The Fuji part of Fujiyoshida comes from the city’s proximity to Fuji-san, the world’s most famous volcano, known to Westerns as Mount Fuji. I ventured to Fujiyoshida City to visit with Darryl, my lovely Canadian friend who was teaching English there. That Darryl lived so close to Mount Fuji was a huge plus.
To get to Fujiyoshida, I took a bus from Shinjuku, Tokyo. The bus was super clean and the passengers quiet — typical for Japan. As the bus motored along the highway, the Tokyo metro area seemed to never end. The urban landscape eventually gave way to rolling hills covered with deep-green forest.
As the bus pulled into Fujiyoshida Station, I saw Darryl standing on the walkway in front of the terminal. He was wearing a gray fedora, a spiffy white dress shirt smartly patterned with little gray circles, and a pair of well-fitting jeans. We exchanged greetings, and I complimented Darryl on his casual but stylish attire. He then led me to a silver Honda Accord in the parking lot. I knew that Darryl didn’t have a car, so my curiosity was piqued.
Sitting in the driver’s side passenger seat was an older Japanese woman wearing a wide-brimmed, white hat, a silver-colored satin blouse, and white pants. An impressive string of pearls hung from her neck. Standing next to the car on the driver’s side was an older Japanese man wearing a close-fitting blue turtle neck and gray slacks. They both looked to be in their 70s. Darryl introduced us and explained that the woman was one of his private English students. I just assumed that the man was her husband. But he wasn’t. He was her driver. She was rich. Darryl later told me that she owned three restaurants in Fujiyoshida and a factory in Yokohama. He also told me that she paid him $80/hour for his classes. Darryl’s rich student was to treat us to a wonderful afternoon.
Our driver took us to a restaurant, one owned by our rich hostess. Darryl and I were the only gaijins in the place. For those that don’t know, gaijin is the word used for non-Japanese people. Our hostess ordered appetizers for us while we chose our main dishes. When the appetizers came, I started sampling things. One of the appetizers was thinly sliced, beet-colored meat set on a small plate. I ate a few slices of this meat before Darryl asked me if I knew what it was. I told him that I didn’t know what any of the appetizers were. He told me that I’d just eaten horse meat sashimi. I told him that it was excellent. And it was. I’d eaten various kinds of sushi and sashimi in the U.S., but none of it compared to the tender, flavorful cuts of raw horse meat.
After lunch we were chauffeured to a dessert shop for ice cream. I ordered green tea ice cream along with a cup of green tea. The ice cream and tea were good, but I can’t say that they were any better than I’d had in the States. But to be sitting in a small café in Japan consuming these Japanese things was a completely different matter, an experience that brought a huge smile to my face.
Stuffed to the gills, we then visited Kawaguchiko Music Forest, a museum dedicated to automated musical instruments. In one of the museum halls was an enormous, automated organ from France built in 1905. Every thirty minutes, the organ played a couple of tunes. The music coming from the organ was somewhat carnival like. The whole thing was rather underwhelming, and the Japanese visitors sat stone-faced as the music played. The museum also contained music boxes from all over the world and a shop that sold a large variety of music boxes and candy. Much more impressive than the museum portion of Kawaguchiko Music Forest was its well-manicured grounds, which included a stunning rose garden. I took quite a few photos of the roses, which were at their peak splendor. Normally one would be able to see Fuji-san from the gardens, but the afternoon was a haze of gray and white.
After the music garden we then went to another restaurant. This was more of a social visit for our hostess, who knew the owner of the establishment and wanted to gab and show off her two, young foreign friends. While Darryl and I weren’t hungry, his hospitable, generous, and grandmotherly student insisted we order something to take home and eat later. The owner of the restaurant let Darryl hold her first grandchild, an adorable baby girl. This was our last stop before being deposited at the doorstep of Darryl’s apartment.
Later in the day, after I was settled into Darryl’s apartment, the sky cleared. I had my first look at Fuji-san. I’d never seen a mountain as impressive as Fuji. Its symmetry is nearly perfect. It dominates the landscape. Its snow-capped peak reaches high above the surroundings. Its girth is enormous. It is so massive that it creates its own weather. Even on clear days, it is not uncommon for a strange, circular cloud to hover above its summit. When this cloud was present, Darryl said that Fuji-san was “wearing his hat.”
The following day Darryl took me to Kita Guchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Jinja, a Shinto shrine in Fujiyoshida. The shrine was nestled in a patch of forest containing some very old, very large cedar trees. We walked around the Shrine as I snapped pictures. I bought a couple of year-of-the-sheep trinkets, the sheep being the animal of the Japanese zodiac that corresponds to my birth year. I never learned how to pray in a Shinto shrine, so I prayed the way I’d learned in Thailand by kneeling and bowing three time before the altar.
The day after visiting Fuji Sengen, one of Darryl’s friends drove us to Arakura Sengen Shrine. Arakura is located on a hill which overlooks Fujiyoshida City. On a clear day, the entire city and Fuji-san are visible from the hilltop. A popular place to take pictures is from behind the shrine’s Chureito Pagoda and looking out toward the city and Mt. Fuji. From this vantage point, one can capture the pagoda, the city below, and the mighty Fuji-san off in the distance. The day we visited Arakura Sengen it was completely overcast. Only the very top of Fuji-sand was visible through the clouds. I took what pictures I could. Even though Fuji-san was mostly shrouded in clouds, seeing its top peeking out so high up in the sky made one realize just how high and imposing a mountain it is. God forbid it ever blows its top.
I loved Fujiyoshida City. It was among the most tranquil small cities I’d visited. The pace of life was relaxed. The scenery and nature were incredible. The air was fresh and carried the scent of the forests. To be so close to Fuji-san provided inspiration every day. I left feeling a great deal of envy regarding Darryl’s life in Japan.