Happy vernal and/or autumnal equinox!
Dunno if it’s the soap Toyoko Inn stocks or something else, but for some reason I find my fingertips get all roughed up when I’m travelling in Japan, so over time my phone struggles more and more to be able to read my fingerprint. It vexes me.
Woke up a bit earlier this morning so that I could get to breakfast a bit earlier, so that I could check out and get moving a bit earlier. So, this Toyoko Inn has been providing styrofoam takeaway containers in place of the usual plastic food trays for breakfast – finally worked out today that it’s partially intended to let you take breakfast back to your room as a covid distancing measure. Which is sorta tempting, I guess, but I’d have to fit everything into one side so I could close the container rather than spread it out.
After breakfast, I finished re-packing all my stuff, and checked out. The rain that was forecast for today has been scared off until Thursday, though it left the clouds behind (now if we can shoo it away from Thursday too…).
Since today’s trip involves a number of transfers, I wanted to make sure I didn’t cut things too fine. I had four trains to catch this morning: Yokohama Line from Sakuragicho to Shin-Yokohama, Tokaido Shinkansen to Mishima, Tokaido Main Line to Fuji, then Minobu Line to Fujinomiya. For the first time, I don’t have a JR Pass of any form for this trip (my planned travel doesn’t offset the cost), so I had to pay my way for the whole thing, which involved learning how to use the SmartEX app for booking shinkansen tickets on a smart phone. It’s pretty clever – you can link a credit card and a Suica IC card, so you use the card to buy the tickets, but then they get loaded on the Suica so you can just use that to go through the gate (which automatically prints you a paper ticket for showing to the train conductor). Though I wound up booking a Hikari train (the mid-speed service on the Tokaido Shinkansen) so I actually only rode for one stop.
Anyway, transfers all went off without a hitch. For the Minobu Line, I hustled to the front of the train to get a nice view out the windows – because, see, shortly after it pulls out of Fuji Station, it turns to face directly towards Mount Fuji. You didn’t think it was random chance that I’ve already mentioned passing through stations named Fuji and Fujinomiya, did you? Unfortunately, the design of the Minobu Line trains’ front windows isn’t too conducive for taking photos forwards. And Fuji-san was half-hidden by clouds anyway. Humbug. Got a much better view of it from all the way over in Yokohama than right in front of it.
Fujinomiya lies right at the foot of Fuji-san (… if it can be said to have feet. It does sprawl a bit). For a long time, it’s served as a stop on the main traditional pilgrimage route which began at the sea and ran to the summit. The town is named for, and centred on, Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha, the head shrine of all Sengen (or Asama) shrines in Japan. Sengen (or Asama – same kanji, different reading) is the name given to the kami that represents Fuji-san deified. So that was my planned focus for today.
So after hopping off the train at Fujinomiya Station (and finding a coin locker to stuff my luggage into), I headed for the tourist information centre at the station. See, they had a manhole card to collect. One of three in this area, actually, but one of them, available at the City Hall, has run out until April. With card in hand, I headed west to find the shrine’s Ichi-no-Torii, the outermost torii gate.
The torii actually stands on the grounds of the Mount Fuji World Heritage Centre, a museum about Mount Fuji (or rather, the museum was built adjacent to the torii, since the latter was there first). It’s got a big winding spiral path shaped like an inverted Mount Fuji, with exhibits all along the path (and videos simulating climbing the mountain – there are other climbers in the videos represented by shadows, which are exactly to scale with the shadow cast by you getting between the projector and the screen while walking up, so it looks like you’re climbing with them), and at the top, there’s a viewing platform allowing you to see the mountain.
Or that was my plan anyway, except that I discovered about two days before flying to Japan (too late to rearrange plans) that it’s closed on the third Tuesday of every month for cleaning, and, well, that’s today. So says the place’s website, and corroborated by Google Maps. And even listed next to the front door, as it turns out. Except… when I got there, it was open. Gotta be the first time I went to a place expecting it to be closed and finding it open.
So I paid for entry and headed in. On the way up, there was a temporary exhibition of the winners of a photography context (with Mount Fuji as the subject of course, though there was also a secondary category for photos of the so-called “Local Fujis”, mountains in other prefectures that resemble Mount Fuji enough that they’re named or nicknamed Fuji – like Mount Yotei in Hokkaido, which is nicknamed “Ezo Fuji”), and a cinema showing short videos about Mount Fuji, displays about the geology and ecology of the area, and various exhibits about Fuji in historical works and in religion.
And at the top, the lookout… but Fuji was still half-hidden by cloud. Though it did also have a nice big image showing what it’s meant to look like. Also had to share the place with occasional busloads of foreign tourists, though I never listened to them speak carefully enough to determine what flavour of foreign.
Once back down at ground level, I decided to head for the shrine proper. Photographed the manhole cover outside on the way – this is the cover that corresponds to the unavailable City Hall card, and I kinda think it’s the nicest of the three. I stopped just outside the shrine at another tourist information centre for my second card… except it turns out this one has run out too.
Finally reached the shrine and headed in. It was actually fairly busy, with quite a long line waiting to pray. And also a blooming sakura tree. This one actually had a name plate on it, so I know it’s definitely a sakura tree – it’s a shidarezakura, “weeping sakura”.
Bought me a new shuincho with goshuin included, and the attendant also handed me this thing… not too sure what it is. Bookmark for the shuincho, maybe? Text on the packaging doesn’t clarify. Says “Commemorating your Visit” at the top, and “Suruga Province First Shrine, Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha” at the bottom.
