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Gotemba April 3, 2012

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Japan, Kanto, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Gotemba” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-gotemba

Gotemba is a small city located at the foot of Mt. Fuji.  It is surrounded by the towns of Susono and Oyama but most people will consider that entire area to be Gotemba for simplicity.  Gotemba itself is located on the south-east corner of Mt. Fuji on the east side of Shizuoka and at the border of Kanagawa.  It is literally at the border between the Kanto and Chubu regions of Japan.  While Shizuoka is technically within the Chubu region, most consider everything to the east of Mt. Fuji to be part of Kanto and due to the geography, Gotemba falls on the east side of Mt. Fuji.  Gotemba itself has only one major attraction aside from Mt. Fuji, and that’s a large outlet shopping mall.  In the surrounding areas, to the north of Gotemba is the town of Oyama which is famous for Fuji Speedway.  Both of these are the only famous destinations for any travellers to the region, although there are a lot of natural places to visit.

The most famous and obvious attraction in Gotemba has to be Mt. Fuji.  Gotemba is the location for the entrance to the Gotemba hiking trail.  This is probably only for the real adventurists as it is considered the most difficult way to hike up Mt. Fuji as it is the longest trail.  Due to the proximity of Gotemba to Mt. Fuji, you can usually see Mt. Fuji on most clear days.  Mt. Fuji is a very fickle mountain.  I have heard many people complain about the problems of heading out to the foot of Mt. Fuji only to be greeted by clouds instead of the majestic mountain.  Due to its isolation from other mountain ranges and its height Mt. Fuji is often obscured by clouds.  In order to see Mt. Fuji, you need to go there on a perfectly clear day.  If there are any clouds in the sky, it is highly likely that they will slam into Mt. Fuji and hang out for a while leading to a huge disappointment.  Gotemba is one of the few places you can visit and not feel too bad if Mt. Fuji is obscured.  Most people visit Hakone, and I actually recommend visiting Hakone over Gotemba, but it can be harder to see Mt. Fuji as Hakone is located in the nearby mountains which can make seeing Mt. Fuji a little harder.  Kawaguchiko is the other famous place to see Mt. Fuji but aside from FujiQ Highlands, an amusement park, there is nothing to do there.  Gotemba can be better but only if you enjoy shopping.

Currently, Gotemba is well known for its shopping opportunities.  If you tell anyone in Tokyo that you are going to visit Gotemba, almost everyone will ask if you will be going there to go shopping.  The outlet mall in Gotemba is called Premium Outlets and it is an American brand of outlet malls run by the Simon Property Group.  In Japan, they set up a joint venture with Mitsubishi Estate who operates the Premium Outlet Mall chain in Japan.  The Gotemba branch is the flagship mall in Japan and well known among people in Tokyo.  It is a destination for people with long lines to get into the mall on weekends and holidays.  The easiest way into the mall is to purchase a ticket on one of the special direct buses.  These buses run from Shinjuku and Tokyo Station.  They leave in the morning and return by dinner.  All you have to do is show up at the station, board the bus and then board the same bus to return back to Tokyo.  Tickets for the weekend do sell out quickly so it is best to reserve seats ahead of time.  For those who can’t get tickets, you can still easily take a regular highway bus.  A highway bus is a long distance bus that uses highways to get from A to B, but on the way to Gotemba there are several bus stops on the Expressway itself.  There is also a train service but the best option for this is via Shinjuku but it is more expensive than the bus.  For most people, shopping at Gotemba will not be very different to shopping at any other outlet shop in the world.  Most of the shops are the same as in America, but there are several Japanese brands that you can’t find elsewhere.  Depending on your own fashion sense, you may or may not enjoy shopping in Gotemba but if you enjoy shopping anyways, you can always spend a day visiting Gotemba and attempting to see Mt. Fuji up close at the same time.

To the north of Gotemba is Oyama, the home of Fuji Speedway.  Fuji Speedway is the most famous race course in the Kanto region.  It was host to the F1 Japan Grand Prix in the past and considered the most beautiful race course in Japan.  This is mostly due to the fact that you can easily see Mt. Fuji from the track.  Today, the track is used mostly for local racing championships and Toyota sponsored events.  The track itself has undergone several changes over the decades.  Due to financial difficulties by its owner, Toyota, the track was discontinued as an F1 circuit but continues to be used for national races and local events.  Unfortunately, it appears that the racing course will not be used as an F1 circuit in the foreseeable future.  It is a bit of a shame but when compared to Suzuka’s greater history, Fuji Speedway will probably continue to suffer from the lack of attention.

