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Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Book II ~ Chapter 22 ~ Nutty Numazu

18-Jan-2019 – 30-Jan-2019

At this time during my journey, near the very end of my round-trip of Japan, I should edge closer to the Radiant Metropolis one prefecture at a time. This relatively leisurely pace should mean I would spend yet another chapter in…

In fact, by now Chuubu has officially become the single one region of Japan in which I visited the most prefectures (since Hokkaido is officially just one HUGE prefecture divided into subprefectures). Not counting Sado (which officially is considered a part of Niigata-ken), I have been in five different prefectures of Chuubu by now (Niigata, Nagano, Ishikawa, Aichi and now Shizuoka), and seen three of the remaining four en-route during my train rides (Touyama from Nagano to Nanao, Fukui from Nanao to Nagahama, and Gifu from Kyoto to Toyokawa) .

Anyway, this time around, I am staying in the prefecture of Shizuoka (静岡 "Quiet Hill"), which surrounds the entirety of Suruga-Wan, and also some of the mountains and coast to its west. Also, it has a very distinctive "spike" where Aoi-Ku (葵区 "Hollyhock Ward") runs up north the length of a roughly 40km-long valley surrounded by insurmountable peaks in the 3,000m-category.

Within Shizuoka-Ken, I am located in the Tokureishi (特例市 "Special City") of Numazu (沼津 "Swamp Haven"), which is located at the northeastern shore of Suruga-Wan. Tokureishi are a category of Japanese city classification above normal cities, but below Chukakushi (中核市 "Core City"), requiring a population of at least 200,000 inhabitants, which Numazu used to exceed in the past, even though now only roughly 190,000 people call this place their home, making it roughly the same size as Hagen in Germany.

And within Numazu, I am located only a short distance away from the train station, right in the shadow of mighty Fuji-san.

Ooops, sorry, I got that wrong. That's not Fuji-san… this is Fuji-san!

As I mentioned before, I do like to keep a mountain or two between my home and the next active volcano just like back in Daisen (see Book II ~ Chapter 13 ~ Daring Daisen). Anyway, Latitude-wise, not much has changed since last time (I'm only 0.3° further north now). As for the temperatures, we should have a few warmer days at first, but near the end of the month there is a slight drop again. All in all pretty typical weather for January though, and it should only rain on a single day, so no complaints from me.

Anyway, after how busy I've been this last week in Toyokawa with the JMoF and my obligatory nutcase-exploration, I am now planning to take it easier during my twelve days here, much looking forward to…

A Moment's Rest

This time around, my home base is a little apartment in a little block of flats not far from the city centre of Numazu.

The experience of having a whole place to myself and just to myself is certainly a new thing for me. In fact, I should barely even encounter my host this time around, and as such not have a chance to get to know him – or take pictures for that matter. However, I can still give you a rundown of…

The Place

This time around, my place is only a teeny-tiny one-room apartment, roughly the size of a hotel room so it really won't take long to give you a tour of this place, which is conveniently located just next to a Lawson.

Small though the place may be, it should not come without its share of deficits. For one, the toilet is a case of well-meant fail: Having replace the original seat cover for a washlet that is slightly too big for the bowl teaches me a thing or two about why toilets are built the way they are and no different. Not only is it uncomfortable (and probably a bit unhygienic) for males to bump on the front end of the bowl while doing business sitting down, but then there's also the fact that due to the forwards shift of the overall aperture, the posterior product fails to hits the water and leaves unsightly smears on the bowl that have to be cleaned Every. Single. Time.

However, the much more critical fail, causing me to lose an approximate 50% of my PP right after moving in (I did mention that I don't have a lot of those, didn't I?) is the kitchen. Never mind an oven (that's a distant dream by now). This place only features a Microwave, a water cooker, and a single stove plate, which does not even function. Also, there are absolutely no pots and pans, and only a bare minimum of plates, which falls quite a good distance short of what I expect of a place that has "Kitchen (Space where guests can cook their own meals)" listen as one of its amenities. Quite a good distance indeed.

Fortunately, even though my Japanese skills are yet far from perfect, I at least have gotten the "polite humble complaining"-thing down by now, and after pointing out to my host how much I enjoy cooking and how I was really looking forward to preparing my own meals, he manages to produce a solution in a frame of time which leaves me completely speechless, and to which all subsequent "slight inconvenience"-crisis response time for the remainder of my life are going to lose. It only takes a single day, and then my host makes one of his rare appearances, carrying a kitchen-in-a-handbasket, complete with a portable induction heater, Yakiniku grill and an array of pots and pans. I am… impressed.

