Neither of us was terribly fond of the food at Gusto, so we skipped breakfast. It's not as if we were suffering, as we were still stuffed from last night. If we weren't doing so much walking and luggage carrying, we'd need to stitch together two outfits into one to fit into our clothing. Also, we figured we'd get food along the way as we toured, since most tourist sites have at least vending machines for coffee and an assortment of snacks, including samples of all or many of the sweets for sale in the gift shop. When we travel, we adopt the hunter–gatherer lifestyle.
We hiked down to bus station to get a bus pass, since we'd be on and off the bus several times in the coming day, not to mention on Sunday when we need to haul our luggage to the bus and train station for our return to Tokyo. There are three Kawaguchiko bus lines (red, green, and blue) that let you hop on and off the bus to visit the many small tourist attractions scattered through the area. The blue route goes much farther afield, and is more expensive, so we opted for the less expensive pass that covers only the red and green lines. There was too much to sea for one day's touring, so we picked a couple sites that we figured would be most interesting, and decided to focus on them. We'll just have to return again some day to see the others, and particularly to see if we can spend some time on one or more of the five lakes.
We took the green bus along Lake Kawaguchiko (the "ko" part means "lake", so the name's a bit redundant). It's a large and lovely lake, nestled among mountains that look like someone took a vat of mashed potatoes and doled out huge lumps in the land surrounding the lake. Covered in green forest, so perhaps the food metaphor is best not overextended. Had we come during the summer, I think we'd have made an effort to find kayak rentals, though they may not exist; we saw no brochures for any water excursions other than an overpriced 20-minute power boat ride around the lake. And most of the boats on the lake seemed to be either powerboats or fishing rowboats.
Since the land around Fuji has periodically been buried under lava flows, there are many caves that developed within the lava. Not so many caves back in Montreal, so we decided to fit in a couple caves that seemed most interesting and logistically feasible. We started with the oddly named "bat cave", as there was no evidence any bats had ever lived there. (On the plus side, the guest shop did have several vintage posters from the 1960s Adam West/Burt Ward TV series.) The managers will provide rubber boots (wellies) if so requested, but we had good hiking boots that were sufficient. And the cave floor is sufficiently rough and wet that I do recommend bringing good boots for both safety and comfort. They do insist you wear a plastic helmet, which is a wise choice; the roof is quite low in places, and despite my best efforts, I occasionally straightened out too fast and tapped my helmet on the ceiling. You get to the cave via a 5-minute walk through a beautiful forest that has developed atop the lava. It was a gloomy day, with dark clouds and rain threatening throughout, but still a beautiful forest. It would have been spectacular in bright sunlight.
Despite the lack of bats, it was lots of fun scrambling through the cave. There are several galleries with enough room to stand, but more areas where you have to bend over or even squat down and crabwalk to get through narrow passages. Not even remotely like real spelunking, which often involves crawling through gaps too narrow to pass with a lungful of air, but close enough for my tastes. I'm not claustrophobic, but suspect I might be with both my belly and my back scraping along stone simultaneously. Very different from the caves we've visited in Australia (much limestone, so a fascinating range of flowstone types) and Hawaii (volcanic, but seemingly with more soluble minerals to produce baby stalactites). Nonetheless, it was still a pleasure to be poking about underground in something that once carried lava hot enough to fry you from a distance.
Our next stop was at Saiko* Iyashi no Sato Nenba, which is a reconstruction of a Japanese village that was wiped out by a landslide in the aftermath of a typhoon in 1966. Now, its mostly a shell of its former self, though the buildings are beautifully restored and some of them are still used by community groups or for meetings. Now, there are stalls selling foods grown or created by locals, and a great many crafts (paintings, paper, silks, mobiles, ceramics). There's some beautiful stuff and some really yummy food. We ate far too many samples of mochi (sweetened glutinous rice with various fillings) and cookies, but also had a nice corn on the cob (for about $3, which is high, but far less outrageous than the corn on Fuji, at twice that price) and a mochi filled with bean paste and a herb whose name we can't recall. We need to remember to use the notebooks we both carry to record such details.
* "Saiko", the region name, is pronounced "psycho", so I amused myself all afternoon about visiting the psycho village and the psycho bat cave. Fatigue has clearly begun to take its toll.
Next stop was the "wind cave", a lava tube that occasionally has significant air movement that the signage claimed was driven by differences in relative humidity between the inside and outside of the cave—before electric lighting was installed, the wind was strong enough to blow out the candles that were often used for illumination. I've studied boundary layer climatology, so I understand how environmental gradients can move air, but I don't have any clear idea of how that humidity difference would generate significant wind. Maybe on really dry days outdoors? I suspect it's really the temperature difference that drives the wind, as it's very cold (near 0°C) inside the cave. Cold enough that even now, in September, there were significant deposits of ice that formed in the previous winter still present in one of the lava chambers. It's cold enough most of the year that local peoples used the cave to store silkworm larvae to delay their development (to allow silk production during a longer period of the year) and to warehouse seeds against future need. It's a much smaller cave than the bat cave, and requires much less stooping to get through narrower passages, but it's also much deeper in the Earth—maybe 30 feet below ground at the start, and a bit deeper in other areas.
By now, 10+ days of walking and touring had tired us out pretty thoroughly, so rather than trying to squeeze in another tourist site, we gave up for the day. Instead, we got off the bus at the Ogino supermarket, foreign marketplaces being a tourist experience in their own right. It's about a 10-minute walk from the hostel, so very convenient. I needed to stock up on snacks (chocolate, of course; my first potato chips in Japan*, because why not?; cookies because we found chocolate chip cookies good enough that even Shoshanna ate a batch**) and we also wanted to explore the possibilities for tomorrow's breakfast***. We settled on two packages of gyoza (Japanese dumplings), with no idea what the contain (because there was no English on the package) and a similarly mysterious okonomi. Tomorrow, we'll nuke them in the microwave, and anything we don't eat, we'll bring onto the train for road food. The hostel apparently sets the coffee machine in the commmon room on a timer so that it brews up a fresh pot every morning at 7, so we'll be well caffeinated. Wish we'd noticed this earlier.
* Unremarkable, but satisfied a craving for crunchy potato.
** Shoshanna maintains a wary distance from snacks.
** We belatedly got a clue and remembered that Japanese supermarkets sell a wide variety of ready-to-eat foods.
Back to the hostel for a nap and shower, then off to the local tempura restaurant for a feast. They had a wide selection of ingredients, including a few unusual ones, and also provided sashimi (raw fish), but the real attraction was the tempura. We each ordered a dozen or so servings, mostly vegetables (squash, green pepper, eggplant, onion, boiled egg!, cherry tomato!, mushrooms, and shrimp for Shoshanna). In addition to the usual sweetish dipping sauce, they had a lovely sesame paste/mustard sauce combination and a sweet but moderately hot chili sauce that went very well with the food. Shoshanna also tried their lemon salt, but reported there was too much salt and not enough lemon.
Home and preliminary packing, since tomorrow we head to Tokyo in mid-afternoon, where we'll spend two nights and our last full day in Japan. Where the heck did all the time go?