Driving out to Mt Fuji
For those who have been following my blog know that a part of my Japan trip was to hire a car. Well I can say that I did indeed hire a car as well as the car that I wanted to hire. It was the first day of the car hire and all I can say was that I was hella excited about getting in the car and start driving. Hit the jump to check out the first day of the car hire adventure and our trip out to Mt Fuji.
20th August and it’s already about 2/3 of the whole trip. So far every single place that I have visited has been within easy traveling of the train system, and Japan has one of the most efficient train systems. However this trip I wanted to try something that I don’t see many people do when they visit Japan, and that’s a car hire. The place that I researched for car hire was ToCoo! Travel and seeing the list of cars available I knew what I wanted to get. The best thing about the place we picked up the car, it was pretty much close to the main road of Daimon and only a 5 minute walk from the hotel.
As you can see I did hire what I wanted: a Mazda RX-8. Normally when you hire a car, they’re all automatics. However when we received an email confirming the booking, they notified that only a manual car was available. FUCKING WIN!!! Heading into the office to do all the paperwork, we were set to go. The main driver would be me and secondary would be my friend. Although since he hasn’t got much experience driving manual I did all the city area driving. Just some quick inspections of the car and having the staff teach us how to use the in-car GPS we were set to go. Now it’s been 20 days since I last drive a car, and the other thing is that I’m driving a car that is unknown to me. I decided to just drive on to get used to the car and Japanese traffic until we reached some random place in Yokohama.
At that point it was time to get the GPS navigation working so it’ll direct us to Mt Fuji. The problem was that the menu system was all in Japanese. Thankfully the car hire staff gave us a sheet in English to work out the menu. All we needed was a phone number. So after spending about 20 minutes working it out we eventually got the route set and off we went. I had also gotten used to the car within the first hour of driving but I really wanted to be a bit more spirited in my driving but I had to wait until we got to the expressways.
Roads and traffic in Japan is definitely different from Australia. Streets are more narrower, people tend to stop on the side whilst occupying a whole lane, nearly MOST drivers never indicate they are changing lanes. The list goes on. The other thing about driving was the GPS navigation system which also spoke in Japanese, but that wasn’t the main issue. In my car at home, I don’t have GPS Navigation and trying to follow the instructions was something I’m not used to. Also the accuracy was a major issue as it says a left turn in 50 metres, but the turn itself was actually right there and I missed it. It happened quite a lot as it was me and my friend in the passenger seat kept guessing wrong. In the end I got used to it and followed the directions correctly.
From Tokyo, Mt Fuji is roughly 95kms to the west. Since we drive to Yokohama, we kind of went in a south-west direction. According to the GPS estimated time of arrival, it said 1p.m. So back on track, we also hit our first expressway as well as the first toll gate. Toll gates in Japan work differently as well. Assuming you don’t have the electronic tags for the car, what you do is drive to one of the booths to collect a ticket. Once you get off at the exit you want you present the ticket at the booth which will calculate how much to pay. Eventually hit some traffic, but it’s to be expected since Tokyo has one of the busiest roads.
Finally after a while and a number of missed turns, we reached the Chuo Expressway which would lead us onwards to Mt Fuji. For me this is where some of the fun begins. Normally in Australia, I’m a very spirited driver. In Japan I decided to be a bit more reserved, but seeing how the speed limit was 80km/h on ALL expressways….. yeah…. Not to mention that whilst going at the speed limit I had plenty of other cars overtaking me at a 120km/h. I was itching to give it more and in no time at all I went for it. Whilst on the expressway to Mt Fuji, I tried various things that I do normally but realised that I’m driving the RX-8 like I do a 4-cylinder car. Guess I still need some getting used to of the car.
The time was 1pm and we arrived at the base of Mt Fuji. Although it was a slightly cloudy day, we couldn’t see the top from where we exited the expressway. Stopping at a rest stop to stretch our legs and to grab some lunch we also visited the Mt Fuji Visitor Centre to grab some general information as well as some information on onsen places around the area. Also checked out some of the souvenirs where I bought a few things. There was also a fruit shop at the rest stop and a friend of mine decided to buy some of these:
Some nice big juicy peaches. I looked forward to eating one of these. Once rested we went off again and drove up the only roadway up to the top of Mt Fuji. Well technically its not the top but the highest you can go by vehicle. But man, driving up through there was so damn awesome. I practically had no cars in front of me the entire way (except for buses that let me pass eventually) and I was certainly being spirited on the way up, even though the speed limit was 50 km/h. Although I would’ve gone a lot harder if I didn’t have passengers in the car, but I’m still wary of safety for passengers.
A video clip from my friend in the passenger seat. Just a sample of the road I was driving on uphill to the top of Mt Fuji. If you listen carefully enough you can hear “Iteza Gogo Kyuuji Don’t Be Late” by Sheryl Nome starring May’n. We had the Macross Frontier playing in the CD player as we didn’t have any CDs with music and we forgot to burn some onto a CD.
