We left the farm in the morning and caught a train from Matsumoto to Kofu. In Kofu, we caught the bus to Kawaguchiko thanks to a helpful woman who made sure we did not miss the last bus of the day. When we got off the bus at Kawaguchiko, it was raining. We walked to our hostel thinking how thankful we were it had not rained while we were freezing on the farm.
We had come to Kawaguchiko to see Mount Fuji and we were not disappointed. Our hostel had an amazing view of the mountain from the roof deck which we visited at sunrise and sunset. We spent the rest of our time in the Fuji area trying to create our own version of Hokusai’s Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji. We took the train to Shimoyoshida and hiked in Arakurayama Sengen Park to the Shinto shrine and the Chureito Pagoda where there are magical views of the mountain. We walked to Lake Kawaguchiko to catch a morning view before the clouds covered it up.
All the walking gave us plenty of time to reflect on our time in Japan. Many of the cities and towns we visited were very pretty with beautiful temples and shrines, castles, and gardens, and the cities are phenomenally clean. Children are taught the importance of cleaning up their environment throughout their young lives because they themselves clean their classrooms. This translates into adults who take such good care of their cities that there is never any trash to be seen, even though there are also never trash cans in sight. As a result, the country is a delight to explore.
We enjoyed Japan, but Eric said he felt like he wanted to let out a big shout. It was not out of any particular frustration, just a general feeling that he had had to rein himself in more than he would like. More than anywhere else we were, we had a strong sense that this was a fundamentally different culture. We found it harder here to break in and really experience it. Everyone was subdued and restrained, and Eric felt it would be considered rude to be too loud or take up more space. The time on the farm had been enjoyable and rewarding, but Eric had definitely been more reserved than normal and it was good we were moving on.
We found the food in Japan to be similarly subdued. There was a lot of reference to the Japanese palate and its sensitivity to subtle flavors at the whisky distillery and in descriptions of food, for example. The Japanese emphasize umami above almost everything else in food, but it is so subtle, we found a lot of the food to be pretty uninspiring. This was especially noticeable coming from Korea where we loved the food. We liked how readily available and fresh sushi and sashimi were, and we enjoyed some of our fancier meals out, but mostly we found Japanese food boring.
We had expected to need more Japanese than we did. While a few of Jess’s phrases came in handy with Hisami-san, our omakase sushi chef, and at train stations, it was notably easier to get by with English than it had been in Korea. Except in the grocery store where it was comically unhelpful, we did not use Google Translate while we were in Japan.
We loved how easy it was to get around Japan. There was either an amazingly fast train or a clean, reasonably priced bus to anywhere we wanted to go. In the end, we were glad not to have purchased the Japan Rail Pass as it gave us the flexibility to choose the best mode of transportation for each destination. Buying the Japan Rail Pass in Japan as we would have done would have cost us $489 per person for 14 days and would not have covered all the trains and buses we needed. Instead, we managed to go everywhere we wanted for 28 days for $394 per person.
Even though we spent almost a month there, we were only able to see a small portion of Japan. It may not be our favorite East Asian country, but we would definitely come back.