Friday, May 4, 2012

Final Day in Tokyo (24-04-12)

Hiro called early in the morning to say that he'd decided to take me to view Mt Fuji as the weather is behaving itself...clear showers.  I'm to meet him downstairs at 9:30am. I was already packed and ready when he called, so all I had to do was to make sure all my stuff were in order and accounted for, carry them to the lift, down to the lobby, and arrange my checkout.

I left my luggage with the concierge and went to the coffee house for a quick breakfast.  The breakfast buffet line had the usual spread every morning.  The center buffet table would feature hard-boiled eggs, omelette, mini sausages, hash browns, fried chicken meat, a japanese light stew with radish, and a fried mix of vegetables. At the end of this line one would find fresh plain yogurt and various toppings like strawberry, honey, etc, on the side.

Lined along the three sides of the wall at the buffet are are various stations.  Starting from the right and continuing in a U-shape around one side of the coffee house, would be the bread station, followed by the salad and fresh fruits area.  Next to it, the beverages station.  There you can make yourself a cup of coffee or choose to start your day with some coca-cola from the table top vending machine. can choose the healthier option of fresh fruit juice or plain water.

The station just next to that is the desserts spread.  Another two tables following that served some local dish.  I have no idea what it was because everything was labelled in Japanese. The last station, placed perpendicular to the one before it had rice and pots of soup.  The only soup I was familiar with is the miso soup and that's the one I took everyday :)

My usual breakfast fare is one bun or 2 slices of baguette with healthy dollops of butter :)...some cherry tomatoes & grapes....hash browns, omelette, vegetables, miso soup and japanese rice (did I mention I love japanese rice?)  I tried the fruit juices the first morning but found it too tangy.  Instead, I'd get a glass of water and add in my Fitline energy drink powder (Fitline Activize) to kick-start my day. 

Hiro arrived on the dot and we loaded my luggage into his car.  The drive to Mt Fuji would take approximately 1.5 - 2 hours depending on traffic and weather conditions.  At the moment, weather conditions were great!  

Notice the number plate on Hiro's car?
A dancer through and through :)

Scenes along the road leading out of Tokyo area

After driving for a bit, Hiro decided to take a rest at an R&R area in Ashigara.  While he grabbed a cup of coffee from Starbucks, I browsed through the small supermarket inside the building.  I bought a keychain for Justin (my 2nd son; he collects keychains) and two pocket-size sewing kits.  I especially liked the sewing kit because it has a mini pair of scissors inside.  

Parking area at the R&R
As we entered the parking lot, I noticed signages indicating
spots where electric cars can plug in and recharge.  Electric cars?......
The main building housing small food outlets, Starbucks,
a mini supermarket, souvenir corner and convenience store.
Row of food stalls
My snack.  Deep-fried minced meat coated
with breadcrumbs..on a stick ;)
Grinning from ear to ear.
Nothing like a cup of hot Starbucks coffee &
sitting under the sun to make Hiro a happy man. :D

Refreshed from the rest, we pushed off once more and before long Hiro told me to keep a watch out for Mt Fuji.  "There, there! Can you see it?"   I looked out my side of the window and after a while I saw a white peak peeking out over the sea of trees we were driving past.

First glimpse of Mt Fuji
Still slightly obscured by trees
Gasp! My first full view of it just blew me away.

When the mountain finally came into full view, the scene was priceless.  I couldn't stop snapping away at it with my camera.  I was awed and humbled at the same time.  In 2008, when I was here, the mountain was covered by clouds.  This time I got to see it in it's full glory and I consider myself truly, truly lucky.

Hiro wanted to drive up one of the roads leading to trekking paths so that I could get a closer look at the majestic mountain but alas, it was closed.  Hiro explained that it's most likely because there was still a lot of snow on the road and they closed for safety reasons.

So we drove to Kawaguchiko instead to view the mountain and sakura blossoms.  There are 5 lakes surrounding Mt Fuji (aka Fujiyama or Fujisan), but Hiro said Kawaguchiko is the most scenic.

