Mount Fuji, Kanazawa & Matsumoto
19.11.2018 - 24.11.2018
The next item on our Japan agenda was Mount Fuji, probably Japan’s most recognizable symbol. Travelling in Japan is very fast and efficient, as long as you stick to the destinations reachable by Shinkansen. But when veering a bit away from that high speed route, travelling times can get much longer. Getting to our location next to Mount Fuji from Kyoto took more than 5 hours. We stayed in Fujiyoshida in the northeast of the mountain, in a region called Fuji Five Lakes. On the day we arrived, the weather was dark and cloudy and we could not see any part of the mountain. The next day the weather cleared up around us, but not around the mountain. Since climbing Mount Fuji is only possible in summer, we instead hiked around Lake Kawaguchi, one of the Fuji Five Lakes, hoping to see the mountain from there. The 18km hike around the lake was very beautiful and for the most part, devoid of other people, but the mountain remained mostly in clouds.
With the strong resolution to see Mount Fuji while we were there, we got up at 6am on the day of our departure and went again to Lake Kawaguchi. This time, the weather around the mountain was clear, but morning mist was hanging over the lake, obscuring all but the top of Mount Fuji. With each minute however, the mist got thinner, until it finally disappeared completely and gave us that perfect view of Mount Fuji we came here for.
Our original plan for the four days after Mount Fuji was to rent a car and drive from Kanazawa to Nagano through the Japanese Alps. However, we found out that Sam’s driving license and even his international driver’s license are not accepted in Japan. Interestingly enough, there is some 1949 Geneva Convention on international driving licenses which Switzerland is not part of and therefore their international driver’s license is not accepted. To avoid the complicated process of getting the right to drive in Japan, we dropped this plan and just stayed in Kanazawa and Matsumoto instead.
Kanazawa is located to the north of Kyoto at the Sea of Japan. Not so many tourists travel there, but we found it to be a very interesting city. Inside the underpass between the train station and our hotel, there was a grand piano with the note “Please feel free to play”. On many occasions we saw a very skilled woman there, playing concert-level piano in her parka. It was raining for most of the day when we were there, so a stop at the local fish market seemed like a good idea. The large amount of raw crabs, shrimps, squid and octopus were an interesting sight, but did not increase our appetite. When it cleared up towards the evening, we visited Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s finest gardens. The garden was quite full despite the gloomy weather.
Our two days in Matsumoto were part of the Labor Thanksgiving Day weekend in Japan and already weeks in advance, there was almost no room in the city left. The only option was to stay in a capsule hotel, something we wanted to try anyway while in Japan. The nights in the roughly 1x1x2 meter capsules were not uncomfortable and there was more privacy than you would have in a regular hostel dormitory. But for a honeymoon it is obviously not a great choice and it was the first time since our wedding that we slept in separate rooms.
Matsumoto is most famous for its original wooden castle from the 16th century. The castle is still standing because it was never attacked. This must have surprised the shogun who built it, since he dedicated an entire floor for his honor preserving suicide in case the castle would fall to the enemy. Besides the castle, we also enjoyed the views of the Japanese Alps from the city’s secluded parks.
We also had some great culinary experiences in Kanazawa and Matsumoto. In Kanazawa we had the best sushi so far, with tuna and salmon that almost melted in our mouth. Almost equally tender was the Wagyu beef we tried here for the first time. In Matsumoto Sam had his favourite Japanese food so far, a simple bowl of ramen noodles in a broth based on miso paste and pork, topped with ham and ground beef. Lastly, the Matcha (powdered green tea, very popular in Japan) parfait we had in Matsumoto was a great combination of different flavors and textures.