The 9:00am tour time comes early this morning. Patrick Lowell, an American who has lived in Toyko, Japan for 42 years, and driver Algesan are waiting for us. Today is another big long day. We are heading for Mt. Fuji and the five lakes area which are about 70 miles out of town. You have to remember that 27 million people live here so this is a several hour drive even on the expressway.
Patarick is an excellant guide, we have no trouble understanding his english and he is proficient in history, politics and architecture. He even is knowledgeable about flowers and birds! He recommends a quiet garden within Toyko as our first stop. Kiyosumi Garden is old and dates back to 1716. A lumber merchant built the park as a status symbol in a time when the merchant profession was not high up the social ladder. The garden moved into the hands of a war lord who imported stones from all around Japan. The stones have been numbered and are categorised based upon their place of origin. Eventually the garden came into the hands of the Mitsubushi family who originally were a shipping family. It passed from them to the Iwasaki family for three generations and finally was given to the City of Tokyo. All that said, it is a quiet, beautiful park with ponds full of ducks,who are migrating to Siberia, a beautiful boat house, and some early blooming cherry trees. It also has some of the largest Koi that we have seen. A child is feeding them and they almost come out of the water to get the food with mouths agape. Alegesan has read my mind and bought me a can of hot coffee from a vending machine. We head off to Mt. Fuji.
Our trip to Mt. Fuji takes us through Hakone, an area known for its many spas due to the collapsed volcano which left behind many hot springs. If we had more time, this might be a fun area to explore. Another hour of driving through the bucolic countryside gets us to the 5 lakes area and some impressive views of Mt. Fuji. We visit a museum featuring glass beads which are very popular in Japan. Some of the pieces on display were from what is today Iraq and were from the 800b.c. period. You have to wonder how they made it here. It is certainly a better home for them now.
Patrick and Algesan find us a noodle bowl restaurant for lunch. Managing chop sticks is one thing, but eating noodles with them is altogether more difficult. Lots of slurping sounds going on. We grab a few more photos and Patrick announces that our next stop is another museum. We revolt. No more museums. We want to enjoy the beautiful day that is outside. From the sounds of the Japanese in the front seat of the car, we have upset the applecart. We reassure them that we are very happy riding around through the quiet little villages. We compromise on a visit to a folk village on Late Sai. The folk village is fun. We wander through this authentic old village and learn much about life there in the past including the construction practices to deal with the cold and the rain. The thatched roofs are two feet thick and must be replaced every two years. The bamboo rafters slowly turn black over their 20 year life. The old bamboo pieces are sought after for decorative purposes.
Japan is not only plagued by earth quakes and tsunamis, they also must contend with Typhoons, mudslides, and volcanoes. Unlike Patrick, this is the last place that I would move to from the USA. Patrick explains to us that the home that he has just finished constructing will have very little value upon resale. All the value is in the land. 70% of the land here is mountainous and can’t be built upon.
In the car heading back to Toyko, we find that Algesan has been thinking of us again and gone to a vegetable stand and bought each of us a Fuji apple. We now have 2 and 1/2 hours to return to Toyko and meet our Geshia for dinner at 7:00pm. James I have brought some items along to ” fix up ” for dinner. Algesan says he knows the perfect rest stop along the highway where we can change. Unfortunately,we hit several traffic snarls on the way back to town. We dash into the rest stop as we are running very late. We share the handicap facility as it has more room. Five minutes later we are back in the car and trying to make up time. We are going to be a solid 40 minutes late. Would our Geisha wait for us? They have such a strict protocal. They do not drive, they do not touch door knobs. I spent yesterday reading ” Memoirs of a Geisha “. James has read the book as well. We have our questions ready to ask her about her life. We arrive at the restaurant and only then do I realize that this restaurant requires that guests remove their shoes. Here I have brought along my fancy new heels only to have to leave them at the door and don these ill fitting plastic shoes that totally clash with my dinner outfit. I am laughling! Away we go to the back of the traditional restaurant. When the screen is opened there is our Geisha. Now everything becomes formal. Much of the ceremony is based upon superstition. We have to get James seated in a particular place in the room which idicates that he is superior to Patrick and I. James loves it. Next comes the business card exchange followed by a selection of which Sake to order. It has to be served in a particular order and I am asked to serve her. Her Kimono is very pretty as is her Obi sash. Our Geisha is a maiko or apprentice geshia even though she has been practicing her art more than 8 years. We know these performers spend their whole life perfecting their skills. Kyoto has the master Geishas who are called Geiko. Our maiko whose first name is Jun, is tolerant of our many questions. She is most polite and slightly flirty even though we are using Patrick as our interpretor. Another round or two of Sake and Jun does her dance with fans while our multi-course dinner begins. At 9:00pm our time with her is up. It seems to have gone too quickly. She leaves us and we finish our dinner. Patrick, our guide, is a Kabuki performer and shows us pictures of himself in costume and make up. He is not recognizable. I doubt if we passed Jun on the street not in her make up that we would recognize her. James has interesting conversations about the economy and politics in Japan. Patrick believes the society is democratic in name only and the government and the economy is run by a privilged few.He thinks the biggest weakness that Japan society has is the inability to change in the face of a changing world.
Morning comes too early and we should be back on the tour bus going to Kamakura, a two hour ride to get there. We have a great Buddha to visit and then some shrines and then 2 hours back to the ship. We decide to pass on this trip. At 8:00pm we depart Toyko and are on our way back to Kobe. I am hopeful that these past few days have given the Cherry blossoms time to come forth. Our tour will take us to Nara and Osaka. First stop is Todaiji Temple founded in 752ad. This is the home of the world’s largest Big Buddha which is 53 feet tall. Todaiji Temple as well as Kasuga Garden Shrine are both located in Nara Park home of 1,000 tiny live deer. It is raining and we are using umbrellas but nothing scares these hungry little fellows as they wait at the specially prepared waffer station for some tourist to purchase a packet of waffers to feed them. The children love to feed them and once they start the herd descends on them begging for more. Some of the deer are smart enough to gather under the eaves of the temple to get out of the rain. 1/4 mile away is Kasuga with its more than 3,000 stone lanterns. It was originally built in 768, but according to Shinto beliefs and the strictures of purity the temple is demolished and rebuilt every 20 years. Today they are holding a special ceremony as infants wrapped in beautiful blankets are appearing with their families. In another part of the temple a rare dragon ceremony is being held. The Oceania tour guides are really second rate. This one delays so much we are not able to see the dragon performance. Next we have another terrible Japanese lunch. James and I have determined how to deal with this. We eat only the rice and order lots of Sake. We chuckle as the new cruise guests who have boarded in Toyko struggle to determine what they are being served. James has a lady sitting next to him who has no idea how to deal with the chop sticks. He had to get someone to get her a fork. In this mad house, even James is called on to help.
Next we are on to Osaka Castle. I have heard that they have blooming cherry trees. Thousands of them! They are just beginning to bloom. So away we go with untold masses of people. We walk a mile in the rain to see the Castle which has been converted to a museum. The elevator goes up 5 floors of the 8 floors. You walk the rest of the way up and all the way down. I grab some pictures of the best cherry trees that we can find and then we spend the rest of the time people watching. Here, as in China, the young people love to take lots of selfies in many poses while extending the peace sign.
Returning to the ship, although it is Sunday, doesn’t take too long as a result of some impressive bridges. From our balcony we can watch the hordes watching from the shopping mall balconies waving us a send off. It is early evening and the ferris wheel and other building lights are coming on and make our departure a colorful sight indeed. We cross under the Rainbow Bridge for the last time and bid farewell to the Kobe Osaka area.