Headed out the back way to find the manhole cover that was meant to be associated with my was-to-be second card, then wandered back to the front of the shrine.
Now it was time for some lunch. I had two options, as I saw it. One of the things that brought me here is another anime (yes, this trip is fairly strongly anime-inspired) called Yuru Camp, or “Laid-Back Camp”. I’ll explain the series concept in more detail later on, but in one chapter, the main character Nadeshiko visited Fujinomiya (and the shrine), and while here, she ate a dish called shigureyaki at a particular restaurant that she made a point of going out of her way to visit (all locations that appear in Yuru Camp are real, though don’t necessarily bear the same name they do in the real world). Since Nadeshiko is a bit of a foodie, I thought that might be worth trying. Unfortunately, it’s a half-hour walk each way from the shrine. There’s a bus that’d take me right from the shrine to the restaurant’s doorstep… but it runs so infrequently that it’d take half an hour anyway. Since I had only about ninety minutes left before I had to catch my next train (or else wait around another two hours for the one after), I reluctantly decided that was probably not an option. (Also, I’m honestly not too sure what the difference is between shigureyaki and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, and I’ve had that.)
So over to plan B: Fujinomiya’s speciality dish is yakisoba, fried noodles (note that the second manhole cover depicted above includes yakisoba, on the right side). And there’s a collection of yakisoba stalls around a small courtyard just across the road from the shrine. (Nadeshiko walked past this place too, and had to almost physically drag herself away from the lovely smell.) I ended up picking a place offering a half-and-half dish – half lightly salted and half with sauce. The sauce half was definitely the better, though. The centre of the courtyard has a water spring in the middle, and everyone who eats gets a cup to fill up from the spring (though there’s a sign on it saying “if you take it home, you need to boil before drinking”… but drinking straight from the source is fine, then?)
With lunch all done, I walked back to the train station. Unfortunately, I lacked sufficient time remaining to visit the manhole location for the one card I actually acquired today (which is, oddly enough, right by City Hall), so I retrieved my luggage, bought a ticket to continue my ride along the Minobu Line (since you can’t use IC cards for stations past the one after Fujinomiya) and headed to the platform to wait.
Soon, I was on my way. And as the train trundled along, I casually glanced out my window… and there was Mount Fuji, on the wrong side of the train, finally emerged from the clouds. I’d forgotten to check at any point after leaving the shrine whether Fuji-san was any more visible, and I’d forgotten that as the Minobu Line leaves Fujinomiya, it turns back on itself, putting the mountain on the other side of the train to what I’d expected. I scrambled to take a photo, but I wasn’t ready, and then there were trees in the way. This is the best shot I managed:
So annoyed with myself.
Almost an hour later, I hopped off the train at Minobu Station. In this town I’m staying in another business hotel, but given its name is Minobu Inn, I’m willing to bet it’s not a chain hotel. Actually, I think it’s the only business hotel in the area – the standard here seems to be various ryokan, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to splurge quite so much on a multi-night ryokan stay. This place caused me a bit of fun during the booking stages, as they had no website reservation form, only a note saying to book by phone. Since I’m not a huge fan of booking by phone even in English, I found their e-mail address and sent an e-mail asking if I could book like that. After a week with no response to said e-mail, I eventually steeled myself up to actually make the call, fully expecting that either (a) I’d be completely unable to understand the conversation (my listening ability is still less than stellar), or (b) they’d be all booked out. It turned out to be option (c) he couldn’t hear me. Bad phone line or something, I don’t know. Most of the conversation was “Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?”, which I did manage to understand. Fortunately, he was able to catch me say my name, at which point he went “oh yeah, you sent an e-mail, I’ll just reply to that”. And five minutes later, it was all booked.
But here I am. I’ve somehow wound up in a Twin room. Guess it’s all they had available. The bedding is concerningly… beige, but I think I’ll ignore that. There’s a massage chair in the hall outside, which I’m gonna have to try at some point soon. And I’ve apparently neglected to photograph the outside of the building. Gonna need to rectify that tomorrow. Lovely view from my window, though.
I discovered in planning that nearly all restaurants in this area only open for lunch and are closed for dinner – and Minobu Inn took the time to warn me of the same in our e-mail conversation – but I located a few places that are open on Google Maps, one of which is a Chinese restaurant just a block from the hotel. So I headed up there… and found it closed anyway. Though I could see someone moving around inside. Not feeling too hungry, I headed back to the hotel and had a tube of Pringles I’d picked up at Sea Paradise yesterday.
(Actually, the Pringles are a bit interesting – there are vending machines at Sea Paradise that only sell you random flavours, you don’t get to pick. You also get a random amount between one and three, though I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if almost everyone only gets one. I got basil and salt, which is nice enough, but it’s barely a step above just salt. Though I happened to notice when opening it today that “vending machine limited edition” is written on it.)
As I arrived at my hotel at around 4pm, and largely skipped dinner, this has given me time to get caught up on posting, which is nice. Hopefully I can last at least a couple of days before slipping this time. Now it’s time to get caught up on sleep too.
Today’s photo count: Three hundred and eight.
Today’s step count: 10,519 steps, for 7.2 km. 8 flights of stairs.
Today’s goshuin count: One, Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha. And here’s the cover of the new shuincho, too.
Today’s stamp count: five – Fujinomiya Station (which is both rather worn and under-inked, so it’s not great), one from the station tourist information centre, two from the shrine tourist information centre, and Minobu Station (similarly worn, though a bit better-inked, but still not great). Actually, the shrine tourist information centre had no less than eight different ones, but I decided to just go with just my two favourite ones.