We’ve both been pretty busy so we didn’t have a lot of time to plan the trip – it was more of a “hey, let’s google map the way, wikitravel the area, e-mail a few friends who have been there before, print everything out and figure it out in the car on the way there.” Because that is how we roll, yo.
As it turns out, there’s a ton of stuff to do in the area, so if you are thinking about making a similar jaunt, I strongly suggest you spend a bit more time planning than we did. In fact, if you are really on top of things, you could combine it with a trip to Fuji-Q Highlands for like a 4 or 5 day blowout extravaganza of fun. I always knew in theory that Fuji-Q Highlands was close to Kawaguchi-ko, but it wasn’t until we got out there in the car that we realised how close everything is to each other. The fact that we could see Fuji-Q from our hotel (which was cheap, clean and even had free parking and consequently comes highly recommended with the Panda Paw Stamp of Approval) only made me want to stay longer. Damn this whole Monday-through-Friday work business.
Anyway. It’s the middle of the rainy season here and so in the week leading up to our trip we were afraid that it was going to rain all weekend. As it turns out, our fears were well founded as it did indeed rain all weekend. That sucked, because I had entertained visions of brilliant blue skies over a stately Mt. Fuji reflected in the azure waters of Lake Kawaguchi – which is clearly not the kind of photos you’re going to get when it’s gray, pouring and whipping wind and water every which way. (Best part: I forgot my umbrella)
As it turns out though I ended up getting some pretty nice photos of a cloud-covered Mt. Fuji, so that was okay.
Upon arriving at our hotel, we immediately saw that with the rains and fog being what it was, there was not much point in trying to glimpse the mountain that day, and so after shuffling through some of our materials, decided to head over to the wonderful Hakone Glass Museum which one of my friends had recommended.
Now I have to admit that at first I was like “I mean, I like glass but I’m not sure if I’m ready for an entire museum of the stuff” but it turned out to be pretty dope. The architecture was all quaint pseudo-European-as-interpreted-Japanese-style and they had great beautiful, lush green grass and trees and just generally abundant nature all about, with beautiful glass baubles and art objects all over the place. I can only imagine how beautiful it would look on a clear day (especially in spring or autumn!) which made it quite a shame that it was gray and pouring when we went (but it was still great).
After finishing up at the glass museum (we enjoyed some delicious cakes and tea whilst being serenaded by two Italian singers with an overabundant love of synthesizers) we debated what to do – check out Mt. Fuji at night? Go for a rambling evening drive? Go somewhere and stuff our faces some more?
As we were debating we happened to drive right by the sign for the Gotenmba Outlet mall, and made the decision to stop by. Let me tell you – I have been to some Outlet malls before in my life (warning, old naive panda blog poast from 6 years ago!), but this beast takes the prize for biggest, hands down. This was a pretty monsterous shopping complex, complete with a massive bridge that spans a huge mist-filled gorge and raging river below (you could go bungee jumping in this thing) and more stores than you can ever hope to see in a single go (we ended up splitting up our visit over two days) – the place has more than 22 parking lots, if that gives you some idea of the scale.
One thing I noticed about the Gotemba outlet is that it has a lot – a lot of brand name/high end stores – Etro, Coach, Armani, Ferragamo, Zegna, Dolce & Gabana, etc. A lot of them offered pretty good discounts, but even at 70% off, a lot of the merchandise was well outside of poor little Panda’s price range. I happened to wander into the Dolce & Gabana store because I was bored and thought one of the mannequins in the window display was rather fashionably appointed. As I wandered through the aisles, I came across a thin tiny strip of men’s speedo (like the swimwear). It was flimsy (made of polyester or nylon?), skimpy (as speedos tend to be) and save a little metal “Dolce & Gabana” dag on the waistband, was as identical to a cheap piece of swimsuit as one might find for 2000 yen ($20 USD) at any regular store.
“Hmm, how much might this be?” I wondered aloud as I turned over the price tag (not because I wanted to buy it, but rather because I wished to satisfy my morbid curiosity – I envisioned that it might cost something ridiculous like $100 or so).
Oh. My. God.
68,000 yen (that’s $680 USD!!! for what is nothing more than a flimsy tiny strip of nylon!!)
I did a double take – like, seriously!!?
Then I saw it was generously “marked down” 60% off – making the final price “only” 27,200 yen ($270 USD).
Wow. Like with expensive handbags, you can lie to yourself a little bit and convince yourself you’re paying for the “craftsmanship” or “quality leatherwork” or some bullshit like that (cuz let’s face it, if well made they are of a substantial heft and have that intoxicating aroma of freshly tooled leather), but with this ridonkulous flimsy piece of nylon I had to shake my head in disbelief that there might be people walking around who thought this a proper usage of $270 USD (let alone $680!!).
Anyway. I put back the swimsuit, somewhat more cognisant of the fact that I was not the target audience for this particular store.
One thing I am the target audience for, however, is haberdashery, because I loves me some men’s accessories like they’re going out of style (and ironically, many of my favoured affectations such as sock garters and pocket squares are in fact going out of style… sigh). Particularly held in high esteem in the fashion hierarchy of Panda world is the Ascot tie. I love ascots and I wear them in many different ways and situations – recently I’ve been knotting them simply around my neck and pairing them with a plain white fitted button shirt with an open collar ala’ a French sailor from back in the day. But it’s getting harder to find ascots these days, and the ones you find are usually quite expensive and unfortunately, in hideous old-man patterns. (which admittedly, can be classy if you have the appropriate gravitas to complement them, but if there was ever one quality I lack, it would be “gravitas” (and possibly “self-control apropos shiny gadgets and/or chocolate”).
So anyway, you can imagine how excited I was when, after wandering into a store at random, I came across several racks of ascot ties on display. Not only were there dozens of different colours and patterns, they were carefully arrayed in front of a sign that read “70% off.”
