Tokyo, Japan- Day 2 : Trip to Mount Fuji


When I boarded the bus to Mt. Fuji on Day 2 of my stay in Tokyo, I began to wonder about how tiny apartments could be in Japan.

Triangular Building Tokyo Street

Triangular Building Tokyo Street

The expressways we drove through gave us glimpses into people’s lives in Tokyo, snaking as they did around buildings, always above ground, always at least two stories high.

One-room Apartments in Tokyo

One-room Apartments in Tokyo

I saw many, many one room apartment complexes, a Japanese building climbing up like a straight reed with toy doors and toy windows, and invariably, a flower or plant peeking out from behind the curtains.

Japanese Man at a Station

Japanese Man at a Station

If you see the morning crowd rush, you would think the Japanese the most prim-and-propah dressers in the world, the men in suits, even those on bicycles, and the women in knee-length skirts and pump shoes.

None of the layered clothing, pink and green colors on hair, woolen caps, tall, strange shoes and boots and vibrant scarves I had seen on the Ginza yesterday. It is as if there were two Japans, two kinds of Japanese. One more corporate than corporate Europeans, and the other more punk than punks.

Japanese Tour Guide

Japanese Tour Guide

Our guide, a bald, white-haired, spectacled Japanese, explained that one-room apartments were the only option for the young people in Japan, because real estate is very expensive. No wonder, given that Tokyo is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

An average worker’s salary, he informed us, was about 48000 usd a year, which was not enough for a lot of things in Japan. His bitter story of Japan’s economic downturn and call for change in the recent Japanese elections continued through the day. We wondered if he had a single good thing to say about Japan. He didn’t.

We were stuck in a jam for most of our one-hour drive through the city. Our only consolation was we could see Mt. Fuji, or Fuji san, as we drove through a clear cloudless day.

The view became easier on the eyes as we hit the inter-state, and soon we caught glimpses of rolling hills and red-roofed toy houses in the green towns and villages we passed though.

View of Japanese Countryside on the way to Mt Fuji

View of Japanese Countryside on the way to Mt Fuji

The paddy-fields were a gorgeous, eye-catching green, and not even a lecture from our ironically smiling guide who informed us of the poverty of the farmers could dampen our spirits at the sight of the bright vistas that passed by.

When Mt Fuji revealed itself in all its glory, we fell in love with its symmetry, as if a child had drawn a mountain, equal slopes on both sides, the flat crater in the middle.

Mt Fuji, Japan, View from Fujiyoshida

Mt Fuji, Japan, View from Fujiyoshida

I clicked a hundred pictures as Fuji san towered over the surrounding landscape, all inhabited, so very different from other mountains, accessible by road to the 5th base in four different spots,and an easy climb for most determined walkers.

As I looked at Fuji san through the window of my bus, he seemed to say something to me, only I couldn’t catch it. Lunch at a hotel surrounded by pine trees. A quiet place, shining, relaxed under the cool breeze and the warm, in-your-face sun.

Lake Kawaguchi, Japan

Lake Kawaguchi, Japan

We then drove down to Lake Kawaguchi, one of the five surrounding Fuji, and from there admired the cloudless view of the mountain again.

Mt Fuji over Lake Kawaguchi

Mt Fuji over Lake Kawaguchi

I had imagined I would not want to take pics, it was a snowless Fuji that met us after all, but I found I could not take my eyes off its perfect proportions. The surrounding hills and greenery were gorgeous too, but I just could not get my eyes off dear old Fuji san.

View from Lake Kawaguchi Mt. Tenjō Ropeway

View from Lake Kawaguchi Mt. Tenjō Ropeway

We took the Lake Kawaguchi Mt. Tenjō Ropeway up the hill opposite the lake, and the view, as from nearly all touristy rope ways, was not un-spectacular. The thrill for me was going up through the pines though, and being able to see right into the heart of each one: tall proud, stately.

The drive to the 5th station up from Lake Kawaguchi is one of the greenest I have been on for some time, and I live in quite a green country. The road up to Fuji is paved but tiny, barely enough for the width of the bus, and I could imagine it from July through August, scores of climbers walking their way up towards the base, when the road is closed to vehicles. People trudge through the trail at night and climb up the mountain, for what I have heard is a magical, unreal sunrise.