The one thing that's still missing is a bowl, but that's not really a problem since I can easily get one for 108¥ from the next Daiso…

…and then I can cook up my own meals again…

…also using Junsei Kuriimu (純生クリーム "Fresh Cream") for the first time in almost nine months! I have not been able to get my hands on this stuff ever since leaving the Radiant Metropolis, and now they finally have it again the supermarkets (it's still pretty expensive though).

Anyway, another calamity is the handbasin in the bathroom, which by some genius of design is not only linked directly to the shower… but also is set up with the ingenious one-control mechanism that turns on the faucet if you push down on the handle, and the shower if you pull up (or the other way around, I forgot). Either way, my immediate safety precaution here is making sure that the shower head is always turned the other way, and pray dragon should that save me from a number of unintentional showers while trying to wash my hands or brush my teeth.

The laptop-friendly workspace, meanwhile, should for once deliver what it promised. Sure, the chair is not super comfy, and the desk does not have a lot of space, but it still beats what these last, uh… many places had to offer by a notable margin.

Going outside my apartment and one floor up, we have the communal garbage bins with the most-common separation system in Japan, separating by Moeru Gomi (燃える塵 "Burnable Garbage"), Moenai Gomi (燃えない塵 "Unburnable Garbage") and a third joint container for Kan (カン "Cans"), Petto Botoru (ペットボトル "PET Bottle") and Bin (瓶 "Bottles").

Also on the second floor, there is one entire apartment unit that serves as a laundry and store room, again secured with a lockbox that only the current residents know the combination of.

Going to the ground floor (and we already briefly passed this during the place tour), there is what I call the bike harem: A selection of seven bikes that all of the inhabitants are free to use at their convenience. It goes as a testament to the honesty of the Japanese culture that the keys are stored in a freely accessible and unlocked mailbox right next to the bikes.

However, there is one slight miscalculation that I made when choosing this place (or rather, letting the wind choose it for me, for I originally intended to stay with another host in Numazu, who declined, and Airbnb suggested this place instead). I mentioned before that I like to keep at least one mountain between myself and the nearest active volcano, and while I technically managed to do that, I seem to have underestimated the impressive prominence of Fuji-san, which easily manages to tower over the 1,504m high peak of Ashitakayama (愛鷹山 "Loving Hawk Mountain"). Oh well, here's hoping the 3,776m high stratovolcano does not choose one of the twelve days of my stay here for its first eruption since 1708.

Apart from my two day trips, I should not do a lot of local exploring this time around, and yet my regular trips to the nearby supermarket should always lead me straight past a little Shrine located right at the edge of a multi-deck car park.

As for aforementioned supermarket, this one is part of an Ito-Yokado mall, just like the one I've been shopping at while living in the Ooizumi Mansion after first arriving in Japan (see Book II ~ Chapter 2 ~ Touchdown in Tokyo). That's another thing driving home the imminent conclusion of my trip around Japan.

Naturally, I should not wait for long to execute an initial exploration of my new whereabouts. In fact, since the weather is nice on the day right after my arrival, it is there and then that I set out on…

Day Trip 1: Phantasmagoria of Fuji View

Distance: 19.1km (16.9km ride + 2.2km stray)
Ascents: 271m (132m ride + 139m stray)
Duration: 5.5h (4.5h ride + 1h stray)
13 (5🦊); 4; 13/17🎁︎

Since seeing Fuji-san in its full, snow-covered majesty is the main goal of my stay here in Numazu, I should naturally strife to get that done as soon as possible. In fact, writing my host as much prior to my arrival, he gave me a local tip and said that the view of Fuji-san from atop Kanukiyama (香貫山 "Penetrating Smell Mountain") is supposed to be gorgeous around this time of the year. Good enough a reason for me to give it a shot, especially considering that the skies are perfectly clear of clouds today, and there's also a good number of Geocaches and Inari-Shrines located along the way. I wonder how many of the Caches I will find, and how many of the Shrines will turn out to harbour foxes.

The bike harem should be a great boon for this endeavour, since the availability of these two-wheeled steeds easily triples my effective range (or cuts the time for shorter strays by two thirds). A brief inspection of the herd, however, leads me to discover that most of them only have a single gear, and the one that does have multiple gears is a cute folding bicycle. But oh well, I guess it's still better than not having a bike at all, and so I decide to take the cute Bikey-Puff Jr. for a spin today.

