Tuesday, September 10

Soaking it up in Fujigoko

I organised a special treat for my mother's birthday while we were in Japan. I was keen for her to experience a traditional Japanese ryokan hotel and soak in a sweltering onsen hot tub. I decided that the spectacular Fuji Five Lakes district would be the perfect place to experience these cultural moments.  I also thought a little birthday indulgence was in order.

I booked us into Kozantei Ubuya, an exclusive award-winning ryokan on shores of Lake Kawaguchi.  The hotel gets rave reviews online.  It offers unrivaled views of Mount Fuji, enjoyed from the comfort of a private hot tub on the balcony of your room.  I arranged an upgrade that saw us enjoy a spacious suite complete with its own special "mountain viewing" room.  The viewing room allows guests to settle into comfortable leather chairs and take in the district's scenic vista.

However, viewing Mount Fuji can be a hit and miss affair.  As Japan's highest mountain, the 3776 metre peak, is frequently shrouded in cloud. As it happened, luck was on our side.  We awoke on our first morning to heavy cloud shielding the mountain.  However, shortly after breakfast, the cloud began lifting.  Within a couple of hours we were treated to stunning views of the mountain's soaring cone. It was truly spectacular.

Mum decided we should take the local ropeway up nearby Mount Tenjo and soak in the view while it lasted.  She made the right call.  We reached the ropeway's scenic outlook just as the final clouds were lifting from all but the very tip of Fuji's summit.  I couldn't believe our good fortune.  The view was incredible. To the west lakes stretched out before us, to the east, the gently sloping flank of Fuji rose to its full height.  I was surprised just how far the mountain's arcing flank spread across the surrounding landscape. 

Mount Tenjo is also the location of popular Japanese fairytale by Osamu Dazai called Kachi Kachi Yama.  It's the tale of a cheeky raccoon who steals freshly sown grain from the field of old man and his wife.  The elderly couple set a trap and catch the thieving animal.  The raccoon promises to mend his ways but soon returns to his old habits.

The elderly couple are ultimately avenged by friendly rabbit who sets the raccoon alight before drowning him in a nearby river.  Apparently, story books describe the rabbit's antics in gruesome detail. I'm sure it must frighten the most hardly child.  It was therefore somewhat ironic to kind cute cartoon effigies of the raccoon and rabbit adorning every corner of the ropeway's grounds, including the roof of its gondolas.

With a Fuji viewing under our belt, we headed for the local sightseeing boat. It took into the middle of Lake Kawaguchi for another unrivalled view of Fuji.  We then spent the rest of the day visiting the lake's foreshore tourist venues.  Mum was keen to explore the local craft market.  However, we soon discovered something had clearly been lost in translation. It wasn't a bustling plaza filled with artesian handicrafts.  Instead, it consisted of several nondescript buildings where visitors were invited to decorate their own souvenir mug or plate.
Our next venue proved equally disappointing.  We decided to visit the nearby Music Forest. Tripadvisor contributors had voted it the third most popular tourist attraction in the area behind the lake itself and the view of Mount Fuji.  This attraction sits on the foreshore of Lake Kawaguchi and consists of building loosely themed around a faux Italian alpine lake experience.

Sadly, nothing looks particularly authentic.  It's main attractions include several small museums housing a collection of music boxes, jukeboxes and a spectacular organ that takes up the entire wall of an ornate, Baroque themed hall. The Japanese have some rather novel ideas about what makes a noteworthy tourist attraction.

We finished the day with a stunning five-star meal at our hotel.  I'd pre-ordered a special shabu shabu main course. This ultimately played a small part in banquet of endless elegant, bite-sized Japanese dishes.  It was delicious.  The hotel even presented Mum with a lovely birthday gift and a card signed by all the staff.  We finished our evening with a soak in our balcony hot tub before finally falling into bed. Happy Birthday Mum.

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