While a tourist in Japan can take many different forms of transportation, some are more entertaining than others.
Arriving at Tokyo Haneda Airport, I board the first train toward the upscale Ginza shopping district via the Keikyu-Kuko Rapid-Limited Express.
The first thing that can be noted of Japanese trains is how clean and efficient they are, especially compared to the train systems of major American cities like Chicago or New York. There is no yelling, or busking, or sounds of any kind. In fact, as far as I can tell, no one speaks.
Our particular group is made up of my extended family, including in-laws, children, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Some of us talk for a living. Some of us have ADHD. Needless to say we have extreme difficulty blending in with the silence around us. We are almost always the loudest people on the train.
Navigating trains can be tricky. It can be made trickier when you do not plan your route in advance and it’s raining. We wander the streets of the tony Ginza district without umbrellas for what feels like hours trying to find our hotel. My hair is soaked. My glasses are fogged. One man laughs at us and takes pictures. I imagine us as unwitting stars of Japan’s Funniest Home Videos, or at least a series of internet memes.
One of the best ways to see Tokyo and the surrounding area is by bus. After drying off and resting, we take the Hato Bus Tour to Mount Fuji. The expedition promises ten hours of delightful bus riding. This is after twelve hours of delightful plane riding, followed by three hours of delightful train riding for the previous two days.
Fortunately the jet lag is not severe and the host of our bus tour, Fumi, is full of interesting facts about Japan. Since there is nothing else to do but look out the window and listen, I learn a lot.
En route to Mt. Fuji, Fumi provides us with key statistics on the current labor shortage, describing Japan as a “super-aging society.” Twenty-five percent of the population is elderly. Also, the birthrate before WWII was 4.3, whereas now, it is 1.4.
I also learn that Mt. Fuji has been worshipped since ancient times as a Kami for those who practice Shintoism, one of the two major religions in Japan.
Fumi also discusses early Japanese ukiyo-e artists like Hokusai, known for immortalizing Mt. Fuji in famed woodblock prints. One of Hokusai’s most popular works is the Great Wave Off Kanagawa. We learn this while driving through the prefecture of Kanagawa. I glance nervously eastward searching for any evidence of an incoming tsunami. I see mostly mist, rice paddies, and green rolling hills.
Reaching Mt. Fuji, we are told that we will not be able to see the mountain today because of the fog. I close my eyes and imagine Hokusai’s Mt. Fuji, its peak just visible beyond the great wave. A horse neighs. My green tea ice cream melts. I feel full of emotion, standing on an invisible mountain, in a faraway land.
On the way back to Tokyo on the super-fast Shinkansen bullet train, I catch a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, just a blur out my window.
Sometimes the destination is the journey.
Note: The picture associated with the blog is some type of cart that was parked at the 5th station of Mt. Fuji. There were horses nearby which, I assume, are used to pull the cart.