The past three days in Japan have flown by. It is hard to believe that today we are heading to Kobe to find MV Explorer and that tonight we depart for China. We say “find” MV Explorer because we last saw her in Yokohama. While we have been exploring this beautiful and welcoming country, MV Explorer made her way from Yokohama to Kobe … It will make our adventure today even a little more challenging as we have never been to Kobe.
Two days ago, after a very restful night after our Ninja and Samurai fights, we ventured to Ft. Fuji. We were very lucky to have seen Mt Fuji from the ship in Yokohama and also from Tokyo. We were told you can only see the mountain 30% of the time from Tokyo. In any case we wanted to see more of the region. We were picked-up in a taxi and wisked to another hotel where we boarded our coach for the day. After a couple hour drive we arrived at the fourth station of Mt Fuji, the highest point accessible this time of year. In the summer you can drive to the fifth station but the road is closed due to snow. All total there are 10 stations from the base to the peak. The fourth station provided beautiful views.
Next we had lunch overlooking Hakone Lake. After lunch we ascended a different mountain by sky gondola to access the Owakudani Valley, which is an ancient crater where you can smell sulphur and see the steam rise from the mountain crevasses. Perhaps it is even more famous for the black hard boiled eggs … apparently when you boil an egg in sulphur water it turns black … who knew? Owakudani is also famous for its wasabi ice cream, which is actually very nice.
Next, we boarded a “pirate ship” for a relaxing cruise on Lake Ashi. To be honest we did not understand the significance of the pirates but the views of Mt Fuji were beautiful as we’re the many Toriis marking the entrances to Shinto shrines. From Lake Ashi we drove to Odawara where we boarded a Shinkansen for one more experience on the bullet train.
On arrival in Tokyo we explored the Ginza shopping district before our next adventure began. We decided to take a night bus from Tokyo to Kyoto, about an eight drive. The night buses are very common with young Japanese and tourists alike. In fact many of the Semester at Sea students used the night bus. We were a little older than the average so we opted to upgrade to a “cocoon” bus that provided much more comfort and privacy. The ride was quite pleasant … That might be a bit of a stretch, but was certainly better than most overnight flights we have experienced
We arrived Kyoto at 6:00 AM, which turned out to be a very quiet time! Not much opened until about 10AM. While waiting we explored the area around the train station, including the magnificent Nish Hongan-ji Temple, which is undergoing a major renovation. The temple quickly highlighted how different Kyoto is than Tokyo. Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan starting in the 8th century and as a result has many important temples. Fortunately, Kyoto was not subjected to the intense bombing of WWII that Tokyo witnessed and as a result many of the temples were not destroyed.
At 1030 we joined a Japanese tour of the city and our first stop was Kinkaju-ji Temple, commonly referred to as the gold temple. Originally the home of the third Shogun of the Muromachi Shogunate, it was transformed into a Zen Temple following his death.
Next was Ginkaku-ji Temple, or the silver temple. Built by the eighth Shogun, the temple was never covered in Silver as the builder ran out of money. This proves that leaders of the 15th century are not much different than the 21st century … They all spend too much. Despite the lack of silver it is a beautiful temple.
After a very nice Japanese lunch we headed to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple complex that houses a number of beautiful temples and buildings including the Niomon, Sanjunoto, the namesake temple. All were absolutely unbelievable though we must admit by the end of the day we were suffering from temple fatigue. You really need a little more time to explore each of this magnificent places.
Were returned to the station area and visited the Big Camera store. This is best described as a Best Buy on steroids. This nine story tech heaven is the temple for geeks. Every possible tech gadget was there including some of the most interesting 3D televisions we have seen. The 3D technology is very different than in North America. I suppose the super thin 80″ TV probably helped, but the 3D image was spectacular
Today we head for Kobe … Hopefully we will find Explorer.
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