train station, where I landed in the midst of a storm.

Arriving under the rain

My first hotel was on the side of lake Kawaguchi, a magnificent lake on the waters of which Fount Fuji can often be seen reflecting. This involved, of course, taking a bus from the station to the hotel, under the rain.

A very local spa & hotel

The lovely thing about being in Japan, is that almost every hotel or inn has an onsen, which is even truer near volcanoes such as Fuji. The local hotel I chose (mainly for the views on the mountain) was equipped as a very traditional Japanese inn, complete with futons and low table.

The view from this hotel was absolutely gorgeous on lake Kawaguchi. However, the continuous drizzle made it a hassle, taking away my hopes of seeing sunset on Mount Fuji on my first day near the mountain. On that day, Fuji stayed obstinately behind the clouds.

Views on Lake Kawaguchi
Views on Lake Kawaguchi

The drawback of booking such a hotel via booking.com is that there are NO restaurants in the vicinity. As such, hotels generally propose half board or full board, but only conditional to booking it at the time of reserving the room and furthermore only via their own web site. If you did not book via their web site, it is highly likely you will have to procure some food outside. And when we stay “outside”, you must again think about the location where you are hosted.

I had thus to go out and was thinking that some nearby restaurant might offer sustenance, but alas, for those that belonged to hotels, the same rules applied. I walked under the rain, hoping to seize some interesting scenes on the way, to no avail – it is just a very long circular road around the lake, and when it rains… well, nothing much to see.

When getting to the town of Fujiyoshida, there were at least some combini as well as restaurants open. And on a side garden, some sunflowers offered a little smile in the rain.

Sunflowers in the rain in Fujiyoshida
Sunflowers in the rain in Fujiyoshida.

This first evening, I wandered thus the streets of Fujiyoshida under a gray sky and drizzling rain. The mountain was completely obscured by thick clouds. I returned to my hotel discouraged, but still hopeful for the next day.

Sunset on lake Kawaguchi
Sunset on lake Kawaguchi.

Since I was in a hotel with an onsen, I decided to use it at a time where there were few customers. i wore my yukata and headed thus to the baths. It was really great to enjoy a hot bath after a whole day spent walking under the relentless rain.

Me in bathing yukata.
Me, in bathing yukata.

But the relief provided by the onsen was to be of short duration. As I got back to my room, I was again reminded that the place was made to stay on the floor, with what is called “futons”, sort of very thin mats to place on the floor to sleep.

A futon bed in my hotel room.
A futon bed in my hotel room.

While many celebrate the virtues of this type of bedding for the back, my own back begged to differ. I passed an absolutely awful night, my painful back waking me up regularly. In the morning, I relaxed only after some stretching.

Discovering Fuji behind the clouds

The next morning, as mentioned, I was relocating to another hotel (actually a hotel and attraction park combined), to be nearer to Honcho street, which is the famous street with view on Mount Fuji. As I departed the hotel, the mountain was still hidden behind a low-lying cloud curtain.

Fuji behind the clouds
Fuji behind the clouds

At the Fujiyoshida station, the clouds started to dissipate a bit, and for the first time, I was able to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji, still being hidden behind clouds.

The station of Fujiyoshida and Mount Fuji in the background.
The station of Fujiyoshida and Mount Fuji in the background.

I walked then to my hotel, a couple of kilometers down the road, dragging my suitcase, and of course, my camera bag.After dropping my bags, I walked to Honcho street to catch my first sight of Mount Fuji.

Walking through Fujiyoshida

After settling down at the hotel and leaving my stuff at the reception (Japanese hotels have this very annoying characteristic of obliging you to check out at 10 AM and checking in only at… 3 PM!), I headed towards Honcho street.

There are many transportation methods to reach Honcho street, not to mention the free shuttle from my hotel, but I wanted to walk along the way, to explore the city in a fine weather.

The walk to Fujiyoshida is a few kilometers long in a quiet and peaceful country town. At noon, I was surprised to hear a delicate melody of chimes playing through loudspeakers. While quaint and charming, this practice is grounded also in safety practices: Japan being a country prone to earthquakes and tsunamis, they have a network of warning systems coupled with loudspeakers across all cities. The chimes help to check that the loudspeakers are functional in a very charming manner.