Along my way towards the mountain, I come across a very lifelike feline statue sitting on a railing just by one of the main thoroughfares…

…and only a few metres further run into the less lifelike statue of a woman reading a book on a rather hard couch.

I also run into the first few Shrines, though the maximum of religious (and vulpine) satisfaction should not be achieved until after I return from atop Kanukiyama.

Around halfway to the mountain, my way leads me across Kanogawa (狩野川 "Hunting Field River"), the primary river of the Izu Hantou (伊豆半島 "That One Midget Peninsula"), which incidentally also has a really cool flood channel a few kilometres to the south which cuts straight through not one but two hills. You can say what you want about the Japanese, but once they decide to do something they sure know how to pull through to the very end!

I also come across a very cute Dachshund-bench…

…and also find a surprisingly large percentage of the Geocaches I attempt, easily the highest of all my strays in Japan with a sample size of more than ten caches! Maybe most notable of them is the Canadian exchange cache, which has a sister cache in Canada with which its contents are regularly swapped. I use this chance to send one of my trackables – a wolf that I found in Fukuoka and the destination of which is in the United States – on its way to the right continent, while taking a minion banana with me towards new adventures.

Anyway, after about an hour or so on the road, I approach Kanukiyama, which actually turns out to be more of a hill than a proper mountain…

…which still does not mean that I should not have to push my Bikey-Puff Jr. up the majority of its considerably steep incline, in spite of its six gears.

At the top of the incline, there is a little rest and parking area, which notably also features a five-storey pagoda…

…and after that the remainder of the way to the summit leads along a tranquil forested footpath.

The summit itself is located at 193m of altitude, and is the location of a weather and/or broadcasting station…

…while a Tenboudai is conveniently located on a subsidiary peak only 200m away from there.

It is from there that I get an amazing view of Fuji-san rising above Ashitakayama in the distance.

In fact, pretty much the entire Tenboudai is dedicated to the distant majesty of Fuji-san and the geological backgrounds of its formation, including a relief model of the surrounding terrain…

…as well as a rare Japanese and English description and illustrations of how the Izu Peninsula crashed into mainland Japan at a breakneck speed of 5cm/year about a million years ago, and how the resulting collision not only formed the surrounding mountains, but was also responsible for the formation of Fuji-san at the triple-junction between the Philippine, the Okhotsk and the Amurian plates. Incidentally, it also reveals to me that the nearby Suruga-Wan is the deepest bay of Japan with a maximum depth of over 2,500m at its mouth and about 1500m near its centre, and consequentially is also one of the richest fishing grounds of the country.

Oh, and naturally, I also get the obligatory "great panorama of the surrounding area". Almost forgot that one.

And then, there's also the aforementioned 3,000m+ Akaishi Sanmyaku (赤石山脈 "Red Stone Mountain Vein"), the snow-covered peaks of which are just visible along the western horizon. The highest complete mountain range in Japan, these are home to Kitadake (北岳 "North Peak"), the second-highest mountain in Japan after Fuji-san with an elevation of 3,193m.

After that, I return back down into the streets of Numazu…

…and crossing Kanogawa a bit further downstream get yet another fantastic view of Fuji-san.

Now, this is the segment of today's trip where I come across the majority of Shrines and Temples, even if I have to make just a little bit of a detour for them.

And then, there's the great sea gate, also known as Numazu Minato Oogata Tenbou Suimon Byuo (沼津港大型展望水門 びゅうお "Numazu Harbour Large-Sized Outlook Water Gate 'Byuo'")…

…where I find yet another manhole cover design. In fact, I should eventually find out that just like Hanamaru, Ruby is a character from the "Love Live! Sunshine!!" multimedia franchise, which appears to have originated here in Numazu. I wonder if the other seven characters can also be found around town somewhere?

Subsequently, I make the majority of my way back up north along the coast of Suruga-Wan, and once again get a fantastic view of Fuji-san, this time with even more birds! Incidentally, this perspective gives a good impression of how high above sea level the base of Fuji-san already is.

Finally, my way leads me past the back roads of Numazu…

…and across a channel with courting waterfowl…

…back to my humble abode, where I will next tell you about…

The Food

My days here begin with a good old bowl of Müsli, accompanied with tea and orange juice. Incidentally, this place does not even feature a spoon. Good thing I've brought a spare all the way with me.

It does however have tea available, and almost just the right amount too. Almost! And the tea can from the Tokyo Disney Resort in which the various tea bags are stored is pretty classy as well.

