Sunrise Country – DAY TWELVE

Hello again. We have planned this day as a small and quick break from the frenetic, urban atmosphere of the endless Tokyo; at least the most part of it. We wanted to see with our own eyes, one of the most relevant symbols of Japan: Mount Fuji.

It is the highest mountain in Japan, with its 3776 meters height, situated about 100 km south-west from Tokyo, where in can be seen from, if the weather is clear enough. It is an active volcano, which erupted last time in 1707.

From Tokyo, we took the train JR Tokaido Shinkansen “Kodama” for a journey that lasted a bit more than one hour, until we arrived at Shin-Fuji Station. More information on this tourist site, here:

https://tic.jnto.go.jp/detail.php?id=1177

From here, we changed the train with a smaller and slower densha train from the Fuji Kyuko Line, getting us straight to Kawaguchiko Station.

The 富士五湖, Fujigoko region (which includes five beautiful lakes) is located on the northern side of Mount Fuji.  It is a gorgeous natural environment, well suited for hiking, camping, fishing, or even skiing during winter. The names of the five lakes are Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Shojiko, Yamanakako and Motosuko.

From the station, by foot, we explored the beautiful and quiet surroundings, making our way towards the lake.

From Kawaguchiko Lake, you can get one of the best views of Mount Fuji, if you have a clear day with the chance for cloudless skies.

Your visibility seems to be better during the colder seasons, also during the early morning and late evening hours. The middle of the day and summer time usually block the majestuous view of Mt. Fuji.

We were there on a warm season during the middle of the day, but the alternative was not to be there at all. For us, it was wonderful, as we had no other choice of picking the ideal moment for sightseeing.

The Kachi Kachi Ropeway will lead you to an observation point near the summit of Mount Tenjo. From this vantage point above, you can get beautiful panorama sights, which include both the lake and Mount Fuji. We did not have the time to go; our choice was to walk around the Kawaguchiko Lake as much as possible.

We enjoyed this perfect day without rain; the fact that clouds partially covered Mount Fuji, also partially sheltered us from the heat of the day, so it was almost perfect for the long walks around the Kawaguchiko Lake.

When the walk started to be a bit long, we crossed the lake on a bridge and then, we had more time to explore the quite surroundings of the locality.

Before heading to the train station, we had a picnic on the border of the lake, taking one last look at the magnificent Fuji-san.

Seeing all these serene, beautiful places is really rewarding, but talking about them is quite challenging. How can one describe the pleasant feelings and the joy of discovery when you travel to Japan, and more specific, when you are close to Mount Fuji?

Fortunately, this is a travel photography blog and the images could describe a lot more than a well-polished text.

It was already dark when we got back to Tokyo. We headed one more time to Shibuya (including a visit to a bike store). Shibuya is always the same and different each day, in the same time. We have enjoyed one more time this special and unique place, before going home (to the hotel) for our good night rest, because the next day was also the last full day of our journey in Japan.

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2020 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

Sunrise Country – DAY TEN

This is our second day in Tokyo 東京 and we wanted to give Akihabara 秋葉原 a go, as one of our main destinations. Starting from Nippori, our place of temporary residence, we took the train and arrived in Akihabara Station. This place, also called “the electric town” has a specific flavor that strikes your eyes even from your very first steps, getting out of the station.

If you are a fan, of simply curious about the universe of anime, manga, electronic games, souvenirs and all kinds of electronics, this could be the center of otaku in Japan; surely for Tokyo. We started to explore the streets and we split our group in 2, then in 3, checking the electronics stores one by one, until you eventually get tired and start to visit only the places that interest you directly.

When you reach Chuo Dori, the main boulevard that crosses along Akiba, you simply melt like a snow flake, in the sea of people of both tourists and locals. It is so easy to forget why are you there and what are you looking for, when you see the infinity of products, models and the different types of stores, from huge specialized markets in big, tall buildings where each level is normally dedicated to a specific category of electronics, like a floor for computers, one for smartphones and tablets, one for audio-video and hi-fi and so on …

… to small boutiques that sell electronic pieces and spare parts and components, or just electronic devices, many of them never seen before, but only in Japan.

We were interested in souvenirs, apart from the curiosity to discover this rather vast and unique world of Japanese otaku.

It was really crowded – also because we were there after the Golden Week, when people have some holidays and travel a lot and also it was during one of the best periods to visit Japan (end of April, beginning of May), away from the rainy season, or typhoons, not too hot and humid, not too cold.