Sakura trees in the foreground, just blossoming.  Buds could still be seen.  
Lake Kawaguchi (Kawaguchi-ko)

Upon reaching the lake area, we noticed that many people had also come to view the just-blossoming sakura trees and Fujisan.  Many more visitors will be expected during the weekend, said Hiro.  Free parking areas were prepared all along the road, and attendants were on hand to direct traffic.

Stalls selling handicraft and freshly cooked local food/snacks dotted the path leading up to the lakeside giving the area a festive feel.  Hiro bought me a name-stamp, made from clay and shaped into a cute cat figure, featuring my name 'Mei' in Hiragana.  Thank you Hiro, I love it! :D

Handicraft stalls
Food/Snacks stalls
Path leading to lakeside
Beautiful sakura blossoms
Lakeside, lined with blossoming sakura trees on the right
and pink moss (a flowering ground cover) on the left.

My favourite pix of the mountain and the beautiful sakura blossoms.
Two of nature's beauties in one snapshot.

It was about time for lunch.  Hiro wanted to have lunch at his favourite Italian restaurant in this area but he said it closes at 2pm so we'd have to hurry.  When he brought Niels and Hsiao Ling here last week, the restaurant had already closed for the day.

Scenes of the area as we drove around Kawaguchiko
to the restaurant.

Upon reaching the restaurant, we saw that it was not bustling with activity as an open restaurant would be during lunch time.  It wasn't 2pm yet, so it couldn't possibly have closed for the day... or could it?

Hiro was perplexed....why is it closed?  He got down to investigate further but the restaurant was definitely not operating and no sign or notice was placed anywhere to explain why it was not open for business.  
Walking towards the restaurant to investigate further.
Hiro, not too happy about the closed restaurant... lol

We drove back to the lakeside where we had seen a very nice and cosy cafe called La Boheme.  It's a big white bungalow converted into a cafe, with a lovely patio and a big lawn in front.  Beautifully decorated in the style of an English country cottage with bright splashes of spring flowers everywhere.

La Boheme

Lovely interior decor...
.....and floral arrangement
The front lawn
Hiro selected Arabiata spaghetti for his main meal while I opted for Carbonara.  We were served a delicious salad as entree/starters, followed by the main meal, and then fresh fruits for dessert.
Fresh greens

Love the burst of yellow.  So cheerful!

Soon it was time to leave or I might be late checking in for my flight home.  On the way back we passed many signboards with the words 'Aokigahara' and I asked Hiro what it was because the signs seem to be pointing to the forest of trees on one side of the road.  Hiro explained that Aokigahara means literally 'a sea of trees'.  He continued to say that one can easily get lost in there and because of this, many people go there to commit suicide. 

This is what wikipedia has on Aokigahara...  
"Aokigahara (青木ヶ原?), also known as the Sea of Trees (樹海 Jukai?), is a 35-square-kilometre (14 sq mi) forest that lies at the northwest base of Mount Fuji in Japan. The forest contains a number of rocky, icy caverns, a few of which are popular tourist destinations. Due to the wind-blocking density of the trees and an absence of wildlife, the forest is known for being eerily quiet.
The forest has a historic association with demons in Japanese mythology and is a popular place for suicides; 54 completed the act in 2010,despite numerous signs, in Japanese and English, urging people to reconsider their actions. 
Aokigahara is the world’s second most popular suicide location after San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge."

The drive back was uneventful.  In fact I dozed off! :P  Traffic was smooth and I got to the airport with ample time to spare, but not before one last stop at an R&R nearby for Hiro's Starbucks coffee :)

Hiro dropped me off at the departure hall while he went to park his car. As I'd earlier done my check-in online, I only needed to check-in my luggage.  I headed straight for the MAS counter, dropped off my bag and collected my boarding pass.  A few minutes later, Hiro met me there and we chatted a bit more.  Finally we said our goodbyes and I headed upstairs to see what they had to offer for dinner.  I wanted to have another bowl of ramen before I left Japan but unfortunately, all the food outlets were closing.  It was just 8pm!

Left with no choice and a hungry tummy, I went to the only outlet that was still open. McDonald's.  McDonald's in Malaysia only serves beef, fish and chicken burgers.  Here, they have McPork!.  That, to me, was a novelty and therefore a must-try.