The 5th base of Mount Fuji proved to be an enchanting place. On one side was Mount Fuji, and all around were pine covered hills, blue skies and clouds. Paradise must look like that sometimes.

Mount Fuji Details

Mount Fuji Details

Mount Fuji from the 5th Station

Mount Fuji from the 5th Station

Vegetation below Mount Fuji

Vegetation below Mount Fuji

I sat myself down and looked up at the face of the mountain, wrapped in a shawl I had had to pull out.

It was chilly, and as I sat looking up, it came to me, what the mountain was all about. ‘I am big, and you’re small, and that is the way it should be.’

There was something comforting in its symmetrical, calm, overwhelming presence. Even though I knew this was a volcano, dormant but very much capable of destruction, I sensed a reassuring benediction pouring forth from it into the surrounding landscape.

I kept looking back as we drove down, catching occasional glimpses of the mountaintop and told myself it would be nice to come back and attempt the 7 hour hike to the top some day.

The drive back through the rolling Japanese countryside dotted with cute little homes surrounded by well-tended gardens that looked like pixies and fairies just might live there, was a treat in itself.

Japanese Garden

Gardens in the Japanese Countryside

We also drove through Hakone, a beautiful town that is on my list of places to stay in if I ever visit Japan again.

The bus tour ended at Odawara from where we took a 40-minute Shinkansen ride to the Tokyo station. While the eventual ride itself was rather uneventful, it was fun watching the bullet trains whooshing in and and out of the station while we waited for our Shinkansen to arrive.

We got back, tired but happy, from the Tokyo station back to our hotel in Shinjuku. It was my turn to explore Tokyo on my own the next day, on Day 3 of our stay in Japan.

Writing about Tokyo, Japan- Day 1


Japan is an intriguing country for us outsiders. Very few Japanese people speak English, and very few foreign tourists understand even the basic words of Japanese, so it makes for an interesting experience.

A few days in Tokyo, and I realized why I felt a little spaced out. Billboards screamed at me from all directions, announcements were made, people chatted, and I understood…nothing. It was all so much background noise that it became silence.

Tokyo at night near Ginza

Tokyo at night near Ginza

I was able to see the people from afar, to note what they wore, how many times they bowed to each other (I counted a refined-looking gentleman bow at least 14 times while parting from his colleagues/ bosses at a station), the way they smiled, how they pretended to fall asleep in metros, avoided eye contact.

The first evening in Shinjuku, we took the subway to the Tokyo station, from there to Yarakucho, and walked out of the station to Ginza, where we met a friend.

Tokyo Subway Map, the all-important English version

Tokyo Subway Map, the all-important English version

View of a Ginza Evening in Tokyo

View of a Ginza Evening in Tokyo

Metros are convenient, yes, but they are also a complete puzzle for newcomers, all the stations on the station maps are written in Japanese, and the counters look like complicated video game consoles.We had to ask a few people (who spoke only Japanese, of course) before we managed to figure out (with lots of gestures and bows)how to get our tickets. I did manage to get my hands on a English Tokyo Subway Map, and I stuck to that for dear life for the rest of my stay.

Ginza is the shopping high street of Tokyo, where 1 sq m of real estate is worth 300,000 USD. All I bought were bread buns from Kimuraya, because our friend told us it was famous, and though I mostly did not understand what they contained other than the obvious ones like cream and cheese, they were all delicious. Cost about 5 usd each. Big price shift from KL.

Kimuraya Bread Shop, Ginza, Tokyo

Kimuraya Bread Shop, Ginza, Tokyo

Ginza Shop Window Tokyo

Ginza Shop Window Tokyo

Spotted a woman walking in a kimono on Ginza, and when I asked my friend she said that Ginza had a restaurant or two where the women who served wore kimonos. Some of the nicer restaurants in Ginza start from 10,000 yen per person, which is about 115 usd, so we strolled back to the Tokyo station, and following our friend, walked into an out-of-the-way restaurant.

