Turned out there were some Americans in the same bus, and boy were they annoying. Instead of paying attention or just keeping quiet, they insisted on talking amongst themselves in a really obnoxious accent. That wouldn't have been too bad, except they had luggage stowed in the bus too. When we arrived at the station, our suitcases had been unloaded first. But Mr. and Mrs. American decided they were more important than anybody else and shoved past us to wait for their luggage to be unloaded. With this, they blocked our access to our suitcases, so we couldn't take those away either. This meant the driver didn't have the manoevering room he needed to unload the heavy suitcases of the Americans. Finally, they got their things and tried to push past me again. Of course, this time I was prepared and didn't budge: my suitcase was on the other side of them, and I wasn't going to move until I had it. In the end, with a lot of awkward manoevering, they managed to flee the scene.
When I went to the check-in counter, another annoying American cut the line. He mumbled some excuses, I didn't feel like arguing with him, I just gave him a dirty look. Turns out both sets of Americans were on the same tour, so I gave a lot of dirty looks to people today.
Maybe I have become accustomed to the polite manner and the impeccable dress of the Japanese (and it is easy to do so), but some of the people on the tour today just didn't get it. And funnily enough, all of 'em were American. Coincidence...?
Anyway, today was Fuji-Hakone day. Our guide, Mr. Naito, gave us some basic information about the tour and soon settled into a semi-connected string of facts about the buildings we rode past, the history of the region and facts about Japan in general. I didn't catch much of this, I just fell asleep.
First stop was the Fuji Visitor Center, a large hall with all sorts of facts about Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately, most of it was in Japanese, so it was only of limited interest to us. The observation deck did give a good view of the mountain, though. Clouds and rain were predicted, but the only cloud we saw was the one over the top of the mountain. Some good photos were made, and then it was into the souvenir shop. (If we're going to do the stupid tourist on a tour-thing, we might as well do it all the way!) Ingeborg insisted on buying a kind of algae, apparently unique to Mt. Fuji. It grows into a ball-shape, and Ingeborg thought it was too cute to pass up.
Mt. Fuji, as seen from the observation deck at the Fuji Visitor's Center
Then we were herded into the bus again, and we took the Subaru Highway towards the fifth station, on the slope of the mountain. "Subaru"is the Japanese name for the Pleiades, apparently a very popular constellation -- what it had to do with the highway wasn't exactly clear to me...
The fifth station is as high up the mountain as you can get with a car. It was another tourist trap, but not too bad. We got a voucher for a lucky bell (the climbers tie those to their walking sticks so they can keep track of the others when in fog) and a nice old man at the back of a set of souvenir shops thought a bell with a purple ribbon would suit me, and I have to agree with him. We walked around for a bit and visited the shrine. There we could see around for a bit, and it became apparent we were only meters under the timber line. We also had a good view of the slopes.
Me, at the Fifth Station signpost
Next, the bus took us to the Highland Resort hotel (with the monogram 'HR' on everything, which I liked a lot...) for lunch. This time, it was a European-style lunch (probably to the relief of the Americans). The largest groups were seated first, then the remaining spaces were filled with smaller groups and couples. We had a choice of tables, but they were all with Americans, except for one, so we chose that one. Turned out to be with an Australian family. The son taught English in a language school in Tokyo, and they had come to visit him. They were really pleasant people, and we talked for quite a bit. I don't know what prompted it, but suddenly the topic of conversation turned to weddings. Again, I confessed this was our honeymoon, which prompted congratulations. It turned out that the father was a minister who was qualified to do weddings, so we had to tell him about our wedding, and how a civil wedding is required in the Netherlands, even if you are going to have a church wedding afterwards.
Then it was on to Hakone. In the meantime, the promised rain did show up and it got real cloudy and foggy. We took a ferry ride on lake Ashi, which was pleasant (more conversation with the Australians).
View of the shores of Lake Ashi
There was another ferry, styled like an old sailboat with three masts. It went suspiciously fast for a ship without any sails... ;) Got some good pictures of that one.
The Ghost Ship, sailing fast without any sails!
At Hakone-En, where we got off the ferry, we were supposed to take the cable car up the nearest mountain to enjoy the view. The service had been suspended because of fog and wind, but apparently Naito-san had convinced them to start it up again. He would be facing a crowd of whiny tourists if he didn't give them some sort of attraction soon, and it had already been paid for...
We had a few minutes free time, which we spent in a shop selling the local woodcraft products. A lot of beautiful stuff, very nicely inlaid in different colors of wood.
Then it was up the slope. Halfway, the cart was enveloped in clouds and fog, so there was no panoramic view whatsoever. At the top, there was a lot of wind, clouds and fog -- we almost were blown away and couldn't see a thing -- we might as well have stayed down.
People were dropped off at the Kowaki-En hotel, where we got off the bus too. We had the reception call us a taxi and we were promptly delivered to our Minshuku.
We had been pretty nervous about the whole minshuku-thing: communal bathing, Japanese food, no people who speak English... We were greeted by a man who spoke a bit of English (good enough to show us around and to tell us we could take a bath anytime) and a cute little girl (I think it's his granddaughter) who walked with us upstairs. The room is all tatami, which is pretty comfortable, though the low table takes some getting used to. Dinner was at 7, turned out we were the only guests so we enjoyed a private meal. It was delicious -- even the fish (Ingeborg could not identify it, I'm guessing it was tuna) was pretty neat.
The people seem friendly enough, it'll all work out.