Thwarted in her attempt to reach the summit of Mt Fuji for the second time, Zalina Mohd Som spends three eventful days in the metropolis

A FEW days before our flight to Tokyo, our group leader Azlee Mustaffa posted not-so-good news on his Facebook account regarding our Fuji-san climbing expedition.

The post had a picture of a handwritten notice in Japanese and English that read, “due to strong winds, climbing is permitted up to the 8th station of Mt Fuji.” then, he shared a newslink with a comment that a typhoon was heading for the land of the rising sun.

I prayed hard that there would not be strong winds at Fujikawaghuciko, the resort town at the northern foot of Mount Fuji when we were scheduled to climb the mountain. The weather didn’t look promising right until the day we headed to Kuala Lumpur International Airport for our flight to Narita Airport.

While some passengers were worried about their flights to and from Narita, the five of us were more concerned about whether we could hike up the mountain.

That morning, Narita Airport welcomed us with gloomy weather. Maybe it was too early to tell, we consoled ourselves.

Then halfway to Fujikawaghuciko, it started to rain. Not all the way, but the bus driver drove through heavy rain until we reached our destination.

We didn’t know how bad it was until we got down from the bus. Strong winds accompanied the rain. “Don’t tell me this is the typhoon,” I asked Azlee, who fetched us from Kawaghuciko Bus station.

“It’s been raining the past two days. Hopefully it will stop today, so we can proceed with our plan,” he said.

But it didn’t. it rained cats and dogs with strong winds, so strong it blew a huge air-conditioner unit off a wall of the opposite building, leaving it dangling.

It was still raining when we settled down for the night in a tatami room at Koe House.


SUN, LAKE AND FUJI-SAN

We woke up to a bright sunny day. Except for the wet roads, it looked as if it had not rained yesterday. It looked like the day would go as planned.

All ready in our hiking gear, we headed to the reception, only to hear bad news from Azlee. The road leading to Fuji Subaru 5th Station (2,305m above sea level), the most popular trail head to the peak, and the climbing route from the station, were closed for clearing works. Apparently, yesterday’s rain and wind had covered the road and path with debris and fallen trees.

But Azlee had a plan B. We would sightsee Lake Kawaghuci which we had planned for the last day. So we hopped on the tourist bus, taking the Saiko Sightseeing Bus — Green Line.

Since we had the whole day, the pace was free and easy as long as we got on the last bus back to the Kawaguchiko Station.

As tourists, we looked weird in our climbing attire — unattractive single-coloured quick dry shirts, trekking pants and hiking boots. The only thing that was missing was our trekking pole.

So off we went to our first destination — Saiko Iyashino-Sato Nenba, a reconstructed traditional village made of 20 thatched roof houses from the Showa Period (1926-1989).

Also known as the healing village, it stands on the site of a village devastated by a typhoon in 1966, on the shores of Lake Saiko facing Mt Fuji. The houses were turned into art and craft galleries, museums and shops selling local products and snack food. Our favourite was the shop that rents out kimonos.

Based on our research, rental prices here were considerably cheaper than in Tokyo. And, of course, we took the opportunity to dress up.

After playing pretty girls in kimono, we got down and dirty at two of three show caves in the area — Ice, Wind and Bat. We headed to Ice and Wind located next to each other. Apparently, Fuji-san’s past eruptions that resulted in lava flows created a number of caves at its northern base. Only three of them are open to tourists.

The day ended with a satisfying Indian dinner at a halal restaurant on the shores of Lake Kawaguchiko. Based on how the day turned out, we were hopeful that tomorrow would be a good day for our hike.

Our prayers were answered as the next day turned out beautifully sunny and windy. There was a long queue at Kawaguchiko Station for buses bound for Fuji Subaru 5th Station.

My heart skipped a beat faster as we walked towards the bus station. I had mixed feelings — excited and anxious at the same time, probably because of my last hike up Mt Fuji and in India. Last year, I tried to climb Fuji-san but a migraine forced me to settle for the 8th Station and last July, altitude sickness made me return to my hostel in the city on the first day of hiking to the peak of Stok Kangri in Ladakh, India.

Butthe50-minutebusridemanagedto calm me down. We did not waste time. As soon as we got off the bus, we bid farewell to Azlee and got ready to hit the trail.