As I mentioned in the beginning, Gotemba is not a place most people will ever visit, nor will they really want to.  It is a beautiful place to go but compared to the more popular areas such as Hakone, Gotemba will be overlooked a lot.  For nature, people will visit Hakone.  For Mt. Fuji hikes, people will go to Kawaguchiko.  For shopping, most tourists will stay in Tokyo or visit one of the outlet malls that are easier to visit such as the Mitsui chain in Makuhari.  For locals and people living in Tokyo, Gotemba will be a place to visit once in a while.  If you can justify a visit to the region, I recommend doing so, but unfortunately, I doubt most will want to spend the time to go there.

Note:  Unfortunately I have no photos of Gotemba Premium Outlets.  I almost never go there to take pictures, only to do shopping.  🙂

2008 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix October 21, 2008

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Sports, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on and read the post complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-39

On October 12th, 2008, Japan hosted the 16th round of the FIA F1 World Championship.  The pinnacle of four wheel motorsports has been coming to Japan for decades.  Since 2007, the Japanese GP has been run at Fuji Speedway in Shizuoka.  Before 2007, the F1 Championship had been going to Suzuka in Mie Prefecture.  A few hours away by Shinkansen.  In 2006, Toyota had more money than Honda, so F1 decided to move from Suzuka to Fuji.

Fuji Speedway is nestled at the base of Mt. Fuji in Shizuoka.  It’s a beautiful circuit that has a 1.5 km straight and various corners.  It has been full of controversy as many drivers dislike the course.  It tends to rain often and it’s difficult to see Mt. Fuji at anytime.  While Fuji Speedway is located very close to Tokyo, it was a nightmare to go and return from the Speedway last year.  It took over 3 hours to just leave the circuit!  I must say that I was worried about the wait to leave the Speedway, however, things ran extremely smoothly.  There was hardly any problems.  Following last year, the organizers decided to try to fix things, and the changes worked.  While I had to walk a long distance to reach my shuttle bus, the lineup was only 5 minutes and I reached Gotenba Station very quickly.  So quickly, that by the time I returned to Tokyo this year, I was still waiting for the shuttle bus, last year!  Needless to say, I was very happy.

I have never been to the Canadian Grand Prix, but as you should know, I have been to Japan’s Moto GP race.  Comparing the two, I still love Moto GP, and the feeling of both events is completely different.  Moto GP attracts more international faces, and more hardcore fans.  F1 brings more of the everyday people.  It’s hard to explain the differences, but just imagine the differences between the downtown core of any city with one of the suburbs.  Moto GP is like a suburb.  Everyone is roughly from the same type of family, whereas F1 brings people from all walks of life.  The amount of good available for purchase at the F1 race was astonishing.  There are more items, but unless you are a true fan, there isn’t too much that is worthwhile.  To the average fan, namely me, I wasn’t going to buy a Ferrari shirt, or a Renault shirt either.  Prices were very expensive and the products were generally useless outside F1.  I don’t know too many people who wear complete F1 race suits (each costs over 500,000 Yen) or even a shirt that is full of Toyota logos.  As nice as some of the clothes and goods were, I just couldn’t buy any of it.  However, that never stopped the thousands of other fans from buying as much as they could.

The race itself was fairly exciting.  Right at the first corner, there was an incident involving the top driver, Lewis Hamilton.  By the end of the 6th lap, things had finally settled down a little.  Like all of F1, passing tends to be infrequent and at the beginning of the race.  After 10 laps of any race, things get boring.  The only excitement occurs when there is a blown engine or an accident in the pits.  Other than that, not much happens.  I must say that Fuji Speedway is better than most tracks on the F1 calender.  Passing occurred during the entire race, although not so often as Moto GP.  😉  In the end, after a very eventful opening to the race, Fernando Alonso, driving a Renault, won the race.  After the cooldown lap, I grabbed my stuff and ran like the wind.  I had to beat the crowd so I could get home somewhat on time.

After the first year of hiccups at the first Fuji Speedway Grand Prix, the second year was 10 times better.  While the price of a ticket is reallye expensive, it’s worth it to go at least once in your life.  Hopefully next year, at Suzuka, there will be more free swag and a more exciting atmosphere.  I’ll let you if I do get tickets to go.


