Welcome to the final installment of my Tokyo vacation chronicle! For those of you just joining us, you can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 first if you're into the whole chronology thing. Now, onward to the conclusion!
Eric and Azusa's wedding was nigh, so Sheila and I bid a fond farewell to Shinjuku and tackled our next challenge: figuring out how to get to the wedding site. The ceremony was to be located in a small town named Kawaguchiko near the foot of Mt. Fuji, a picturesque hamlet that unfortunately was not reachable by the Tokyo subway system we had so recently mastered. Thus, we spent the majority of Friday trying to ascertain specifically which train tickets to purchase that would enable us to make it to our destination. It was more than a little stressful, especially given our...less than fresh state of mind after the last few days' festivities. Fortunately, we were able to eventually meet up with the spouses-to-be at the train station and move onwards to our destination. As you might expect, I purchased a can of lemon chu-hi to drink on the train.
The train ride itself was a welcome respite from a day of panting and coping with the process of setting up the train ride, so it was with great relief that I sat back in my seat, sipped on my beverage and tried not to fall asleep. After several days in the city, the emergence of countryside was both refreshing and jarring. All of a sudden, the big buildings we had been ensconced in just ended, and there were these tiny abodes and rice paddies and mountains and grass, grass, grass.
Coming from brown-as-hell mid-severe-drought California, seeing so much green at once made me think the rods and cones in my eyes were finally collapsing after years of abuse. But fortunately for my aspirations to be a major league umpire, my eyes were just reflecting the very legit verdant landscape. The fact that I was heading somewhere quite different from Shinjuku was becoming abundantly clear. And if there was doubt of that, it would have been erased the moment Fujisan himself showed up.
Mt. Fuji is a real wonder, especially for someone like me; the most legendary peak I had seen up to that point was probably Space Mountain (with a possible argument for Mountains Splash, Big Thunder and the Matterhorn). The icy blue, snow-capped figure loomed in the distance like a mythic colossus, its mystique compounded by the fact that it seemed to teleport away the minute you stopped looking at it. Seriously, you'd see it in the window to your left, look down at your watch for a second and then look up to find that it was suddenly in the rear window. It was so weird. It's not as though we were on the twistiest track in the world. OR WERE WE?
Anyway, once we got up to Kawaguchiko, Mt. Fuji was firmly fixated in one place and we were able to move on to the next odd sensation: the feeling of coldness. See, Tokyo had been pretty uniformly warm-to-hot and humid for the duration of our stay there, and any atmosphere to the contrary seemed weird and foreign. Suddenly, we stepped off the train into a crisp, semi-chilly environment, and it was like jumping into the pool on a hot summer day: a bit of a shock to the system, but incredibly invigorating.
Our hotel room was quite a departure from our previous experiences as well. Whereas the room in Shinjuku had been a modernized, albeit petite, hotel room, this one was straight up Japanese, son!
We're talking a tatami on the floor, a squat table with a tea set, futons instead of beds, and a unique bathing situation that was sort of a tub/shower/bucket combo.
Best of all, you could see Mt. Fuji right out the window!
It was, dare I say, magical. So we did what anyone else would do in such a unique, enchanting scenario: pulled out the iPhone, connected to the wi-fi and watched the video for CoCo.
After settling in, we took a twilight walk around the town to soak in the sights, get some fresh air and, most importantly, eat.
And it may have taken a week from arrival for some bizarre reason, but on that night I FINALLY got some real Japanese ramen. And it was every bit as delicious as I had hoped, although our server was a bit of an enigma. After meeting nothing but pleasant, courteous people in Japan thus far (the possible human trafficker we encountered the night before aside), she was...not like that, staring blankly and silently at us while seating us, taking our order, and serving us. She might have mumbled something at some point, or it could have been the wind. I suppose she could have been struck speechless by my tremendous beauty and charisma. Or she might have found me annoying. In any case, the ramen was good.
After that, we settled in for the night, while making some time for photos in the traditional robes the hotel had provided for us, including this picture of Sheila that turned out so cute that she's allowing me a one time breach of the "no pictures of Sheila" rule:
I awoke to find the room awash with light, despite the closed curtains, and wearily reached for my watch to check the time. It had to be at least 7 o'clock, I figured. Nope. If I recall correctly, it was 4:17 in the morning. Not only does the sun rise in the East; it rises with a vengeance. After a futile struggle to sleep some more while bathed in harsh solar rays, Sheila and I groggily went downstairs to claim our place at the hotel's buffet breakfast. It was a pretty tasty and diverse spread, though admittedly neither of us ate the cold poached egg in a cup that we both grabbed for some reason.
