Thursday, April 22, 2010

Forests, and Fish, and Caves - Oh My!

We did not wake up for breakfast.

We woke up with only twenty minutes before we had to check out at ten. Still, what would they do if we were late? We don't pay them, and we didn't pay with credit card. We used a vending machine to pay for the room (I do love this impersonal payment set up they have in this country.)

Rushing to pack up we headed out, with a mission to visit the Fuji-Q Highlands theme park. It would offer a great view of Mt. Fuji, I was told. It would not.

The sky was covered in clouds, rain was falling.

Fine, scratch the theme park. But where would we go? I suggested Aokigahara. It was a forest in the Fuji five lake area. But why this forest? And why did I know about it? All good questions. The answers will reveal themselves – now.

Aokigahara has another name: The suicide forest. Japan is known for having one hundred suicides a day. That's quite the statistic. And this forest is the second most popular place to kill yourself in all the world. First is the Golden Gate Bridge. As it would turn out Niagara Falls is number three – so I've been to the top three places to kill myself, yet still I stand. A triumph!

Only once a week do people actually off themselves within the woods (most Japanese people choosing not to travel that far before their death, I guess) and we did not spot any potential victims. This was, I'm sure, for the best. No bodies either. How do you say, “I found a dead body over there,” in Japanese anyway?

The forest proved for a lovely walk. We made sure to stay on the path. Terrible things can happen if you leave the path. Sound doesn't travel far within the sea of trees, and compasses are rendered useless by the iron in the volcanic rock.

Wandering the paths we stopped only once to see a mystery sock. After some persuading I decided to examine it – inside? A mystery sock. Within that? Another mystery sock. Finally within that? a mystery sock. But inside that? ... ... ... a pair of boxer shorts.

Alright so it was no suicide note, but it was still odd.

Once we had left the forest, and returned to the world outside of potential suicide zones, we headed for an Ice Cave we'd spotted on the drive up. Who would have thought that it would be cold inside an ice cave?! But it was, and it was quite pretty, and well lit. My prepared head lamp was, sadly, not needed.

After emerging from the cave I grabbed the stamp there, and then we drove towards Mt. Fuji. Look, I know I was standing on it, at the base, and so it must – in theory – be something... but I was standing on it, and I still could see it! This mountain does not exist!

Now, there is a pricey toll to drive up, which we were not willing to pay, but what we did get access to was far better. A musical road! I'd heard about these, then forgotten them. When you drive over the bumps in the ground they create tones that play music. At fifty kilometers an hour the song is played correctly. Did we drive up and down the strip to play them, and then dangerously attempt to play one backwards? Of course. And it really was magical. I envision a future where you can drive the Green Day International Highway, where their albums are played as you drive along. I wonder what this does to the tires?

Then it was back to Tokyo to meet up for dinner at a fabulous sushi restaurant. On the way we passed a battle ship in the water, and cursed at more toll booths.

The restaurant was one I'd been taken to last time I was in Tokyo, and it was no less impressive today.

You catch the fish from a river in the restaurant, and then give it to the chef who turns it into the most delicious sashimi with speed and skill unparalleled. The fish is still twitching as you begin to eat its flesh. It is, of course, on the plate for you to verify its freshness.

There were other dishes and ways to eat fish – salted, ripped from the cooked insides, and sashimi dipped in boiling water to cook it before eating it, after dipped in a number of sauces.

This meal – well, here in Japan I've just had so many great meals. I will miss the food here greatly and must seek out a place that serves it back home. Chinese food? That's easy. Japanese? I may have my work cut out for me.

At the restaurant we were joined by two wee children – a niece and a nephew. They, of course, spoke Japanese. I had met them before, and learned the word “old man” quite fast – as they kept calling me one. Our conversation over dinner was mostly name calling, such as calling the boy a beautiful cherry blossom, and him calling me an octopus. I then used my knowledge of asking if someone was cute, by allowing his sister to say he was not.

Name calling of this sort went on until it was accepted that I was, indeed an octopus (tako), the boy was a samurai okami, and the girl was a cute little eel.

Then I may have held one of them over top of the fish river, upside down. And, yes, there may have been a shark in there. But it was all fun. Trust me.

At last my rushed days were coming to an end. Why, tomorrow, I might even have some down time. Sure I still have to get up early, but – soon – so soon – I'll be free to do nothing all day and enjoy it. Such a dream that men can dream.

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