Malaysian dad shares memorable Alpine experience in Japan

The reader (right) with his family during their Alpine Route tour in Japan. — PAO FOOK SEONG

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My family and I were excited for the opportunity to visit Japan for the first time a few years back and were looking forward to discovering its beautiful tourist spots, people, history and culture.

The first thing we experienced was the famous Japanese hospitality, where we were greeted with genuine warmth, food and plenty of smiles at our hotel in Tokyo.

One of our first stops in the city was the 7th-century Asakusa temple which was crowded with visitors, some wearing traditional outfits. There were plenty of stalls selling souvenirs and snacks there.

Skyscrapers bearing famous Japanese brands, glitzy apartments and stores with hordes of people going hurriedly about their business were the order of the day in the modern city.

On our way to Mount Fuji, we stopped at the Gotemba Premier Outlet, a shopping heaven in the middle of a vast forest clearing, which featured up to 300 brands. Mount Fuji was visible from a distance, which served as the perfect backdrop for tourists at this place.

After our shopping excursion, we moved on to Oshino Hakkal, which was sort of a park featuring eight ponds fed by spring waters from Mount Fuji.

The tranquil pools were teeming with carp, koi and other fish species and they fascinated us with their playful frolicking, graceful gliding and twirling, making us lose track of time.

We could see Mount Fiji clearer from the 5th station. It just looked much more awesome from there and we were floored by its magnificence. If you want to scale the mountain you would need to stay overnight as the ascent starts just before dawn.

Travelling by coach gave us a convenient way to appreciate the destination’s geography and scenes, including verdant greeneries, blue skies, traditional dwellings, rice fields, snow-capped mountains, countless tunnels and beautiful sunsets. We broke our journey at rural hotels or ryokans for the night and enjoyed their rustic ways, abundant foods and the ubiquitous onsen.

Shirakawago is a remote hamlet of feudal times with a bygone era architecture that’s beautifully preserved. It didn’t seem real at first but more like a movie set created for a samurai film.

The farmhouses were built with a steeped A-shaped thatched roof for easier slippage of winter snow and manned by shopkeepers and assistants dressed in traditional garb.

In the olden days, farmers were highly regarded in Japan’s agrarian hierarchical society. The sad and dark phenomenon of “forsaking the aged” by leaving seniors to die in forests and hills to save children in times of famines was not uncommon. Movies depicting this had been produced to remind society of its dark past.

Finally, we reached the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine, also known as the “Roof of Japan” after hours of travelling through glorious montane vegetation.

We traversed from the foothill on one end to the other using four different modes of transportation – cable car, highland bus, trolley bus and ropeway.

We also had a great time admiring the Kurobe Dam (the highest in Japan at 186m), enjoyed the multiple snowy peaks from afar, and touched the snow walls with our bare hands.

We felt so liberated and couldn’t help flinging snowballs at each other like children!

After the fun-filled snow extravaganza, we journeyed to Sanmachi Suji, Takayama to walk its ancient cobbled streets flanked by beautifully preserved Endo-era homes and shops.

The preservation also covered its water resource as its communal canals were thriving with healthy and lively fishes.

We wanted to send home a postcard and the locals directed us to the post office without a fuss.

Our tour guide, Takanori-san, told us that most streets did not have any rubbish bins because citizens were taught to take home their rubbish for disposal. This would save the local council money and resources for better use.

Our last stop was Osaka where we bought some local traditional products before we journeyed home.

The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.

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