Bell chimes at noon at Fujiyoshida
Honcho street with Fuji in the clouds
Honcho street with Fuji under the clouds

I reached Honcho street around midday. As can be seen in the picture above, the harsh midday light did not do the scene justice, and it was made worse by the lingering clouds in front of Mount Fuji.

It was however a realization that I was at the very spot which I so yearned to visit in the past. Being a photographer, I decided to come back in the evening to shoot the evening lights on Mount Fuji. At the same time, a sharp pang of regret struck me, as I had wanted to climb Mount Fuji this year, but was at an insufficient training level to do it.

Honcho street in the sunset

I obviously walked back to my hotel, Then came back on foot again, but rather than take the charming side streets of Fujiyoshida, I stuck to the main streets, in order to get on site faster.

Traffic was starting to pick up in the rush hour, as I arrived near the Kana-dorii tori gate, which marks the border between the earthly world and the spiritual world of Fuji-san.

Kana-dorii tori gate in Fuijyoshida
The Kana-dorii tori gate of Fujiyoshida with Mount Fuji illuminated by sunset in the backgroud.

The spot on Honcho road which allows for the iconic shot is way lower on the street, about one kilometer lower. As I walked down the street, the street lights started being lit up, with a special atmosphere. On Honcho street, at regular intervals manhole covers reminded you that we were in the city of Mount Fuji.

A manhole cover with an illustration of Mount Fuji on Honcho Road.
A manhole cover with an illustration of Mount Fuji on Honcho road. Mount Fuji can be seen in the background.

In the case you were wondering, my evening walk was made barefoot. In fact, Japanese streets are so clean that when I came back to the hotel, my feet were pretty much clean, except for the dust, naturally.

When Fuji uncovers itself

While on the way to Honcho street, Mount Fuji was still partially covered in clouds, to the point I was wondering if I would be heading there and be disappointed once more.

Some clouds linger around Mount Fuji
Some clouds linger around Mount Fuji.

You can see the darker blue tones of sunset showing in the above picture. And by the way, Honcho road is also a quite frequented street, as it is the central road of Fujiyoshida, so while taking that “iconic” picture in the middle of the street, you must be aware of the environment. Cars pass and they come from in front as well as from behind, so it is important either to have a partner to warn you, or to be aware of your environment.

Finally, I got to the bottom of Honcho road. I took a series of pictures of the sunset. I was extremely lucky to see Fuji behind the clouds, but also Fuji without clouds and with a delicate orange glow from the sunset.

Fuji in the sunset with clouds
Fuji in the sunset with clouds.

I rested my camera against a wall to get the best speed with a closed shutter. However, I was still playing hide and seek with the clouds. A moment later, though, I managed to sneak a shot of Mount Fuji with its sunset glow and with clouds almost uncovering the peak.

Mount Fuji in the sunset
Mount Fuji in the sunset.

As the night grew darker on Mount Fuji, I managed to distinguish small specks of light on the mountain. Those specs of lights were the hikers on their way to summit Mount Fuji.

Mount Fuji at night
Mount Fuji at night, with hikers seen on the slopes.

Barefooting in Fujiyoshida

Regular readers know I love barefooting around town. Unfortunately, no barefoot hike up a mountain this time, but I did take the time to barefoot in Fujiyoshida. Japanese towns are extremely clean and tidy, so after I came home, I noticed with some surprise that my feet were pretty clean, to the exception of some dust.

A manhole with a design of Mount Fuji in Fujiyoshida.
A manhole with a design of Mount Fuji in Fujiyoshida.

The pavements were quite soft and agreeable to walk upon, and taking off my Berkemann slippers came with some relief, as I was carrying about 14 kgs of gear on the back. Walking barefoot relaxed my feet and my back at the same time.

Fuji, a missed encounter?

As I left the flanks of Mount Fuji behind me, there was a bittersweet feeling in my heart. Sweet, because I had realized my dream, namely taking that iconic shot on Honcho road; bitter, because I had not climbed Mount Fuji as I had planned in my initial thinking.

But as they say, maybe climbing Mount Fuji and undertaking the challenge of hiking to the summit requires a different moment in life and a different time in our lives. Maybe this was just me, leaving a page open for the next encounter, where Fuji would finally be revealed in all its glory. Meanwhile, I had now to get back to Tokyo, for I had to go for the real goal of my trip, namely the Awa Odori festival in Tokushima.

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