I did however, decided to take a quick little trip over to Takao-san, a beautiful mountain in western Tokyo. It’s a popular destination amongst Tokyo-ites due to its proximity and also relative accessiblity – unlike Fuji-san, you can easily tackle it in a day without even having to get up early and you don’t need any extra gear. Its popularity is a double-edged sword however, because it’s often crowded on weekends and holidays, and I was a bit apprehensive to tackle it during Golden Week because I was pretty sure the place would be swarming with tourists. But that’s true no matter where you go in Japan during Golden Week, so without further ado, my lovely traveling companion and I decided to head over bright and early on a Monday, figuring that most people would have hit it up on the preceding Saturday or Sunday.
I suppose, however, that an update is long overdue, so here then, are a few pictures from my recent visit to the Ichihara Zo no Kuni (“Elephant Kingdom”). Now you may recall that I trekked off to the remote countryside of Saitama prefecture just last month for some Capybara Onsen adventures. So what brings me to the remote countryside of Chiba prefecture? Well, if you guessed Capybaras, then, my friend, you would be just about right
So anyway, that’s how I found myself in a minivan rolling across the urban expanses of the greater Tokyo area with two friends, two kids and Ne-Yo music videos (don’t ask) playing on the monitor, headed over to the Saitama Children’s Animal Nature Park to check out their recently built capybara onsen. I’ll tell you what, whoever came up with the idea of building that onsen ought to have their salary doubled, because from what I can tell, that park went from being just another one of the thousands non-descript pseudo-zoos scattered across the country to being quite famous throughout Japan. I mean, I normally couldn’t give a crap about some random fake-zoo, but here I am, traipsing across the land with an entire domestic retinue in tow just to check out some gigantic bathing mice. (The fact that this time I was doing it accompanied by two children this time made me suddenly have uncomfortable visions of what my mid-40s suburban existence might end up as if I’m not careful)
Kawagoe is actually not such a famous place, and even if you find yourself hankering for a brief escape from the urban jungle that is Tokyo (but really, why would you ever want that? I love it…), there are probably better choices out there: Hakone, Yokohama, Nikko and Kamakura, just to name a few. So why did we end up going to Kawagoe? Well, for one, I’ve already been pretty much everywhere else in the area. And for two, Starbucksgirl’s (I really ought come up with a new moniker for her, since she doesn’t work at Starbucks anymore…) family runs a mochi shop, which means she likes traditional Japanese sweets. And being secretly (or not so secretly) a child inside, I happen to love candy and all things sweet (even mochi too, at this point). Guess what? Kawagoe is famous for sweets.
The problem with being Japan’s most awesome roller coaster park is that in general, Fuji-Q is expensive and crowded. So you know, that kind of sucks. The thing about that though, is this is Japan. And people like to do things according to the “seasons.” “Roller coaster season” is usually considered to be summer for some reason which means that if you’re us and just wanna ride coasters whenever you damn well feel like it, current season not withstanding, things can work out very nicely indeed. Or, to put it another way, Fuji-Q in the summer = crowded and expensive. Fuji-Q in the winter, however, = empty and cheap. (admission is discounted in the winter). Guess what season we’re currently in? Oh yeah. Buckle your seat belts.
As the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end.” This is true in many things in life, including road trips. And in this case, and in this road trip, “the end” meant a small sleepy backwater town in Fukui prefecture on the backside of Japan that up until a couple years was famous (and I use the term lightly) for little more than fishing and making chopsticks. And believe me when I tell you that if you’re a town in Japan and all you have going for you is fishing and chopsticks, well, then you’re in trouble.
I did manage to work in a quick trip to Nikko as a sort of consolation prize, which was nice. By the time we made it to Nikko (in the first week of December), most of the Autumn leaves had already fallen, which was kind of sad. Nikko is really beautiful in the Autumn, if you can survive the jaw dropping crowds, so I kind of regret that we didn’t make it there during the prime viewing season. All was not completely lost, however. There were still a few isolated spots of colour here and there, and when we first arrived the sky was a brilliant blue and the sun was shining down from up on high, making for a perfect akibare (“clear autumn weather”) type of day. So at least we got a small dose of those oranges and reds I do love so.
If you want to know more about Amanohashidate, you can feel freeto read about it online , which is something we probably should have done ourselves instead of just rolling up at 6 AM and being like “sooo… uhh, where and umm, how do we see it?” – without even a clear idea of what exactly it was (it’s a long sand bar in a bay, by the way) let alone where to find the “entrance. ” We drove around for about 30 minutes until a kindly old man at McDonalds (hey, there aren’t a lot of food choices at 6AM in the middle of remote countryside Kyoto) who insisted on referring to Starbucks Girl as “himesama” (“Princess”) managed to point us in the correct direction.
So when I last left off (last month…), our fearless duo had just finished stuffing themselves full of momiji manju and grilled eel bentos and decided to head into Hiroshima city proper to do a little bit of sightseeing. Now, besides Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, the other two cities in Japan that probably most people in America have heard of are Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for obvious reasons. And of course, if you find yourself in Hiroshima as a tourist, the first stop one usually makes is the Genbaku Dome (“Atomic Dome”) and the Peace Memorial Park with its Peace Memorial Museum.
It was my birthday the other day, and slightly depressed over slowly inching towards “old old panda” status (not yet, but it’s coming…), I decided to go to Yokohama with some friends to celebrate and take my mind off the ever-present press of time. As frequent readers of the pandablog may know, I love roller coasters with a passion. I’ve been to most of the big ones in Japan, but for some reason hadn’t been to Cosmo World in Yokohama yet. So that’s where we went, followed by a delicious all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet in the neighboring Chinatown.