As for lunch, I should rely on my usual combination of Yakisoba and Yakiudon with self-made Inari-Age, knowing all-too-well that the days on which I'll be able to enjoy this genuine Japanese meal are numbered. By the way, by now I have a clear favourite brand, and that would be the Teppanmen Yakisoba (鉄板麺焼きそば "Iran Pan Noodles Fried Soba") on the bottom left with their distinctive "red flag" packaging. They also come in different flavours, which feature different coloured flags.

And dinner, as usual, should be the most varied part dish of the day, starting with humble curry-rice (with cheese) during the first day before I had the kitchen in a handbasket (and then some more days because I bought a three-pack)…

…but subsequently graduating to more sophisticated meals, such as Rahmschwammerlngeschnetzeltes, Gyouza, Naleiayafero or do-it-yourself Kitsune Udon. As a result, I not only learn how to juggle with only one plate, but also that an induction plate can also heat the aluminium-pan in which the DIY Kitsune Udon is provided.

Another nice thing about this place is the fact that the host provides me with a generous amounts of oranges and mandarins to get through the winter. Incidentally, this should be a practical reminder for me about why I don't usually buy fresh fruit: Faced with a quantity of about 36 fruits and a stay of 12 days, I calculate that if I eat 3 fruits a day, they will last me for the entire stay. Unfortunately, my calculation fails to take into account that other organisms also tend to take a liking to this sort of nourishment, and so after the first half of my stay I end up having to throw the second half of the fruit away on account of having gone mouldy and mushy on me. I think I'll better stick with good old fruit juice in one-way bottles from here on out.

And in face of my rapidly approaching departure from Japan, I eat my fill of tasty Umeboshi-flavoured Kaki no Tane.

Also, I find this Japanese variant of one of my favourite snacks. Unfortunately, it turns out to be not quite as tasty as the variant you can buy in Germany.

On top of that, there's this very peculiar potato chip flavour that fox requires me to try pretty much the second I lay eyes upon it in the supermarket: Hatate Bataa Shouyu Aji (帆立バターしょうゆ味 "Scallop Butter Soy Sauce Flavour"). The verdict: Interesting, but the thing that puts me off about them is the strong buttery taste (not to self: don't buy chips with butter-flavour).

Twice during my stay, I should also visit a restaurant, such as a very tasty Udon-ya in the Ito-Yokado, where I eat a meal of Ajisaizen (味彩膳 "Taste Various Small Servings"), which includes Kitsune Udon and Tenpura among other things…

…and one night I take advantage of a nearby Domino's for some at least moderately-good pizza.

So much for the food! Now, before we get to the main event of my stay here in Numazu, let me quickly tell you about…

The Flair

This time around, thanks to me taking it (mostly) easy, I should come across quite a number of nutty nuances here in Numazu, and it all starts when I first get on the Bikey-Puff Jr. and notice this certainly well-meant warning. I mean, can you imagine how dangerous cycling would be if people carried their safes around unsecured?

Moving through the streets, I notice what must be the Numazu old bottle convention…

…as well as beauty salon who takes the idea of "Roman letters are cool" one step further by using Greek letters instead. Interesting enough, the end result is still comprehendible.

Also comprehendible albeit a bit eclectic are the road arrows that I find on certain crossroads…

…and then this sign is perfectly clear. Oh well, guess I'll just have to nuke on of the neighbouring cities instead.

Now, here's one of those places that might be commonplace in the western world, but is a relative rarity here in Japan: A Church, and quite a proper one at that. I don't think I've seen one of these all the time ever since leaving Tokyo, which might be due to the fact that most churches here in Japan just look like ordinary buildings, and lack the characteristic church-shape that makes them stand out like this.

Regarding the "Love Live! Sunshine!!" multimedia franchise, I should indeed eventually find more of that, not in the form of more manhole covers, but as artwork printed on the main entrance of the Ito-Yokado mall. The overarcing plot of "Love Live! Sunshine!!", revolves around a group of nine school girls who become Idols in order to prevent their school from getting shut down.

And speaking of the Ito-Yokado, I don't think I've yet told you about how the cashiers at supermarkets here in Japan are notably different from the western world, have I? The checkout stations are much smaller, and most notably don't feature any conveyor belts. Instead, there is just enough space for two shopping baskets in front of the cashier (one for you and one for the next person in line, because no one here in Japan buys more than one basket full of goods at a time), and one basket afterwards into which the Tennin (店員 "Store Clerk") transfers your goods after scanning them. The whole setup is so lightweight that it makes the western equivalents seem rather bulky by comparison. Also, most checkout stations are not firmly installed in place, allowing them to be shifted around as necessary.