A quick shower and change later, it was wedding time, so we grabbed the Japanese equivalent of an Uber (they called it a "taxi"...crazy!) and headed off to the nuptials.
And a lovely nuptials it was. The main event was held outside, in a lovely garden at a picturesque restaurant/brewery.
After a beautiful ceremony (that must have been laden with pollen due to my teary eyes), we headed inside for a bacchanal of beer, liquor, wine and a metric ton (actual measurement) of amazing food. Seriously, any weight loss from my entire week of nonstop walking was completely undone by this one meal, but it was undoubtedly worth it. There was even an after party that evening at a local karaoke bar, where the revelry continued with even more beer and food. It was an excellent time, a great crowd of people, and the perfect opportunity for me to finally cross "karaoke New Kids on the Block in Japan" off my bucket list. The only downside was that everything in Kawaguchiko seemed to shut down early, as the karaoke bar closed and the party dispersed before most karaoke bars I've been to in the states even open up the singing portion of the night. But I suppose having a sunrise before five AM makes a first grader's bedtime acceptable, and besides, I needed the rest at that point. Not that I didn't continue to drink chu-hi in our hotel room afterwards, mind you. I thought about using the public bath at the hotel as well, taking a late night soak with some old dudes, but the bath rules were a bit complicated and I didn't want to commit any cultural faux pas. Besides, the room was so comfortable that I didn't need to leave. If you had told me in college that I would some day pay extra to sleep on someone's floor, I would have thought you were crazy. But here I was, snug and cozy on a floor futon. So ended a lovely day. My only regret was that I didn't have time to see the town's monkey show, though that is admittedly a huge regret.
Sunday was another heavy travel day. After another helping of breakfast buffet (this time bypassing the cold poached egg in a cup entirely), Sheila and I were on our way to our final destination: the Prince Park Tokyo Tower, a remarkably fancy hotel that lived up to its name, being within an actual park and in close proximity to the famous Tokyo Tower. I'm sure a prince has stayed there at one point or another, too.
Our room was beautiful and since it was located on a corner, we had a great panoramic view of our surroundings. It was remarkable, really, being in such a luxurious foreign setting while being able to just look out the window and get a glimpse of natives just sitting on their couches in their condos, watching TV and living their day to day lives. I'll be reminded of it every time I make a payment on the credit card bill for this hotel room over the next few years.
After resting for a while, Sheila and I decided to make the most of our visit and explore the hotel. We happened upon a rooftop garden, and as we strolled along it at dusk, the Tokyo Tower set aglow in the background with the encroachment of night, tiny dogs yipped and played with each other, enjoying these last moments before the park closed and they returned from whence they came.
Then it was dinner time, and being in such a fancy place in our final hours before the return flight home, Sheila and I splurged and ate at Brise Verte, the French/Japanese fusion restaurant on the hotel's 33rd floor. Sure, it was expensive, but the incredible view of the Tokyo cityscape from aloft, dotted with lights and bustling with energy, was priceless.
Around midnight, we found ourselves restless. Going to sleep almost felt like a concession, an admission that our time in Japan was over, so instead we went for a walk. It ended up being a great decision, as the late night provided a unique perspective on the local landmarks.
Staring up at the Tokyo Tower in the wee hours of the morning, all by ourselves, was an unforgettable experience.
We checked out a temple, and even accidentally strolled through a graveyard. I'm happy to report a lack of angry spirit attacks, though.
We closed out our night in the most fitting way possible: purchasing some tall cans of chu-hi from 7-11, as I accidentally told the sales clerk "good morning" instead of "thank you." It was technically morning by then, anyway.
And that's about it. We woke up, hauled ourselves to the airport, and returned home on a mostly uneventful flight. Well, OK, the guy sitting behind me spent the whole flight coughing so hard that I expected his lungs to fly over the seat, and I discovered that Man of Steel was not quite as bad as I'd heard, but that's all. Soon enough, I was home again, and despite having a marvelous vacation, I was perfectly happy to be in my own apartment, and to fall asleep in my own bed for the first time in what felt like months.
Well, until I woke up the next morning to find out that, in my absence, my apartment had been infested by bedbugs that came through the wall from my neighbors' place. Shortly thereafter, I had a panic attack and threw my back out.
I miss Japan.
Joey Marsilio has since located and purchased some other brand of chu-hi in America, but it just wasn't as good. He also wrote the novel Henry Garrison, which you can preview here.