Do I get ever get bored these days? YES. Do I ever get frustrated and angry that we haven’t been anywhere off of Kaua’i in nearly 18 months? YES, YES, YES! Do I feel at times like I’m in a rut, doing the same tasks over and over and over with no end in sight? YES! Do I wish that things would happen faster than they are? YES (for some but no for others).
Lately I’ve been thinking about my grandfather, who walked on crutches almost his entire life. He was born in a sod house on the prairie in Nebraska in 1887, the middle of three boys, but moved with his family to California after a bout with polio in 1898 left his legs twisted and useless. Instead of becoming a lifelong invalid and hiding himself away he instead decided to challenge the status quo head-on and live the best life he possibly could. He worked as a teenager at the Green Hotel in Pasadena pulling apart wooden crates that the restaurant produce came in. He saved enough to put himself through USC and earned a degree in 1909, when the disabled were expected to stay at home and not be seen. He bought and taught himself to drive a conventional car, and then drove and camped across the whole country and back before the Roaring 20s arrived, repairing the car himself when needed. He married, created his own successful insurance business which supported his extended family during the Depression, and raised three children and put them through college. Although he couldn’t enlist during the two world wars, he served as his neighborhood’s blackout warden during WWII and fulfilled other necessary tasks as he could. He was an active and respected member of and leader in his church and several civic organizations right up until his death in 1959.
My grandfather didn’t ask for help and he didn’t complain – he just got up every day and did what needed to get done. He died when I was seven years old, and for the longest time I just missed the man who read to me, and gave me 3 Musketeer Bars and Black Jack gum (he loved them). As I grew older and learned more about him, I came to see and appreciate what an accomplishment his whole life had been, and he is now one of my strongest role models. Accept what you are given, do what needs to be done, and face what needs to be faced . . . without complaint.
So, I think I can manage to get through another 16 months of living comfortably in Hawaii without complaining. I’ve decided to make the effort to appreciate everything we have here, and how blessed we have been for being able to live on Kaua’i. I will practice patience as time continues to move on, and I know we will eventually reach our goal. Everything doesn’t need to be sold, the bank accounts don’t need to be full, and reservations don’t need to be made right now. I’m looking forward to the future, but want to go forward feeling more grateful and positive about having the time to get to that goal in the best possible shape. And, I want to appreciate where we are now as well as all that we have, which is everything we need.
A few weeks ago I read a detective story set in contemporary Japan. I was familiar with some the setting, but even when I didn’t know the neighborhood I could picture what was going on: the path alongside a river, the bento shop, the apartments. The story was a good one, and kept me guessing until the end, but by the time I finished the book I would have just about given anything to be in Japan again.
It’s been over a year since we left Japan. The grandkids are growing up so quickly: our granddaughter, who was still pretty much a toddler when we left last year seems to have grown about a foot or more, has ditched the training wheels on her bike, speaks English easily, and judging from the videos sent to us is just about completely fearless these days. Our grandson is taller and more mature as well: he bikes to his school every day, is involved in school clubs and activities, and has also gotten bigger and taller.
I miss living in Japan. I’ve accepted it’s not something we can do permanently, but I loved our long stretches of time there and being able to see our family and helping out, our daily lives there, and getting out and about, where a walk in our neighborhood is an adventure, let alone any trip into greater Tokyo. I want to buy KitKats again. At least once a week I check the rentals on Airbnb to see if I can find something affordable near to where our son’s new house is located (there isn’t much), and dream of the time we can return and stay for a while.
We are planning to return to Japan next year, in the autumn, hopefully for a month’s stay. The Olympics will be over (if they aren’t cancelled again, which is looking likely), and we’ll get to enjoy the beautiful fall weather for a change, along with the leaf changing, momiji 紅葉, which is almost as spectacular in Japan as cherry blossom season, and the wonderful fall dishes and foods that become available during the season. We’ll get to celebrate our son’s and granddaughter’s birthdays with them.
But I wish we could go now. We’ve been away too long.