Also, this Ito-Yokado has come up with a really cute way of apologizing on the spot when an item has gone Shinagire (品切れ "Goods Cut" = "Sold Out").

Naturally, I should also continue my quest for Melon Soda, and at one point I almost think I have it… only to figure out that this is no Melon Soda but rather Melon Cream Soda, which regrettably is a completely different thing. So close yet so far!

I do, however, find something very interesting called Aoi Fujisan Karee (青い富士山カレー "Blue Fuji-san Curry"), which even Fox decides to give a pass on account of it not only costing twice as much as normal curry, but also being a colour that apparently qualifies as "Very No" on the vulpine "Should I eat it?"-scale.

Moving from the supermarket to the Konbini, I figure this is a good time to drive home the sheer range of products that these little stores sport yet once more. Not only do they sell foods, drinks, bathroom and kitchen supplies, stationery and pretty everything you can find in a supermarket (albeit with significantly reduced options), they also sell some stuff that you can't usually find in supermarkets, such as cables, external hard drives, headphones and other electronics.

And for those of you plagued by the printer ink mafia, I can only recommend you to come to Japan, where you can buy cartridges of printer ink in the 100¥ shops for an outrageous price of 216¥ an piece!

Going back to my home, there are also a number of interesting things to be found, such as this "Table of contents template" cushion design because why not?

Also, that's not a clothespin…

that is a clothespin!!!

Apart from that, I should also have to do a bit of maintenance and preparation on my own equipment, such as fixing my Kitsune satchel yet once again (good thing I was born the grandson of a seamstress)…

…as well as purchasing a 256GB mini SD-card that is finally big enough to hold all my unprocessed photos and otherwise irreplaceable data in what I call the Ultimate Final Backup. With this, I have a final ultimate contingency plan in case that both Liete – my trusty laptop – and my external hard drive get compromised at the same time, and thanks to its small size I can hide it in an absolutely inconspicuous place where the chances of it getting stolen, even if should end up losing both my backpacks and my satchel, are as low as they get. Why all the effort? Well, let's just says I've got… plans. But more about that in a few chapters' time.

And finally, I should also get to behold the occasional beautiful sunset over the city from the balcony of my little hole-in-the-wall.

It should be the end of one day, and in the morning I would set out on an epic trip to carve out a…

Day Trip 2: Legacy of Lunatic Kinetics

Distance: 71.3km (59.9km ride + 11.4km stray)
Ascents: 1,047m (410m ride + 637m stray)
Duration: 10.75h (6.75h ride + 4h stray)
36 (9🦊); 1; 5/9🎁︎

This moment of madness is brought to you by the letter AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The lunacy begins when I first open the map of Geocaches in the area, and notice a group of them surrounding Ashitakayama that is practically begging to be made into a loop.

Add to that the allure of getting within 13km of the peak of Fuji-san, as well as the fact that I actually have bicycles available one last time, and it's not surprising that my mind should be plotting my demise for the entire next week. Now it's only a matter of doing a lunacy check to see if I'm actually crazy enough to attempt the 1,000m-ascent to the base of Fuji-san using the Bikey-Puff Jr…

…yup, looks like I'm actually crazy enough to try it. And I should actually be able to pull it off in the end, even though I end up having to push my bike up some of the steeper inclines. In the end, this should become one of my longest escapades here in Japan, shadowed only by the Odyssey Ride (Part 1) of Daisen (see Book II ~ Chapter 13 ~ Daring Daisen), and while I should not cross any prefecture boundaries this time around, I should at the very least traverse a total of four districts: Going counter-clockwise from Numazu, I soon enter the elongated and aptly named Nagaizumi-machi (長泉町 "Long Spring Town"), continue into Susono-shi (裾野市 "Foot of Mountain Field City"), where the most gruesome ascent would await me, and finally loop around to Numazu via Fuji-shi.

Eager to avoid a calamity such as on aforementioned Odyssey Ride, I come prepared this time around, wielding a compact bike pump (purchased from a bike store in the Ito-Yokado) and an emergency bike repair kit (which I brought all the way from home and only recently discovered among my inventory) to help me keep going in the worst case scenario. Here's hoping I shouldn't need them.

Knowing I have a long and harrowing ride ahead of me, I rise early to set out at first light…

…only to realize that the key for the Bikey-Puff Jr. is gone! All other keys are still there, but the single one crucial key #3 should remain untraceable no matter how much I look.

And as I mentioned, none of the other bikes have any gears, which puts me in quite a predicament.