After spending some time to peruse the choices available, I pick on that strikes my fancy and flip the price tag over to see how much it will cost me.
Before continuing, I should mention that this is a “proper” price tag – like the kind that you find attached to any retail clothing item in a store – computer generated, laser printed on a stiff piece of glossy white perforated cardboard with a bar code and product description, etc. and attached to the garment with a plastic string like thing (the kind you need to snip to remove).
The price – 4200 yen (USD $42) – is properly laser-printed on the price tag. So 70% off of 4200 yen, right?
Not so fast.
See, written underneath the 4200 yen laser-printed official price tag price is another price – this one scrawled in red ball point pen and it reads “8000 yen.”
Yes, that’s right, the hand-written price is higher than the official original price.
Thinking perhaps there has been some confusion apropos the reasoning underlying the concept of an “outlet mall, “I call over a clerk.
“Excuse me sir, but what is the price of this item?”
He muses over it for a second (during which it becomes abundantly clear he has no idea)
“… uhhh, it’s 4200 yen.”
“…. So then, 70% off of 4200 yen?”
“No. That price already includes the 70% discount off of the original price.”
“…But 70% off of 8000 yen is not 4200 yen….”
He thinks about this and looking increasingly perplexed, he calls over another clerk.
“May I help you?”
“Yes please sir. I was wondering if you could tell me how much this ascot is?”
He repeats the same befuddled examination of the garment as the first guy.
“It’s 4200 yen!” he announces triumphantly after a few moments consideration.
“So 70% off of 4200 yen?”
“No, this is already the discounted price. Here is the original price” – he gestures at the hand-written price of 8000 yen underneath the original, official price of 4200 yen printed on the price tag.
“But 70% off of 8000 yen is not 4200 yen.”
“Oh yeah… uhh, this is uhh, a sample product ” – he indicates a hitherto-unnoticed hand scrawled “Sample” (written in the same red ballpoint pen) at the bottom of the price tag.
“So, sample products are only 50% off, not 70% off.”
My mind almost explodes.
“Wait, I just want to confirm. So, the original printed price on this price tag is 4200 yen. But then you wrote a higher price of 8000 yen underneath this. Then, you put it in front of this sign that reads 70%, of but in reality this is only 50% “off” of the hand-written higher price because….. it’s a sample product… and samples are only discounted 50% whereas properly packaged and unmolested retail products are discounted 70% off!? And when all is said and done, you are charging me the price that was originally printed on the official price tag?”
“… yes. Would you like us to hold on to this while you continue shopping? We can ring you up at the register whenever you like.”
“Sir, I will not be purchasing this product today.”
*Panda spins around on his heels and leaves forthwith*
I’m not sure if they managed to sell any of those ascots to anybody, but between them scrawling higher prices on tags to pretend the original prices are discounts, and slinky speedos “discounted” to “only” $300 USD, I was getting the sense that this outlet mall might not quite be for me… (though they did have a Clickbrick Lego store, which was quite tempting…)
In addition to the glass museum and our little shopping (mis)adventure, we also took some time to drive around the area the next day. Whereas on Saturday it was sleeting gray slabs of rain through the sky, on Sunday morning we were greeted with intermittent bursts of precipitation interspersed with moments of clear flat grey skies filled with amazing striations of roiling gray fog and cloud patterns. It really was a sight to behold – with the myriad of mountains fading into eerie peaked grey gradients in the background and the slowly sloshing waves of the lakes in the foreground serving as the stage, in the middle of all of this Mt. Fuji rose up in a most dramatic fashion, thick peals of fog and clouds rolling off of its summit jutting strikingly into the sky.
It was, when all was said and done, a far more interesting sight than just a regular “blue sky, pale gray mountain” setup which would have greeted us on a fair weather day. Those clouds were seriously amazing, man.
After marveling at the mountain for a while (and spending half my time taking photos and the other wiping big raindrops off my lens), we drove around for a bit (taking a moment to indulge in a seriously guilty-pleasure breakfast of fried chicken and eggs at a family restaurant – I love that Risa isn’t a fussy princess when it comes to food and I figured that having lost 31cms off my waist and 40kgs (12 inches and about 90 pounds for my American readers) in the past year, I deserved a bit of greasy indulgence ) and ended up stopping by a “Herb Festival” (yes, I am aware that between this herb festival, the outlet shopping and the glass museum I did an awful lot of girly stuff this trip, but did you not just see the part about me eating fried chicken and eggs for breakfast? That is manly goddammit!! hahaha) that happened to be going on.
It was a little bit early for herbs and flowers (the hydrangeas were not yet in full bloom) and it was rainy fairly strongly, but we still got to see a lot of lovely nature and stuffed our faces with even more delicious food from the assorted vendor carts they had scattered out there – I myself gave in and bought this delicious blueberry and honey drink concoction concentrate this old woman was selling and have been imbibing that ever since – I am already regretting I didn’t buy another one because it’s only Wednesday and I’m already halfway through the bottle .
And just like that – well, after another trip to the outlet mall – it was time to go back home and we piled into the car, cranked up the ipod, and hit the road, leaving behind the beautiful rolling mists, lush greenery and majestic mountains and heaving a heavy sigh as we headed towards the noisy traffic gridlock and unbroken concrete megalopolis of Tokyo (the line was demarcated fairly clearly for us when we passed under an electronic highway bulletin board that read: “Caution: 17 km traffic jam ahead. Expected time to travel 17 kms: 1.5 hours”. (that’s 90 minutes to travel 10.5 miles)). All in all, a great time, and we will definitely be coming back.
And that was our lovely weekend trip to Kawaguchiko. Thank you for reading!
Now listening to: Travie McCoy – Billionaire