When we’ve talked with our daughters the past few weeks we’ve mentioned that we’d like them to think about what things of ours they might want, including artwork, antiques, and so forth.
The silence has been deafening.
Finally, a couple of weeks ago, Meiling mentioned that while she likes our things and knows some of them are valuable, they just aren’t her style, and she thought her sisters pretty much felt the same. She said we should sell what we don’t want before we go and put the money toward our travels.
I was honestly a bit surprised by her thoughts at first. We think our stuff is unique, beautiful, high quality, and valuable, and we’ve worked hard to curate it over the years. But after some thought I realized I never wanted any of my parent’s stuff either, nice as some of those things were. I wanted to collect to my own taste and decorate my own way as well.
Walking through an estate sale is up near the top of my list of depressing experiences. After doing a couple of those I decided I would do anything in my power not to have my children ever have to go through that. Going through a house filled with old books, linens, dishes, bric-a-brac, clothing, furniture, out-of-date technology, dirty tools, etc. that no one in the family wanted was very sad for me. According to Forbes magazine, most children don’t want their parent’s treasured possessions these days. And, as we have found out, a parent’s interest in collections does not automatically pass on to their children.
We now intend to sell and donate the things we won’t want, need or plan to use in the future. We’re not going to get rid of everything, but will downsize once again from what we currently own. We’ll hold a yard sale before we leave Hawaii, and put other items on our local Facebook Marketplace to reduce the cost of shipping what we do keep back to the mainland once again.
When we downsized for our move to Kaua’i in 2014, Brett and I came to enjoy the process as we went along, and found that going through our things before we let them go could be fun at times. We read and reminisced about all the letters that Brett and I had sent to each other during his time in the navy and then shredded them (because we would have been mortified if our children had seen many of them). We talked about books we had read and enjoyed before we sold or donated them. We sold or passed on things to people who wanted them. Done in a period of over a year, downsizing was a very positive experience for us. We have missed nothing we got rid of then.
The kids don’t want our stuff, but we hope to make further downsizing a positive experience once again. Because we have so many fewer things now than in the past, letting things go will require a bit more thought than it did before, but I’m pretty sure we will once again end up keeping just the right amount, and we’ll be happy and satisfied with the result.
As I was doing some random searching to earn Swagbucks this past weekend, I came across the listing for our former beach house in San Clemente, California. Apparently the house had been on the market for a while, and the pictures taken then allowed me to get a look at the current interior.
Oh boy, did the memories come flooding back!
My mom’s younger brother, my Uncle William, designed and built the house in 1955. My dad occasionally went on the weekends to help with the construction; I remember going with him once and staying in a little motel with a kitchenette that had a bottle opener attached to the side of one of the cabinets which fascinated me. The house was considered very modern, classic mid-century design at the time. It was well built, and remains stylish to this day. It’s even had a moment of fame, serving as a location in the 1986 Clint Eastwood movie, Heartbreak Ridge, as the house Marsha Mason lived in.
My aunt and uncle started their family (eventually five children) in the house soon after it was finished, but a couple of years later they moved to another location in San Clemente and my grandparents bought the house from them along with the vacant lot next door. The house became a vacation home for extended family, but because we lived nearest to San Clemente our family used the house the most over the years, sometimes moving there for entire summers and hosting neighbors, friends, and relatives from my dad’s side. We grew a large garden in part of the vacant lot for many years, and played croquet on the rest. The beach was a short walk from the house – we’d walk down in the morning, then back up the hill for lunch and a short rest, and repeat for second session in the afternoon. Almost every evening after dinner Mom would drive us back down to beachcomb and see what we could find as we walked from the overpass to the pier and back.
The house largely looks the same inside and out, with even some of the colors the same, and the current valuation of over a million dollars is unsurprising based on housing prices in southern California. My grandmother sold the house in 1971 for $43,000. President Nixon had purchased his “western White House” in San Clemente in 1969 and sent property values in the area soaring, and Grandma felt it was time to sell. The house has been owned for the past 50 years by the same people who bought it from her.