I have deliberately delayed this ride a number of times to catch the perfect day, which is today. The skies are clear, not a cloud to be seen, allowing for a perfect panorama, and today is already the second-to last free day of my stay. Considering how I will most likely be dead after this ride, I really don't want to do it on the day prior to my departure, which makes today the only day I have left to do it. This pretty much leaves me with two options.

Right! I already failed my Lunacy Check for today, so might as well go all the way with it. And at worst, if things get too tough, I can always turn back and ride my bike back down the way I came, right? Thus, I waste no further time and pick one of the gearless yet colourful bikes to accompany me on my mission of madness. I should come to call this underpowered but trusty bike "Old Faithful".

For the first hour or so, I should make my way through the streets of northern Numazu…

…coming across quite an array of Shrines and Temples along the way, the most notable of which would be Complex-sized Kouchouji (光長寺 "Light Leader Temple") covering an area of over three hectares and encompassing many subsidiary Temples within its grounds.

It is at one of these Temples that I catch a glimpse of Fuji-san beckoning in the distance. I have yet a long way to go but every journey begins with the first step – even (or maybe especially) the lunatic ones.

And at one of the Shrines, I come across a majestic old tree that is over 400 years old and apparently the biggest tree in all of Numazu. That means it was already a hundred years old back when Fuji-san last erupted.

Eventually, the road should take me through the short stretch of Nagaizumi, as announced by the obligatory manhole cover designs, which already feature Fuji-san in the distance…

…and before much longer, I enter Susono, where both the manhole cover design…

…as well as the very landscape itself feature Fuji-san much more prominently.

It is also here – at Susono-Eki to be exact – that I get the rare honour of being the genuine Second-to-Find (STF) a Geocache. This is a new record for me. Thus far, the best I was was the Third-to-Find (TTF) a Geocache in a total of three different caches, all of which happened to be on Zamami in Okinawa (see Book II ~ Chapter 16 ~ Tropical Tokashiki). I wonder if I'll ever get the honour to be the First to Find (FTF) a Geocache?

Moving through Susono, I come across a row of Shrines, as well as a single Jizou…

…while the road gets gradually more rural… and the ever-increasing gradient is slowly but surely making it harder and harder for me to progress any closer to Fuji-san atop Old Faithful. On the bright side, however, the road is now aimed almost directly at the ultra-prominent stratovolcano, so at least I won't have to bother with any roundabout detours at this point.

Eventually, the incline reaches a gradient that should prove too steep for my poor, gearless bike to handle (the exact breakpoint being a gradient of about 5%), and so for the next 10km of distance and 600m of altitude – which would take me approximately 3.5 hours to complete – it should be down to me pushing the bike upwards to the apex of today's lunatic endeavour.

Fortunately, I don't have to walk the whole distance in one go. Around two thirds of the push-distance, I come across a trio of Shrines and Temples in the town of Suyama (須山 "Necessary Mountain"), and can thus take a little break as I pay my respects to the local gods and spirits.

This far up, by the way, the temperatures reach refreshing 2°C, a statement that is devoid of irony at this point. Having pushed Old Faithful up here all the way, I am quite heated up from the exercise, and as a result do not feel cold at all, in spite of the snow holding out in nearby roadside ditches.

My closest point of approach to Fuji-san should be a Hachimangu in a forested area. At this point, my distance from the summit is exactly 13.15km and the altitude difference is about 2,880m…

…although the "forested area" part should mean that you can't really see the mountain all that well from here.

A nearby resting and hiking area offers a substantially better view of the first of Japan's Sanreizan (三霊山 "Three Spirit Mountains"), the other two being Tateyama (立山 "Standing Mountain") 50km east of Nagano and Haku-san (白山 "White Mountain") halfway between Nanao and Nagahama.

Also visible from here is Houei-zan (宝永山 "Treasure Eternity Mountain") in the foreground – named after the Houei-era in which it erupted – a flank volcano formed by Fuji-san's last eruption in 1707. the eruption of which ripped a notable scar into the southeastern fflank of the bigger volcano. This volcano is also sometimes referred to as "Little Fuji" or "Fuji Jr.", and reaches a total height of 2,693m.

Anyway, with my primary goal for today accomplished, and me being quite beaten from the final approach, I figure this is a good enough place for my lunch break – especially considering that it's already 13:00 by now and there's also an inviting roofed table around on which I can take a seat and eat my classic combination of Yakisoba Roll and Melon Pan in view of the majestic mountain (usually I reserve this food for lengthy train journeys, but seeing as how I won't have any of those anymore in Japan and how I really like this food and likely won't have another chance to eat it, I make an exception for this today).