Climbing Mt. Fuji September 10, 2008

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Japan, Kanto, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Climbing Mt. Fuji” along with the pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-p

On Wednesday, July 23, I went to Fuji-san. Not to see it, but to climb it. Most people would say I’m stupid, but as the saying goes, you’re only stupid if you do it more than once.  Just give it time. 🙂

The day started early with the 7:45am bus from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko 5th Station. It was the first bus we could take, and the fastest way there.  It is also really cheap. When we got to the 5th station, there were a lot of people. Most of them were just coming down from Mt. Fuji.  I’m guessing they spent the night, watched the sunrise, and then waited for the post office to open at 8am to send their postcards home.  We wandered around a little and I picked up a walking stick.  1000 Yen, but they burn “stamps” into it as you climb.  My friend also bought an oxygen bottle, but we didn’t touch it.

After asking a few people for directions, we began our ascent. There isn’t too much to say about this. Generally, there are signs the entire way up showing you how to get to the top, and how to get back down.  There were also a lot of schools hiking up to the 7th station. Going to the top took us around 4 to 4.5 hours.  I didn’t really check the time.  We also stopped a lot to catch our breath, get our walking sticks stamped, and to take pictures of course.  There are roughly 3-4 sections of the climb.  The first is relatively easy. A nice slope with lots of rocks.  After the 7th station, it’s very rocky and steep.  You feel like you are climbing up, not walking up.  It’s similar to climbing the Chief (in Squamish, Canada) except the rocks aren’t smooth, rather they are jagged. At the 8th station, it turns into a nice walk again.  Note that a nice walk up Mt. Fuji and a nice walk around the house are completely different.  The very top saw us climing up like the 7th station.  The only difference is that the rocks weren’t as jagged as the 7-8th station section.  At the top, you are greeted by a torii (gate) and 2 lions/lion-dogs.  You walk around a bit, check out the crater, and then head down. Circumnavigating the crater takes about an hour, but we didn’t have time.

The trip down was fun.  We beat the 2 hour “expected” minimum time.  Then again, we were almost running down the mountain.  Our bus left at 6:25, it was 4, and they said it should take about 3 hours to get down… ….  We got down in about 1.5 hours.  Going down is fun and a pain.  The rock path isn’t too steep, but it’s very loose and rocky.  The top has a lot of soft rocks, and it’s easy to slide down.  As we descended, the rocks got bigger.  It became harder to “slide” down the mountain. Some areas had lots of lava rocks that were just a pain to walk down.  Other sections had big rocks that I kicked.  Yes, I probably hurt my feet. 🙂  Things don’t get easy until you are close to the 6th station.  From there, you are on the same path as the path that goes up the mountain, so the path is easy to walk… relatively speaking.  You are also probably very tired after climbing Mt. Fuji.

In the end, you are left at the 5th station, thinking about how to get home, and starving as food at the top costs an arm and a leg.  However, you also feel elated because you accomplished something that few people do, or even think of doing.

So, if you are crazy enough to think of climbing Mt. Fuji, here is what you should bring:

Clothes: Bring some warm clothes, but I didn’t feel cold at all.  Only at the summit.  Other people felt cold and needed a fleece.  Staying overnight will probably require warm clothes, and if it’s cloudy and windy, you’ll need warm clothes too.  We were lucky and it was mostly sunny and not too windy.  Sunglasses would be recommended but not necessary.  They would help a lot on the descent with all the dust you kick up.  A hat is a MUST.  Keeps the sun off your face and prevents a bad sunburn.

Money: Bring as many 100 and 500 yen coins.  Even 1000 yen bills.  Don’t even think they’ll accept 10,000 for a banana.  If you get a walking stick, it costs 200-300 for each stamp, and the stamps themselves will cost around 3400 yen.  That’s on top of the stick.  If you need to use the toilet, they start at 50 yen at the 5th station, and go up to 200 (I think) at the summit. Most are only 100 yen. If you need lunch, you can get hot food for around 1000 yen at the top.  Anything tastes good when you are hungry and tired. 🙂

Shoes: Wearing good hiking shoes is great, but wearing old runners is fine too.  Just make sure they are expendable.  I can’t wear my shoes again.  I wore out the sole of the shoes running down the mountain.  Now I have to find new ones. 🙂  Then again, my shoes were pretty old.  Also, I saw someone walking up the mountain in Crocs, but he wasn’t doing the entire thing.  Just going between stations.

Food: Buy those energy drinks in a bag.  If you are in Japan, you’ll know what I mean. It’s kind of like a jelly.  Bring 2 bottles of water (350mL*2), at least.  Also, pack a lunch if you don’t want to buy one at the top or along the way.

Lastly, check the weather before you go.  As long as it’s sunny, or no chance of rain, you’ll be fine.  The mountain is not humid, and very nice in the summer.


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