SYNOPSIS:  Procrastination — why?  About an embarrassing admission.  Where the hell is Mount Fuji anyhow?  About the “Musical Forest” and the inclusion of the handicapped population into daily life.


Sightseeing in Kawaguchiko — that’s what I will do.  At least that’s what I told myself.  The original plan was to hike up Mount Fuji today, down tomorrow, and do sightseeing on the last day here, but when it came time to booking the hut to stay the night, I had booked it for tomorrow…

What kind of sightseeing was there?   You could take a cable car up the mountains for a lot of money and a great view of Mount Fuji — if it were visible.   You could take a boat across the lake and back for a lot of money and for seeing Mount Fuji from the lake — if it were visible.  You could visit the Gem Museum or the Art Museum, or you could catch a tour at the Sake Brewery.  You could soak at a public Onsen.  I am sure all those things are fine and dandy, but not when you are on a tight schedule seeing UNESCO sites…  Why am I here?  What am I doing?

I started to walk around Lake Kawaguchi just to do something and ran into Daniel.  He had just hiked Mount Fuji and was killing time before his bus was leaving.  He was a kid from Colorado, young and muscular, a fan of hiking who had worked at a Catholic school in Okinawa at a camp for two weeks.  Hiking Fuji was his way to top off his stay in Japan.  We started to chat.  He had done the night trek up and down in 1/2 the suggested time.  He had been up all night, yet he looked like he had just been on a cake walk.  I realized that it was exactly because of guys like him that I was trepidatious.  Climbers and young people came down from that mountain saying it was all easy.  I had to admit that I was scared — Mount Fuji was a serious mountain.  I can’t even get up a Shinto shrine with 100 steps without huffing and puffing.  I have no gear.  I have not ever hiked even half of a mountain like this.  What am I thinking?!

I had been online reading about a number of hiking stories — many said there was nothing to it.  What was their point of reference?  Mount EverestK2?  But a few stories here and there indicated trouble.  Two guys who admitted that already 30 minutes into the trek they were out of breath were ridiculed by others in the comment section, especially since it turned out in his story that they were smokers.  There were few enough of these stories, but who in their right mind would brag about failure, right?

Dan had to leave and I kept walking.  At every turn I looked for Mount Fuji.  It was here somewhere.  Perhaps, I could at least catch a foggy glimpse of its outline?  I was contemplating my options.  I could always leave without trying.  Nobody was forcing me.  I would not even have to admit that I was thinking about going up.  Who would ever know?

The walking path around the lake was pleasant enough.   The weather was nice.  The lake was a beautiful backdrop and even without Mount Fuji, the mountain range flanking the lake was impressive.

After about 4 km I came across a park with music jingling out, a Swiss flag, a Tudor chateau — what was that all about?  It was the “Musical Forest” of Kawaguchiko — as good as any site to visit.   I bought I ticket.

Did I ever mention that the Japanese love cute?  Well, if I had not noticed so far, here was no escaping it.  A mini village of what people imagine Swiss villages look like, was recreated here complete with ponds, bridges, mini-mountains, and half-timbered chateaus.  It was completed Japanese style with glass-covered jingling and glittering trees, a perfume parlor, and various shops stuffed with noise-making, good smelling souvenirs.  I had landed in kitsch heaven.

But there was a serious component to it: in the various buildings the village housed one of the largest collection of automated musical instruments: bubble-blowing teddy bears, drumming clowns, a waltzing Viennese wedding party, the largest “dance organ” (that’s what the catalog called it), a fountain show conducted by a puppet rolling out of an automated clock, a Drehorgel (barrel organ) — you name it, if you could push a button and have music; you would find it here!

Every half hour you could show up at designated spot and would get a narrated show demonstrating the various treasures of the museum.  I admit, I went to the fountain show even twice, it was so much fun.

Along the paths there were hands-on displays where you could push the buttons yourself, or turn handles, or bang pipes, to make sounds — and the kids did.  At another station you had a workshop where you could paint your own music box.  There was no shortage of activities, fun and amusement.   I spent a good 3 hours here.

One thing I have noticed by now that I don’t think you see like this in either Germany or the US: in all of the “fun” museums or at places where something was going on I have seen large groups of handicapped people with their nurses.  It started at UENO park in Tokyo, it continued at the music performance and parade in Koyasan, and now here.  I think in the US we keep people like this marginalized and inside their institutions.  At best, we bring some entertainment to them.  Here they are in the middle of it, in public with the rest of the population.  Yes, some of the boys and girls created “disturbances” reacting to the performances with sounds or were even scared.  But they were part of it and accepted like any other visitor.  I am impressed.

It was time for me to go back to my hotel.  I got out of my hellhole from last night and into a backpackers’ hotel right across the station where the bus leaves for Mount Fuji.  I have a bunk in a mixed dormitory.  That is a first for me.  So far I have always been in gender-separated dorms.  But really, what’s the difference?

The good thing is that this hotel has an onsen on the top floor.  That one is gender separated, of course.  I will soak tonight and try to think positive thoughts about tomorrow’s excursion to the mountain.  The weather forecast is bad…

Good night.

2 comments so far

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  1. So…how high did you go? On pins and needles until next entry!

  2. Flexibility will bring a smile into each day and you manage to find it. When we travel with our youngest daughter, we always recount each ”favorite” and “surprise” that we find in each day and there is always something. Sure hope you find the mountain tomorrow. While flying to China one time, our shades were pulled in the plane so people could sleep and I happened to take a peek and there was Mt. Fuji, in full glory. There could not have been a more perfect view.