The next destination on our list was Mount Haruna, a mountain known for the appearance in the Initial_D TV series. We had our hotel at the feet of the mountain, so that made it perfect for paying a visit. We just stepped out of our fantasy world we experienced in the Ryokan right into the longest trip of this vacation. But on the way, we decided to divert and take the tourist route through the mountains. It had 3 high peaks and a somewhat scary, curvy road towards the top, so we were hoping to see a bit more of the nature japan has to offer. Even while we separated ourselves more from the densely populated areas we would still pass by a 24/7 shop every 10 minutes, sometimes in the middle of nowhere.
We went higher and higher into the mountains and saw the clouds coming closer. “We are probably somewhere around the top now”, but no. Once we arrived at the top above the clouds we could see a beautiful scenery of mountain tops, which also caused many extra pit stops at the side of the road to take some more pictures. Luckily we had called the hotel beforehand to confirm that we could check in late. However, after a confusing conversation using the best Japanese we could muster, it was all fine. On top of one of the mountains there was a small village at a lake, and again we took a small break to take some pictures. It was a long trip, taking a total of 10 hours, but it was no struggle since we got to see all those amazing places
The hotel we arrived at was named Grand Hotel. It was a more luxurious hotel than we expected. There was a big entrance hall with a wall filled with traditional clothing which we could pick up on our way to our room, and there were also multiple onsens at the location. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to explore the hotel because it was a one night stop on our trip whose main focus was on the nearby mountain. But I still managed to find an old American-style arcade inside the hotel. Funny I hadn’t seen any tabletop arcades or pinball but this hotel had it next to the main hall. At night, we headed into the mountain starting at the parking lot we knew from the TV series. The climb onto the mountain was quite thrilling, since the spiraling roads full of hairpin turns made for an exciting trip to the top. We were stunned that the local people drove up these hills every day probably even a lot faster. There we met some local guys who were with their cars which were clearly “pimped”. The dark lake at the top was also beautiful, then we headed downwards… like a roller coaster, perfect.
Leaving no time for a break, we continued on towards our next destination, Kyoto, in the morning. The landscape was nice there as well, but the weather turned around 180 degrees. Nearing Kyoto we saw a big cloud forcing itself in between the mountains. The moment we arrived at the foot of the mountain, light rain switched to a heavy rain storm. We were almost forced to stop at the side of the road. But 15 minutes later it was all over.
Our hotel in Kyoto was located in a quiet area. Upon entering, we felt more like guests with a host family than in a hotel. The owner and another family that were staying were celebrating the birthday of the owner’s son by eating Takoyaki. But we were not only served in a traditional way, we also had to learn how to do it ourselves. He also had some secrets to share with us about his takoyaki. For example, he put cheese in it and called it a “Cheeseoyaki”. Our room was spacious and had great air conditioning that made it feel as cold as inside a fridge. This was nice considering the outside temperature was still around 30 degrees Celsius. We travelled all day and it had already gotten quite late, so we decided to go to Nara Park the next day. The park itself is openly accessible, and the stray deer there are the most famous tourist attraction. These deer were part of the park and you could feed them, they were trained so that they first bow before they took the biscuit. “Are these deer happy here?” was a question that first went through my head, but we did see that they had the opportunity to withdraw from the people higher up in the mountains and other places in the big park. In the park was the Todaiji temple, the largest wooden temple in Japan, with a rich history – it was a sight for sore eyes. After paying a small price you could enter this temple. Inside we were face to face with the biggest Buddha statue we had ever seen. The temple was in fact only one floor with this statue reaching all the way to the roof. In addition, there were two other immense statues that watched over Buddha. At the end of the day we had gone to a local Izakaya, which was cozy, but curiously, we were the only ones there.
We also wanted to pay a visit to the bamboo forest and the Tenryuji temple, which turned out to be nearby. The forest was impressive, its paths being lined with large bamboo stalk on both sides. However, we noticed that the forest itself was not very big. The surrounding nature was still impressive, and we also walked through another forest. We did not think the bamboo was that impressive. The Tenryuji consisted of a garden with several temples connected to each other. Took some side trails, discovered some temples and took a small funny train back to our hotel. By the time we came back, the other family had left so we had the “hotel” for ourselves. We were pleased that there was a large selection of drinks and food that we could get there ourselves. The prices were indicated for each product and you had to pay by putting your money into a collective depot (on good faith). It’s rare that you see an establishment trusting their guests this much! They even bothered to translate a message to Dutch on a note thanking us for the night before. The photos taken the day before were already on the wall. Back in our fridge … I mean room we took a moment to see what we had bought until that moment, it was a lot …
Back to Tokyo
Our last car trip was back towards Tokyo for the last 2 days. It was very cloudy, which was a problem since we were relatively close to Mount Fuji. We look our camera with us, but saw nothing. After half an hour to see if there was something to spot, and with our hope almost abandoned… we suddenly saw a UFO above the clouds … no, it was the mountain! Our route went around the mountain, after which we turned away from the clouds and we had an open view of the mountain. The mountain was really impressive in real life. When we arrived at our last hotel (MyStays), we saw that we did not have single beds, not even for 2 people, but a small one which had to be shared. We used the last 2 days to do the things we wanted before leaving. One more day back to Akihabara or along every Book-off that was to be found. We tried to absorb as much Japanese culture as possible. For example, we saw a wine bottle rack where every wine had a game chart of statistics about the caricature of the wine, and even on the last night a retro game shop around the corner. With bags too full to carry (or too heavy for transporting on the plane) we left towards the Netherlands. During our days in Japan, we made so many great experiences, it’s impossible to write them all down in these short blog posts.
Author Benjamin Vitters
English translation door Anton Grootes, Benjamin Vitters, Alex
Japanese translation door Niek Nooijens
Grammar Monica Grootes