Kawaguchiko to Shoji Lake (Honshu)

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Sometimes you have that day that will probably come to define your entire trip to a country. You don’t realise it while it’s happening. The day just seems like any other day full of wonder and surprises. It’s not until you lay your head down at the end of the day that you realise that it was that day. Well, as I come into my tent and type this post, I realise that today was that day.
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I leave the hostel around 8am with only one goal: to camp on the banks of one of the Fuji Lakes with a view of the grand mountain. This means I will not ride far, so I can take my time. And take my time is exactly what I do. I mean, how many people get to cycle along the shores of these high altitude lakes with cherry blossom dusting the path and Fuji-san towering over the landscape. Seriously? Is this really my life or am I in a dream (no, don’t get all Matrix on me).
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Fishermen sit like statues all along the lakes’ edges. But they are not just sitting roughly on the dirt. No, these are Japanese fishermen who sit meditatively on specially designed tables that stand in the water. They have all manner of cooler and fishing kit to keep themselves comfortable as they keep their silent vigil. Most are using fishing poles longer than anything I’ve ever seen before. The rods extend out for what looks like two or three meters.
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In some places the fishermen sit in boats. They row them out onto the lake then attach them to fixed lines so they can stay stationary while fishing. I don’t know whether the men catch anything, nor whether they want to. They just look so peaceful out there meditating while they pretend to be fishing.
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I’m sure that, for a small fee, I could hire one of these boats along with some tackle to try my hand at fishing. But it’s not really a sport I am that interested in. The boats look very cute though tied up so neatly on the shores.
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I prefer my meditation lying down with a hat to shield my closed eyes from the interuption of the sunlight. It’s windy so I have to use rocks to hold the picnic blanket in place. Have I mentioned yet that this is the one item I am so glad I decided to buy? How else could I enjoy such a glorious afternoon in such a grand place. I have already met some of the other campers. A family is staying here a couple of days. Their six year old son is particularly gregarious and he has already come over to say “hello”. Literally. He came armed with a few English phrases to break the ice. What a champion. His eight year old brother is more shy and stands around watching a bit. Their parents come over to say hello. They both went on working holidays in Australia a decade or so ago (not together) and we talk a while. They are so warm and welcoming. I feel bad that my Japanese language skills are so rubbish but the lady’s English and the man’s cheeky laugh more than make up for my embarrassment at relying on a few small phrases and a translation app.
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It takes me a while to select a suitable place to pitch my tent. It’s very windy today and I try a few places but the broken cross pole makes it impossible to get enough tension for the tent to withstand the breeze. But then I realise that the camping ground actually extends further than I initially thought and there are some sheltered places available. I move camp, take some time to pull the broken tent pole apart and fix it again with the brace in a slightly different place and now made up of the original two chopsticks and also two small sticks. It is much more effective and I am able to get a solid pitch.
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I laze around some more, finish a project for work and take a short stroll around part of the lake. It’s gorgeous in it’s own right, even without the grand mountain towering above it’s far shores. Little boats are everywhere on the shores and in the water. It’s so picturesque that I’m glad I decided to have an easy day by just cycling the 25km it took to get here.
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I am eating a big pot of noodles with meat balls and mixed dried vegetables when the family come looking for me. They want to know whether I have eaten dinner. I kind of am eating right then and there but am always ready for some more food (I feel so hungry all the time when I’m cycling). It seems they have been looking for me but couldn’t find me at my tent but then the kids spotted me right down on the shore where I was eating my meal watching rowers train. I go with them to their camp and enjoy the most gezeleg (Dutch word that cannot be translated correctly in English but means something like sociable, friendly and fun) evening sitting around their camp barbecue eating meats, potato and a new onion cooked in foil on the coals. But more than the food, it’s the social engagement that is so wonderful. The six year old boy teaches me many Japanese words (most of which I know I will forget because when am I ever going to need to discuss giraffes with anyone?). He is so excited by my presence that it’s like being around any six year old boy anywhere in the world (think we are all different – go travel and see how children are the same everywhere regardless of politics, religion, race or language). His brother is still shy but I understand that. We play with coloured sparklers that shoot out the ends and also with the favourite sparkler of Japan, which is cute and small; it looks like a tiny delicate drop of molten lava with small sparkles comign out of it.
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There’s something so special about being here under Fujisan. I can see why the ancients considered it such a sacred place. I’ve had a magical day. The kind of day that you can never foresee happening. From riding under the mountain with cherry blossoms filtering around me to snoozing in the sun on the shores of the lakes to being adopted for the night. I’m a lucky guy.


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