Incidentally, during my way here, I should also ever-so-briefly officially set foot on the flank of Fuji-san (that is, reach a point where going up perpendicular to the slope would lead me up Fuji-san), as opposed to the flank of Ashitaka-san, which should be the stage of the majority of my insane bike ride today.

Also, while we're up here, allow me to quickly summarize one of the myths of Fuji-san. Known as Taketori Monogatari (竹取物語 "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter") and Kaguya-hime-no Monogatari (かぐや姫の物語 "The Tale of Princess Kaguya"), it tells the tale of an old bamboo cutter who one day found a little girl inside a glowing stalk of bamboo. He and his wife named the girl Kaguya and raised her as their child. In time, she became an incredibly beautiful young woman, and caught the eye of first several princes, and then the emperor himself. However, she turned all of them down, and one day revealed that she was not of this world, but rather hailed from Tsuki-no Miyako (月の都 "Capital of the Moon"), and was sent to earth by her people to keep her safe from a war on the moon. However, by now the war had passed, and her people came to take her home to the moon. Kaguya was sad to depart from this world to which she had formed an attachment, but knew she had to go. She wrote one last letter to the emperor – with whom she had kept in touch over the years – explaining her departure and attaching the Elixir of Eternal Life. However, when the emperor received the letter and the elixir, he said that he did not wish to live for an eternity without Kaguya. He wrote a reply letter to Kaguya and commanded his warriors to go to the place on earth that was closest to the heavens and burn his letter together with the elixir, in hopes that through the immortal smoke his words would reach Kaguya. And thus, the emperors warriors scaled the highest mountain in the land and set fire to the letter and the elixir, which kept on burning forever. And as a result the mountain would be called Fuji-san (富士山 "Mountain Abundant with Warriors") and should continuously emit smoke for many centuries to come.

As for me, it's now time to go back down to sea level, which is significantly easier than going up – especially considering that I wisely chose to go up along the shallower eastern slope and saved the steep western slope for a fast-paced downhill romp, transforming the potential energy I racked up over the last few hours into kinetic energy. The only bad thing about this are that the combination of speed and temperature should make this segment of my ride quite chilly.

There's also a single Shrine along the descending slope which I choose to visit in spite of signs warning of the presence of Kuma (熊 "Bears")...

…and in what seems to be no time at all, I arrive at the city boundary of Fuji-shi…

…where I should naturally find a whole new set of manhole covers waiting to be discovered. Befittingly, one of the designs features Kaguya-hime with a bamboo motif in the background.

Also, I would start running into an increasing number of Shrines now that I'm back in the city again (a refreshing number of which feature foxes)…

…and reaching the harbour come across Tagonoura Bussharitou (田子浦仏舎利塔 "Field Child Bay Relic Tower"), a peculiar structure of Buddhist origin.

It is also right here at Tagonoura that I get a great overview over Fuji-shi and Fuji-san in the distance from atop an elevated Tenboudai overlooking the harbour.

Moving on from there, the remainder of the distance takes me back east towards Numazu either directly along the promenade of Suruga-wan or parallel to it at a distance.

During one of the parallel segments, I run into an artistic display of masonry displaying some of Japan's most popular mascots. We all know Pikachu, and I'm pretty sure I mentioned the robotic cat from the future Doraemon at some point. As for the squirrel… maybe it's a lesser-known character that I'm not familiar with, or maybe it's just that: a squirrel.

Anyway, by now it is about time for The Usual Problem®…

…and as the orbital photon blaster edges ever closer to the western horizon, I press on to cover the remaining 12 or so kilometres along the promenade as fast as Old Faithful will allow me to.

However, despite all the rush I should still make time to go down to the beach and touch down on the ocean waters, completing my link between the mountains and the sea, even if I did not scale a summit today.

But after that, I get going for real, racing my own shadow projected against the backdrop of trees by the now almost horizontal rays of the sun…

…and in the end, despite my best efforts, I should lose the race, but gain a beautiful sunset over Suruga-wan.

As a result, I should have to make the rest of the way back home through the dark once again. Fortunately, I am almost there by now, and the streets of Numazu are at least fairly illuminated.

Also, incredibly, Old Faithful features a light, that is at least partially functional. Partially because it should sometime work and sometimes not, switching on and off in random intervals without any apparent pattern to it. Oh well, I guess it's better than not having a light at all.