After a very welcome lunch break, we explored even more and finally found the right souvenirs we were looking for.

This place is full of surprises as well as extravagant people with extravagant things, like heavily customized cars, cosplay costumes, strange clothing habits and hairdo styles – Akihabara has its own magic, as I already recorded my powerful impression in a previous article on this blog.

The afternoon was rapidly moving towards the evening and we felt that Akiba was sufficient for us, for the first time and we already felt the excitement to get back to Akihabara Station, take the train and see another place of interest in this immense Tokyo.

By the time we reached Tokyo Station, our intermediary point of interest and the starting point for the second long walk of the day, it was night already. So, we started to follow our map and walked around Marunouchi – Tokyo Station area. Marunouchi 丸の内 is a very important business district, located between the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station.

We continued our journey towards our final destination of the day. Not quite far from the Tokyo Station area, by foot, you easily enter the famous Tokyo’s shopping and entertainment district, featuring department stores, art galleries, specialized and super expensive boutiques, but also restaurants and night bars.

During the night, Ginza has an elegant look, leaving us a very different impression, especially after visiting Akihabara. There was a distinctive and powerful perception that we were dealing with 2 different worlds in the same day.

Collection vehicles and expensive cars, elegant people, luxury stores, this is the place where every big name in fashion, accessories, jewelry, watch manufacture, etc. must be present with its own representative store: Apple, Breitling, Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, The Suit Company, Tasaki, Cartier, Max Mara, GAP, Fujiya, Sony, Nikon, Hermes, TAG Heuer, Jimmy Choo, Geox, Zara, Bulgari, Bottega Veneta, De Beers, Hugo Boss to name a few.

The Ginza experience was a very pleasant one, although a bit shorter than the time we have spent in Akihabara. By the end of the night and of our Ginza tour by foot, we started to feel some weariness and we decided to return to Tokyo Station, following a different path, away from the large boulevards and main streets.

The silence of the night on those empty, small streets gave us a feeling of relief, being somewhat comfortable after such a busy day. Later, following some shortcuts that we tested with the purpose of reaching Tokyo Station as soon as possible, we finally got on the train to Nippori and subsequently back home in our small My Stays hotel room.

What an interesting, but demanding day! A good night sleep was simply excellent, to prepare ourselves for the next and very special day of our Tokyo discovery tour. Stay tuned for the next chapter, where we discover Shinjuku, Roppongi and a bit of Omotesando!

 

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2018 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

Sunrise Country – DAY ZERO

Fuji San2

I have waited for a long time to catch my breath and get the force to write this story. Well, it’s not quite a story, but more a compendium of my personal impressions of my short journey to Japan.

As a travel photographer, I have quite a few photographs and I still work on them, selecting them, processing them. Sometimes I just leave them as they are, SOOC (straight out of camera). I realize this is not just „another” travel article, like the previous ones. I’d like to put it in a chronological order and maybe tell the world what was interesting in my trip, day by day.

Let’s begin…

The journey to Japan was a dream I was dreaming since I was a teenager. The culture, the traditions, the history, the technology, the so-much-different aspects were like a magnet to me. I had a collection of photos with Japan and from time to time, I enjoyed watching them in a slide-show with some chill-out musical background. A perfect moment to remind myself what is the ultimate traveler dream.

After so many years of waiting, it happened this year. End of April, beginning of May – the perfect time to travel to Japan, in the company of my best friends and what a wonderful opportunity to celebrate my 40th anniversary – There!

From Heathrow – London to Narita Airport – Tokyo, the flight is about 12 hours. You get the chance to watch some new movies during the flight. We were 5 people on this journey. The feeling you are getting close to Japan gets really stronger when you see Mount Fuji from your airplane window. It’s so distant, so hard to photograph, but you know it’s there, like a guardian for this amazing country.

Narita Airport was the place were we exchanged the JR PASS vouchers with the real JR Passes. With such passes you can travel on the Japan Railways by train without worrying about buying tickets. You can reserve places, for free, but we often traveled without reservations in the regular cars. You feel like going to another city? Just get in the train, regular or bullet-train, the famous Shinkansen.

Kyoto Station2

Excepting the Nozomi and Mizuho trains, we could travel with all the other train types on the JR lines. And if you intend to travel more than, let’s say Tokyo – Kyoto (2 way trip), the JR PASS just saves you real money.