Azlee’s partner Anas led us to the trail. Unlike Yama-san, the local guide from my previous Fuji hike, Anas was more relaxed and calm. We walked at our own pace and stopped at our fancy.

As the day progressed, the wind started to get stronger and colder, blowing thick clouds to shade our path from sunlight.

Nevertheless, one by one, we reached our hut at 8.2nd Station just after 4pm.

Settled in the dry, warm hut, Anas briefed us on the plan for the second leg of the climb. Based on our pace, he suggested that we wake up at midnight for the push to the summit. “We will reach the peak just before sunrise and we will head back down by 6am so that we will have enough time to freshen up before catching the bus to Tokyo at 1pm.”

It sounded like a good plan. But Mother Nature had her own plan. Just after dinner, it started to rain. At times, we heard whistling sounds through the crevices of the walls of the hut.

There was no sign of the rain abating.

At midnight, we woke up to a downpour.

Still determined, we got up to get ready for the climb to the summit.

But later, after much deliberation, we agreed to forgo our dream to reach Fujisan’s peak and checked out at 6am. The descent was easier, even in the rain.


PARK, TEMPLE AND MARKET

We reached our HomeAway rental in Shinjuku just after dusk. We did our laundry and ate the much awaited nasi lemak for dinner.

Over dinner, we planned the next three days in Tokyo based on the list of places we had made before the trip. This was the second leg of our trip and it was time to play tourists since there were first-timers in our group.

“But first, we have to buy the Metro Pass,” I said.

So the next morning after a hearty breakfast of dinner leftovers, we headed out on a mission — get a 72-hour Tokyo Metro Pass.

At Ueno Station we not only bought the pass but also ticked off two destinations on our list — Ameyokocho and Ueno Park. I chanced on Ameyokocho last year. Even though it is more like a market street selling everything from souvenirs, fashion and beauty items to dried food and fresh fish, I like it more than fashionable Takeshita Street in Harajuku.

From the market, we walked to Ueno Park, a large public venue known for its museums, lotus beds, temples and some 8,800 trees. Swiping our Metro Passes for the first time, we took the subway to Asakusa Station to our next destination — the most photographed Tokyo landmark, Sensoji Asakusa Kanon Temple.

As usual, the oldest Buddhist temple was packed with locals and tourists.

Crowds thronged its iconic Kaminarimon Gate through to Nakamise Shopping Street.

As the day started to end, we hopped back on the train and headed to Tochomae Station for our last destination of the day — Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The plan was to see the sun set over Tokyo’s horizon from the observation deck on the 45th floor of one of the towers. The building has two towers, each with its own observation deck but only one was open to tourists for the day.

The following day, we headed for Tsukiji Young ladies in yukata atSensoji Temple in Asakusa.

Market and neighbouring Ginza shopping district and Yoyogi Park and its neighbour, Takeshita Street.

As we started to get the hang of travelling with the use of the pass, it was easier to plan our itinerary. It was also helpful to have Roaming Man pocket WiFi to help with directions — on foot or by train.

We walked the most on the second day, covering Tsukiji market, Chuo Dori Street (the main shopping street in Ginza), one of Tokyo’s largest parks, Yoyogi Park, before exiting at one end to get to trendy Takeshita Street.

Tomorrow was the last full day in Tokyo before flying back home the day after.

There was still much to see and do. So the itinerary for the last day consisted of special requests — Imperial Palace, Odaiba and the famous Shibuya crossing.

We first headed to the Imperial Palace but after a 20-minute walk from the exit of Hibiya Station, we found out that the East Garden closes every Monday. Not wanting to waste the train ride, we walked around and stumbled upon Kitanomaru Park, a woodland park that is a home to a Science Museum.

From the park, we took connecting trains to Odaiba, an entertainment hub on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay.

I love this place for its non-Japanese displays — there’s a replica of the Statue of Liberty, Rainbow Bridge and futuristically designed buildings. Then it started to rain. Before it got heavier, we rushed back to Odaiba Station for our last destination, the famous Shibuya crossing located just outside Shibuya Station.

It was still raining when we reached Shibuya but, what the heck, it’s not everyday we get to walk across the busiest intersection in Japan (most probably not in the world too). It is said that there are as many as 2,500 people cross the street at the same time!

And who cares if we went back and forth, giggling like children playing in the rain!

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