On the way up, there are 5 stations that you can stop at so you can rest if needs be and to admire the view. We stopped at the 2nd station I think, which is 2,020m above sea level, and boy I haven’t been at this altitude for awhile. Nice fresh mountain air. Plenty of other cars drive up this way including a bus service to take you to the 4th station, the highest you can go by car. Even saw a Lotus Elise driving through. Well from station 2, you can just see the peak of Mt Fuji.Also took the opportunity to take a photo with the car, lol.
Hopping back into the car, we continued up the mountain road and reached the 5th station, where there were plenty of tourists about. We arrived at a pretty good time in the afternoon as it was pretty cool and refreshing and even if the sun was out in it’s glory, it wasn’t hot. Many people were prepping themselves for the Mt Fuji hike to the top equipped with warm clothing, walking sticks, and doing stretches. If I recall correctly it should be about 5 hour hike from the 5th station to the top of Mt Fuji, but I’m sure it’s longer than that. We decided to not go on the hiking trail as we were all suitably equipped with warm clothing, and after 30,000 torii gates in Kyoto, we’ve down enough climbing. Perhaps another time I’ll trek up Mt Fuji.
When looking up to the top of Mt Fuji, I could somehow make out some buildings near the top, I think. Although I have pretty bad eyesight so I’m not sure what I saw. We joked how it was a ramen shop on the top of Mt Fuji but still, that would be pretty awesome to find a ramen place on the top of Mt Fuji. Meanwhile there is a shrine at the 5th station where I bought myself some more charms.
Of course this being a tourist attraction, there isn’t a shortage of food and souvenir stores, and even vending machines. The vending machine here sells chewing gum, which is the first vending machine I’ve seen that sells chewing gum in Japan. Feeling a little peckish, my friends found a store selling various meats, thus I got myself some squid.I thought it was one of those places that grill a piece of squid on a barbecue and serve it to you on a stick, but instead they cut it into pieces for you. Really filling as well as the pieces are quite large.
The souvenir stores had various items, but most items are stuff seen in any souvenir stores. One of funkiest items I saw was a cake in the shape of Mt Fuji with white icing on top to represent snow. However by the time we left I had forgotten about buying it as I was going to buy it last. One of the weirdest items that I found is shown in the picture above: a can of Mt Fuji air. That’s right, get a piece of Mt Fuji by buying a can of air! This was the largest can and costs about ¥1,400 if I remember correctly.
Eventually it was time to head back down the mountain as sunlight wouldn’t be out for much longer and the mountain would get much more colder. Getting back to the car, it was my co-driver’s turn to drive the car as he wanted to drive the downhill course. He doesn’t get the chance to drive on mountain roads often where I drive on them practically everyday. However since he didn’t know how to drive manual as well as I do, he had trouble starting the car. We stood outside waiting for him to bring the car forward buy for some reason he couldn’t start the car. Getting out he told me the car was out of battery. Very strange but something I didn’t want to hear. I took over and got the car started and moved the car forward for him. Thankfully the car wasn’t out of battery as having a hired car in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and sitting on top of a mountain is not the ideal situation to be in.
Heading down the mountain, we opted to find one of the onsen places I researched about at the Visitor Centre. When it got to more crowded traffic, I took control of the driving from my friend and and followed the GPS as instructed. However the GPS lead us to a place that wasn’t our destination, even though the phone number was the same. Anyway I decided to head back in the direction of a place I saw whilst sitting as a passenger however I accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up back on the expressway. Damn, no point in going to an onsen now thus we headed back to Tokyo.
Night time driving on the expressways was fun in itself as well and strangly enough I wasn’t feeling very tired and could continue on driving. Having arrived back in the main areas of Tokyo after 2 hours of driving from Mt Fuji because of traffic, I also hit up some of the expressways that are a part of the Wangan and some being expressways that you see in game Wangan Midnight. Truly awesome thing for me and I couldn’t wait till I hit up the expressways at night.
Finally getting back to the hotel, with the help of the GPS, we were getting really hungry. One of the local restaurants sold tofu steak and Roobar had always wanted to eat one. So we each tried one and as expected, not very filling. Good thing we ordered other items, though the photos above are a sample of some of the things we ate. Whilst sitting in the restaurant, the place was filled with Japanese businessmen watching the Olympics. Oddly enough the broadcast was of Australia versus Japan in softball and every time the Japanese scored a run they all went cheering. Rather tempted to cheer for Australia, but 4 Australians inside a Japanese restaurant filled with Japanese businessmen…. yeah…
So that’s the end of the first day of driving. An adventurous day but it won’t be as adventurous as the next day as we would be driving out to Gunma and doing more mountain pass driving at the places that you see in Initial D, taking a dip in some open-air baths, and me driving on the Wangan. So look forward to that post!