Shinkansen1

From Narita Airport we took the NEX line, a modern train that brought us to Tokyo Station. This is a big place underground with so many train and subway connections and this was the place when for the first time we split our group in two. Me and Gabriel needed to go to Shinjuku. The other 3, my wife Anca, Adrian and Diana took the Shinkansen to Kyoto – our first destination and our city of residence for 9 days.

Shinjuku8

Thanks to our JR Passes me and Gabriel took a train to Shinjuku Station. After just a few stations, we were outside, in the middle of an ocean made of people coming from all directions and going to all directions. This was my first step under the Japanese sky, on a hot and sunny day. Our destination? Map Camera.

Map Camera2

This is the place were my favorite camera store is placed. Thanks to my friend from Tokyo (professional photographer), I had a reservation made on my name, for a brand new camera and pro-grade zoom lens. And Map Camera was the right place, after comparing prices, shops, locations – thanks to the useful info I got from Bellamy from Japan Camera Hunter (many thanks!).

We took out our maps, smartphones with GPS and made our way to Map Camera, in a zone full of electronic stores. Here you can find Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera – which are huge stores with plenty of photo equipment, but I find them more expensive. By foot, Map Camera is not far from the station. The people we ask for directions were very polite and helpful.

Map Camera Gabi

Map Camera is a special place. A store on 5 floors I guess, each floor created for specific camera brands : Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Fujifilm, Sony, Panasonic, Leica. Gabriel was interested in Canon accessories (having his famous Canon 5D Mk2 with EF 17-40mm f4 L) and I was interested in Fujifilm (having on me just the small, but IQ powerful Fuji X100S). My reservation was for a brand new mirrorless Fujifilm X-T1 paired with a professional zoom, the fantastic Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R WR, but more on this in a separate, dedicated article. The people from Map Camera were kind, leaving you the feeling you would certainly come back to their store with great pleasure (which I did). As a tourist, I got my photo gear tax free, based on my passport.

Shinjuku1

We left the store with a big smile on our faces, scouted the area for a while. So may stores that sell everything that requires electricity and the place is crowded with people, even at noon. But we had to got back to Shinjuku Station and get the Shinkansen to Kyoto and join our friends. We followed the same route and arrived in Tokyo Station.

Shinjuku Day10

We wanted to be sure we’ll have our seats reserved so we took the reservation and got into a train, the Hikari type. Coping with fatigue, we were pleased than things just went according to our plan. According to Hyperdia, the website you want to check for train timetables, the trip from Tokyo to Kyoto, with Hikari Shinkansen takes 164 min. Not “so bad” for a distance of 514 km. This trip, without the JR PASS, would cost 8.210 yen (a little over 60 euros). And the ride was indeed smooth, fast and very comfortable. Plenty of space for our tired legs. We wished we had the same space in the airplane!

Shinkansen2

By the time we arrived in the huge and crowded Kyoto Station, the night felt rapidly over the city. We went outside, stayed in the line, waiting for a taxi and got inside the spacious car. Our ride was about 1.700 yen (about 13 euros), not until the driver tried for almost 10 min to figure out our destination, even if we had a map, an address, a number, a name, both in English and Japanese.

Kyoto Station3

It seems they use a system of landmarks, an internal map of important points, buildings, names and institutions. If you say your hotel name or you live just in front of the hospital, it’s easier than having the complete address. Our accommodation was not in a hotel, but in a building with apartments to rent. After all this mental calculations, the driver started the engine and he seemed pretty determined and sure about our destination and its location.

Kyoto Station1

When we arrived, Adrian was waiting for us in the street, in front of our building so it was quite easy. We payed the driver (of course the „keep the change” system does not work in Japan – you get your change everywhere and you pay just the exact amount you have to pay – fair and square), took our luggage and rejoined the group in one of our super-small rooms, that kind of room that gives you the feeling you live on a cheap ferry-boat. It was perfect!

To Kyoto1

It was the time for a quick meal from Family Mart and a local beer, Asahi (remember – Family Mart is your friend, as one of the best convenience stores in Japan). We shared our first impressions – we were really tired, but happy. This was our first night in Japan – I should call it “day zero”. The adventure was about to begin, only after a good night recovering well-deserved sleep.

Day One was just around the corner, waiting for us to wake up …

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2015 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com