As my final days approached I saw Mt. Fuji, made some Deer friends in Nara, and learned a few things about having tattoos in Japan.
- 7-Eleven became my everyday spot, big selection of food, drinks and everything else.
- There’s not much police presence in the streets but a lot of train security/workers in stations.
- 80% of souvenir shops carry very similar stuff, but some have little gems – if you run into something cool pick it up!
- It’s nice to get lost walking, you run into unplanned places like small parks to relax or shrines to take photos at.
- Tattoos are a no-no for gyms, pools and springs.
Today’s plan was to hit up the Fuji Shiba-sakura Festival (moss phlox flower festival) near Mount Fuji. The festival only happens for about 2 months while the moss is in bloom (google pictures, it’s mind-blowing) and I happened to be in Japan at the right time – I had to go. It was a bit of a trek and knew that there was going to be an absurd about of people but I really had no idea. I got up extra early and made my way there – taking the JR line then transferring to a local line. The local train ride was awesome, you get amazing views of the area and eventually of Mt. Fuji itself, I got off at Kawaguchiko station as did everyone else and holy shit it felt like half of Japan was there.
Due to the ridiculous influx of tourists (irony) getting to the festival was literally impossible. The bus that takes you there (normally 30 min ride) became a 3 hour journey and possibly 5 hours back due to the amount of people and limited buses. I had to make a decision and pivoted to see Lake Kawaguchiko, second largest of the Fuji Five Lakes. I took a small bus (the Red Line) for about 20 minutes up and around the lake, the ride was a bit tight as everyone that couldn’t go to the festival was hopping on every bus they could, but the views of the lake itself and Mt. Fuji til the last stop were amazing. Once I hit the last stop I got some food at a local restaurant and walked around the beach/garden areas for a bit – snapping photos and talking to some of the people doing the same (they also kept stopping me to ask about my hair). Mt. Fuji on a sunny/clear say is truly an epic sight, I felt blessed to be able to see a view like that in person as it’s something I’ve only seen in photographs and paintings. After about an hour of two of wandering around I decided to head back before the crowds got too crazy, saw an awesome vintage train and made my way back to Tokyo.
Another thing on my list I had to check off was hanging out with the Deer at the famous Nara Deer Park. Getting there wasn’t too bad – took the bullet train towards Kyoto, learning my lesson I grabbed round-trip reserve tickets to be able to sit and chill for the 2+ hour ride. Once in Kyoto I hopped on the Kintetsu line which leaves you right by the park. It was a quick walk to get to the park entrance, and as soon as you walk inside you start seeing deer just hanging out everywhere. There’s vendors selling deer-crackers to feed the little guys, but they’ve become so accustomed to people feeding them they kinda just sit and lounge, waiting for you to walk up to them, feed them and snap a photo – typical day. I found this little deer sitting by himself in a corner of an open area and decided to go chat him up – he didn’t want any crackers so I just sat down with him and pulled up a Bambi clip on YouTube and asked him if he knew her, he kinda just stared at me with a blank look. We sat there for a few minutes, I inched closer to see if he’d either stay chill or headbutt me, surprisingly he stayed still – we were basically best friends.
After exchanging stories we said our goodbye and I headed towards the Todai-ji Temple where there Nara Daibutsu (Buddha) resides, it’s about a 30 minute walk from Nara Park. The exterior entrance (The Great South Gate) to the temple is overwhelming, with a gate that looked about 5,000 years old, 50 feet tall and all made out of wood. On both sides of the gate are two giant guardian statues known as Ni-o or the Kongo Rikishi which are stunning in their own right, but are just the tip of the iceberg as you walk past them. The inside area that lead into the main temple is vast, filled with crowds all trying to take a selfie with the temple itself which stands even taller than the Great South Gate. The entrance to the temple has very tall stairs that lead into the Nara Daibutsu (Great Buddha of Nara), who stands at about 50 feet and radiates a feeling of calmness and peace. The crowds around the center trying to capture an image of him were crazy, but I was able to make my way to the center and grab a clean shot of him. To his right (our left) is another smaller Buddha and further in the temple are two Tamonten statues that stand guardian to the Great Buddha. After a few photos and picking up a few things in the temple I made my way back to the train through Nara deer park – along the way there were a ton of street vendors selling eccentric food which I had to try, all awesome.
I took it easy on my final days in Japan, traveling outside of Tokyo got a bit pricey and I knew there were still a few local spots I wanted to see and I just wanted to wander around and get lost for a while. The first stop on my list was going back to the Kabuki theater and get tickets early on. The full show runs something like 4+ hours, but they have individual act tickets that each run about an hour – I got there just in time to grab a ticket for the next show (standing ticket, not seats) and waited around for 30min before it started. We all got put in a waiting area and given a handout that explained what we were going to watch – my segment was about a fox that transformed into a man in order to steal a magic drum, fell in love with a princess and fought off an army to be with her. After the show I wandered around Ginza for a bit, grabbed some food and headed towards Shibuya again to explore. I went to Kiddy Land which is 5 floors of toys of all sorta, each floor has a theme – from Hello Kitty, Star Wars and Snoopy, they had a bit of everything. I didn’t pick up anything but if I had the suitcase space I woulda nabbed a badass Samurai Darth Vader they had on display. Wandered around a few other stores and made my way to Harajuku to get lunch at the famous Monster Cafe. The experience felt like Robot Restaurant but for a late lunch early dinner, the cafe is split into 4 theme areas – each with their own look, you get to choose before you enter. The food is also themed, I grabbed their monster burger (which was pretty good) but as I was eating they had a crazy light show in the middle of everything which had everyone get up and watch, definitely entertaining and unexpected. After dinner I walked around the area a bit more, picked up some souvenirs and called it an early night.
It had been over a week since I’d been to the gym, so on my last day I decided I’d find a place to workout in Tokyo. After a quick Google search I found a Gold’s Gym about 15-20 min from me and decided to head over – not knowing what I was about to encounter. As I walked in the gym looked pretty normal, it was about 4 flights up and had a nice decor, but when I got to the front desk the clerk looked me up and down and saw her shaking her head which already felt weird. I greeted her nicely and told her I was visiting Tokyo and would like to get a day pass to workout, she said I wouldn’t be able to enter the gym due to my tattoos – I was immediately confused. She took out the gym rules and explained that almost every gym in Tokyo (and probably most of Japan) has a no tattoo rule due to the gang connotations they carry. I offered to buy a long sleeve shirt and cover up but it wouldn’t make a difference as I’m already on camera and have tattoos on my hand and legs that could still be seen. She was very polite about it and even looked up other gyms that I could go to, the closest one was about an hour away – I took her directions and thanked her but a trip that far for a quick workout wasn’t worth the effort, that rule is something I’ve never seen anywhere but it makes sense for their culture. I made my way back to the hotel and decided I’d change and just get lost for a bit before having to pack for my flight the next day. I hopped on a couple of buses not knowing where I was going and just walked around, finding new gardens, temples and shrines along the way. I walked around and got lost for about 3 hours before Googling how to get back to the hotel – on the way back I picked up a few more souvenirs and ended my night packing for an early flight.
In conclusion this trip has been one of the most eye opening and amazing experiences I’ve had as of yet, everything I’d hoped it’d be and more – it makes me appreciate the thinking and deliberate choices they make when it comes to organizing a city, transport systems, merging of old and new, and their polite behavior. I honestly missed some of the rude New York attitude that I’m used to, but we could certainly learn more from our friends out in Japan – if given the chance I encourage you to take a trip and experience it yourself.