Woman in Kimono in Ginza, Tokyo

Woman in Kimono in Ginza, Tokyo

All was hushed, and since I could not be the tourist and click pics of the food, all I have to say is the Tofu in Japan is very different from everywhere else. It is creamy, flavorful. Later I discovered this one was especially flown in daily from a different island. Hah, no wonder.

I also learned that Soba is better had at the end of the meal, and one has to make a slurpy noise at the last bite to show one’s appreciation. Had some potent Sake’ afterward which means that the memories of dinner turned rather hazy. Oh, yeah, we had Tuna gills roasted. Tasted meaty, not like fish at all.

The bill came to 22000 Yen for 5500 Yen (63 usd) per person, and I developed a fresh appreciation for Malayasia, where you can gorge yourself at a good restaurant for about 20 usd.

Too tired to navigate the Metro (and knowing we had to wake up early to go to Mt. Fuji the next morning), we figured we’d take a taxi back to our hotel, not more than 10 km away. The fare came to about 4000 Yen (46 usd).

I did not take another taxi in Japan.

End of Day 1 in Tokyo, on to Day 2, and the trip to Mount Fuji.

I have scheduled the rest of the posts to appear in the next few days, so stay tuned!

Not writing about Tokyo


I’m in Tokyo for 3 more days, and while I had a wonderful weekend exploring Japan, writing about it will have to wait till I’m done with my trip. (Also because I can’t download photos till I reach home, having forgotten the camera cord back home in KL.)

In the meanwhile, I have tagged a few friends of this blog on my other one, and I hope they respond.

Have a great week, everyone.

Writing about a river in spate


Writing, A River Flowing

Writing, A River Flowing

A river begins its journey in high places, running and dancing on its way down, skimming through rocks, lazing in pools, delighting in its own momentum. As it hits the plains, however, the river pauses to consider, slows down a little, thinks before it moves on. And before it meets the sea, it spreads out, giving more to life than it ever has, and then dissolves its identity in salty water.

My writing looks like it is making a similar journey, seeing a similar change in momentum.  And I hope one day, like the river, it gives back to life. But if it ever gets published, I hope it does not lose its identity—that the metaphor that has held good so far breaks down.

Write for your self


Write Every Day

Write Every Day

Read this post early in the morning. Tough love, yes, but it works.

And now it is time for daily writing exercises. Also, hopefully, another full day of writing for my self, and for bread and butter.

Writing about Thingish Things


I am beginning on the edit of one of my pieces, and it is turning out to be a very confusing process. I’ve been reading a bit of Winnie the Pooh today, and what he says here fits my state of mind perfectly:

When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.
Winnie the Pooh
The House at Pooh Corner

Writing about being tired, writing


Not Tired of Writing

Not Tired of Writing

Some days, you just don’t want to get out of bed. Your tiredness is larger than your willpower. I do have the luxury of sleeping in if I want to, but I know I can’t. There’s a lot of writing to be done, stories to be finished, articles to be sent off, maybe even a touch of blogging.

I’ve been nibbling on various books on writing, and here’s a very relevant (to my writing) excerpt I picked up from the Tao of Writing:

Years ago I was talking to a woman I knew who ran each day with remarkable regularity. Being relatively unathletic myself, I asked her if she ran in the rain, feeling an involuntary chill as I imagine cold sheets of water drenching my neck and shoulders, and squishing in my gym shoes.

“Do you think we like to run in the rain?” she asked me. “We run because we need to run, and it happens to be raining, so we run anyway.”

A few years later, I heard essentially the same thing from another runner. I had gone away for the weekend with a group of friends. We were staying in a cabin in beautiful Big Sur, California. One of the women had got up and had run six miles before the rest of our group was even fully awake. I asked her how she could just get up and run like that.

“I don’t know, she said, “I just don’t feel good unless I run.”

Later in the day, overlooking the ocean at Nepenthe, a restaurant famous for its breathtaking ocean view, I said to her, “Hold on, I have to go the car and get my journal. I feel a poem coming on.”

“How can you just write like that?” she asked.

“I don’t know” I said. “I just don’t feel good unless I write.”