Travel Share: From Mt Fuji to the cities of Japan

  • Travel
  • Saturday, 23 May 2015

The gracious host at the homestay in Yokohama served up some delicious takoyaki.

Reader LEON LAU shares memories of his trip to Japan with his friend from Australia, travelling in Asia for the very first time.

For many years, my friend Ron had been urging me to join him on a trip to Japan. He resides in Australia, and prior to this had never visited Asia before. We finally decided to take the plunge in the summer, with the intention of conquering Mount Fuji and immersing ourselves in the fascinating Japanese culture.

We would meet in Kuala Lumpur and from there fly to Haneda Airport. On the day of our departure, we experienced a smooth and hassle-free check-in process. With time on our hands, we decided to make some last-minute purchases at the shopping outlets at KLIA2 before catching our mid-afternoon flight.

We arrived at Haneda Airport at 10.45pm, and immediately made our way to our homestay in Yokohama. We got our first taste of Tokyo’s complicated train lines, missing the last line of the day which was the only direct train to our accommodation.

The gracious host at the homestay in Yokohama served up some delicious takoyaki.
The gracious host at the homestay in Yokohama served up some delicious takoyaki.

We ended up on a midnight trek through various neighbourhoods, crossing children’s playgrounds in darkness while cicadas chirped in the background, before finally arriving at our destination. There, we were greeted by our host Rie, who spoiled us with generous hospitality and fabulous home-cooked meals during our stay. We were treated to everything from takoyaki (a ball-shaped snack made from wheat flour) to okonomiyaki (a savoury pancake). Oishii (Japanese for delicious) is the first word that springs to mind.

After two nights, Ron and I reluctantly left the comforts of Yokohama and focused on our quest to climb Mt Fuji via the Gotemba trail. It is renowned for being the most difficult route to the peak, though our main reason for taking this route was to avoid the crowds on the other trails!

Starting our trek at 10am, we estimated reaching our mountain hut accommodation by late evening, where we would then rest for the night before attempting the ascent to the peak the next day. The hike was tiring, to say the least; at times we were climbing at a 45° incline, and the journey to the peak was not made easier by the blustery winds, torrential rain and the freezing cold. What a way to spend a holiday! Nevertheless, it will be hard to top such an experience.

Affordable place to stay in the heart of the city - the 9h capsule hotel in Kyoto.
Affordable place to stay in the heart of the city - the 9h capsule hotel in Kyoto.

After Mt Fuji, we headed to Kyoto where we stayed for a night at the 9h capsule hotel. Its capsule beds eerily reminded me of the pods in the movie The Matrix, though I highly recommend it for those who are looking for an affordable place to stay in the heart of the city. With the rainy weather, we were unable to visit the Kyoto shrines and temples, so we opted for some retail therapy at the Teramachi and Shin Kyogoku shopping arcades, both of which stretch to almost a kilometre in length.

Our next stop was Nara, a charming city buzzing with free-roaming sika deer. These animals are ever-sociable, mingling with locals and tourists alike, but always partial towards those offering food. After a few selfies with the deer, we made our way to the Todai-ji Temple, which houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana. Ron and I were both humbled and wonderstruck by its magnificence.

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The friendly sika deer in Nara Park.
The friendly sika deer in Nara Park.

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Deer poop candy, anyone?
Deer poop candy, anyone?


We had equipped ourselves with a one-week Japan Rail (JR) pass, which offered us an effective and economical way of travelling around the country. It also allowed us the chance to board the Shinkansen, Japan’s high-speed bullet train. With the Shinkansen, we only took four hours to get from Osaka to Kagoshima, a distance of almost 900km.

Kagoshima is a cosy city at the southern tip of Kyushu Island, where we spent our time mingling with friendly locals, basking in the warm weather, relaxing in the onsen (hot springs) and visiting Sakurajima, an active volcano in Kagoshima Bay. Sakurajima was quite an intimidating presence. Ron and I are still counting our blessings that it remained calm and even-tempered throughout!

The volcanic island of Sakurajima.
The volcanic island of Sakurajima.

Our last days were spent in Osaka, visiting the beautiful and historic Osaka Castle, sampling the bustling eateries of Dotonbori, and going to one of the largest public aquariums in the world, the Osaka Kaiyukan.

After 11 adventure-filled days, we flew home with memories of Japan’s unique culture, one that intertwines a progressively technological world with enduring traditions. It must also be said that we were almost as proud to have figured out the country’s train system as we were in conquering Mt Fuji itself!

The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.

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