Looks just like any other McD burger


I finished my meal and headed straight to the check-in gates.  Just before boarding the sky train to the departure lounge, I stopped by one more shop to buy some compact umbrellas for my mom.  Price ranged from 500-525 yen each.

Sigh....goodbye Japan.  I had a wonderful time these past seven days.  I hope to return soon!

Sweets & cookies from Japan

To all the friends I met and made at Hiro's 12th Tokyo Crazy Country Dance Festival...

Let's meet again....and soon! :D

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

12TCCDF - Post Workshop (23-04-12)

I slept in until 9am today.  Then went downstairs for some breakfast.  There I met Hsiao Ling and Hiro.  Niels had already left for the airport.

We sat at the breakfast table and chatted about the event and other stuff.  Just time to chill basically.  Then Hiro took his leave to go home for some well deserved R&R.  He will be back in the evening to take me out for dinner.  Hsiao Ling has a plane to catch in the evening and will be leaving for the airport around 3:45pm by train.

Meanwhile, she & I went to the shopping complex at Omori station and also browsed the small shops outside the station.  She picked up some items at the 300 yen shop for friends back home.  Next we went to another shopping outlet which opens 24 hours.  There's a supermarket on the ground floor where I bought some sweets.  And there were departmental stores on the floors above.  Hsiao Ling picked up a very fashionable-looking raincoat.  I was looking at a pair of pyjamas (made in Japan) and thought of buying for my mom.  After conversion, the pyjamas would cost approximately RM120!  I know my mom would balk at the I hung it back on the rack :(

Self checkout counters
Barcode scanner on the deposit slots and plastic bags
on the left.  Great system, but need honesty in people to work.  Here's
hoping that one day, perhaps this would be feasible in Malaysia.  Here's hoping la....

Hsiao Ling and I stopped by a Ramen shop for lunch.  You place your orders by inserting money into the vending machine and pressing on the button showing the meal you desire.  A ticket would then pop out.  You give this to the shop assistant and they will prepare the meal for you.  Thank goodness I had Hsiao Ling to decipher the words on the vending machine as the Japanese characters (in Kanji) is somewhat similar to chinese words.  The shop assistant was also very helpful and could understand some English.  We made a few mistakes, pressed on the wrong button, but she quickly helped us correct it. :)

Thank you Hsiao Ling for the lunch.  It was delicious.  So delicious that I forgot to take photos of it and the vending

Our last stop was Ito Yokado, right opposite the ramen shop.  Hsiao Ling headed straight for the supermarket where she picked out several varieties of 'mochi' to take home, to be shared with her colleagues.  I bought more chocolates... (grin)

Then it was time to head back to the hotel and say goodbye to Hsiao Ling.  I shall miss her. She was a great room mate.  Very considerate, thoughtful and helpful.  Although she didn't speak English well (but well enough in my opinion) and I can hardly string a full sentence together in Mandarin, we got along great and could understand each other perfectly well! :D  I look forward to meeting her again in September at WOW Taiwan hosted by Judy Chen.  Bye for now....

I rested a bit, packed my luggage as I'd be checking out the next morning at 10am (that's the hotel's stipulated check-out time) and then started to get ready for dinner.  Hiro called and said he'd be by the hotel to pick me up at 6-ish.

I waited for him at the hotel lobby and saw him drive up in a taxi.  I was curious... Why didn't you drive I asked him.  He said he wanted to consume beer during dinner, that's why :)  Very prudent of him.

We went to Omori station (again), walked into the departmental store, and took a lift to the eateries floor.  Hiro showed me all the eateries there and asked me to choose.  He highly recommended the tempura shop, so I said, let's go for it.


Tuna sashimi
Prawn sashimi....fresh and sweet.
Tempura, served in basket
Bamboo shoot and crabs claw tempura
Vegetable tempura
Prawn and bean tempura

We had a good conversation over dinner talking about line dancing, his health and general topics.  But mainly about line dancing... :D

As my plane leaves at only 10:30pm tomorrow night, Hiro will be taking me sight-seeing.  He hasn't decided yet where to go, as the weather has been acting up lately, with light showers throughout the day.

Turning in early tonight, ready for a full and exciting day tomorrow before I bid farewell to Tokyo.

Next:  ?? :D

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