After an incredibly long and exhausting day on the road, I finally return home, and then I die. Or at least that's what it feels like, for the next day should be filled with pain, nausea, headache and other general not-wellness. I guess I really used way too much Shadow going up the mountain this time around.

Fortunately, the day after that one should look much better already, and all in all I am quite happy about having risen to this final great challenge here in Japan. I have tried something bold, and paid the price for it. The memories of both will last me a lifetime, and I am leaving behind a legacy of lunatic adventures, strays and rides all over the country. Speaking of which, I think it's now about time to cover…

The Retrospective

Altogether, my apartment here, while cosy, should end up being a pretty nice place – at least after the kitchen situation was resolved. The little space had everything I needed, including a comfortable bed, and the host – rarely though I should see him – was nice too. Thanks to the AC, the temperatures were nice and warm, and although part of it spoiled, the oranges and mandarins were a nice gesture. The toilet was a bit dirt, and the shower perilous, but on the other side I had a selection of bikes to explore the city with, and a washing machine which I was allowed for the token price of 100¥ per load was present as well. The only real drawback of this place was the price, which at 4,800¥ per night was about twice as much as what I would have liked to pay.

But be that as it may, I am still grateful for this place, and thus leave behind one little thank you sketch before I depart.

With that, I am now once again ready to look out towards…

The Road Ahead


For the second-to-last time in Japan, I leave behind an empty room…

…and walk towards the station, with all my belongings on my back (and front).

Within 15 minutes, I reach the station, and end up having ample time, waiting for the train to depart – first on the platform, and then within the waiting train. I could actually have taken an earlier train, but that one was pretty crowded, so I decide to take it easy – especially considering that today's leg should be a short one – and wait for the train that I had originally planned to use, which also turns out to be a lot emptier.

My route today is short and straightforward, taking me almost the entire remainder of the length of the Toukaidou Line to Kawasaki, and should only include a single transfer in Atami (熱海 "Fever Ocean"). Altogether, my train journey today should only last for two hours, making it one of the shortest train segments of my journey:
  • From Numazu to Atami with the JR Toukaidou Line Local for Atami (18 minutes ride; 8 minutes to change)
  • From Atami to Kawasaki with the JR Toukaidou Line for Koganei (小金井 "Small Gold Well") (94 minutes ride)

This last train journey in Japan takes me mostly through city, with only sparse instances of fields and landscape in between – as should be expected considering I am now, after nine months of absence, finally entering the Radiant Metropolis again. The last continuous stretch of non-civilization terminates along the coast north of Atami, and starting in Odawara (小田原 "Small Field Meadow"), you can complete the remainder of the journey to Tokyo without having to go further than 20m from the nearest building. One notable city – or maybe I should rather call it "metropolitan fragment" since no distinguishable boundaries separate it from the mass of the Radiant Metropolis – is Yokohama (横浜 "Sideways Beach) just southwest of Kawasaki, which after Tokyo is the second-largest city of Japan with a population of 3.7 million, and the largest city that holds official city status (市 shi) due to central Tokyo counting as a metropolis (都 to). As usual, even though the Toukaidou Line runs parallel to the coast, I should nonetheless only get to see the ocean for a couple of times.

As mentioned before, the only time I would have to change on this journey is Atami, only a short time after departing from Numazu…

…and although the train there initially starts out comfortably empty, it should continuously get more and more crowded as we approach the Radiant Metropolis.

And before I know it, I am in the station hall of Kawasaki… again.

With this, the circle is closed, and my grand tour around Japan is complete. It has been almost ten months since I first visited Kawasaki for the Kanayama Matsuri (see Book II ~ Chapter 4 ~ Action at Akihabara), and it is only the second time I have been at this station due to me taking a different route back that day. And what a circle that is! One continuous circle with a number of traverses that covers all four of Japan's mayor islands (although it only barely grazes Shikoku), as well as Sado, and also features a more or less linear extension all the way down to Okinawa. After this thorough circuit, there is only a few place in Japan that I did not come within at least 100km of.

From the station, my final stay place in Japan is about 10 STEPs away, with the road there taking me mostly through the local Nakamisedoori (仲見世通 "Relationship See Society Road" = "Walking Mall")…

…where I settle into the last Washitsu I should probably see for a long, long time… possibly even forever.

However, my adventures here in Japan are not quite yet at an end. I should still have one last week to say goodbye to this land, and to take care of the last few things that I wanted to get done but have not yet gotten around to. But that is a story for another time, and shall be told in the next chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog.

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