The new owners carpeted the house, but it used to have soft red linoleum floors throughout, all the better for sweeping up the sand we dragged back from the beach every day. The kitchen has been remodeled, and while the space appears to work better the decor is a poor fit (in my opinion) with the the beautiful mid-century design of the house. However, the wicker stools at the kitchen counter look like the same ones that were there when we used the house! In the real estate photos the interior is filled with furniture and other stuff while it was uncluttered and minimally decorated when we used it.
My grandparents were parsimonious to a fault, and as I was going through the photos I laughed as I remembered all the things in the house that had needed repairs but that my grandparents (especially my grandmother) chose to ignore because they didn’t want to spend any more than absolutely necessary on the house. For example, the front door became difficult to lock at one point, but instead of having it fixed we were instead told to leave it alone and just stop using the door. It was the same with the bathroom in the outside cabana bedroom, the central fireplace, a wonky light fixture on a wall, and closet doors that fell off their railings. We just stopped using them.
The most powerful memory I have of the beach house didn’t come until after I closed the link the other day: my grandfather died in that house. My grandparents had wanted to go look at it one day in the summer of 1959, and brought me along with them – I was seven years old, in between first and second grade. Grandma and I knew the whole way down to San Clemente that something was wrong because Grandpa was driving erratically at times and kept complaining about not feeling well. When we finally got to the house (a miracle, in retrospect), he laid down on a bed and said he was going to take a nap, but at some point he got up and went into the bathroom, collapsed, and died there, apparently from heart failure. My grandmother broke down the door and found him. Her first action was to calmly ask me to sit in the corner of the sofa in the living room and stay there until she came back. I was an obedient child and did as I was told, and had absolutely no idea anything was seriously wrong. She moved my grandfather into the front bedroom, laid him on the bed, and shut the door, then came and asked me to remain on the sofa while she went next door for a few minutes (I’m guessing because I would have heard the phone conversation in the living room). Grandma came back shortly and sat with me until my parents arrived a couple of hours later to take me home. I remember how normal my grandmother was the whole time, never acting in any way that scared or worried me, and telling me that Grandpa was resting. All of her efforts went toward making me feel safe and calm in spite of what she had to do and what she must have been feeling. There was a big car outside when I left with my parents, and later in life I figured out it was the hearse that had arrived to pick up my grandfather’s body. It wasn’t until the next morning that I learned my beloved grandfather had died; my dad told me when I woke up.
We continued to use the house until 1971, and other than my grandfather’s death, the beach house holds only good memories for me: happy summers walking to and from the beach each day and early evening beachcombing walks; fires in the living room fireplace every evening to take away the chill coming off the Pacific; looking out from the kitchen sink to Catalina Island in the distance (that view now blocked by the house that was built on the vacant lot); reading Nancy Drew mysteries and doing big jigsaw puzzles checked out from the San Clemente library; fresh vegetables from our garden; listening to Dodger baseball games in the evening on a little transistor radio (there was no TV there); croquet tournaments and all the other games my siblings and I invented to entertain ourselves.
Brett and I celebrated our 42nd anniversary this past Monday. In the past we’ve usually gone out to dinner to celebrate, but this year we ended up doing something different that gave us more for the same amount of spending.
We had originally thought we’d have dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, but we turned out to be nervous about dining in, especially with the return of visitors to the island and cases of the virus already starting to climb again. Also, we knew the restaurant would be expensive, and we just weren’t as keen as we thought on spending so much for one meal.
However, the idea of someone else doing the meal prep and cleanup continued to appeal to us and we came up with the idea of giving ourselves a Day of No Cooking. We wanted to challenge ourselves to keep the cost of a full day of restaurant meals the same or less than what we would have spent for one meal at a fancy restaurant. We knew there were plenty of affordable restaurants offering good food, outdoor dining or socially distanced seating, and enhanced cleaning in our area that could make our plan work.
Here’s how the Day of No Cooking went:
The first stop of the day was for breakfast at the nearby Kalaheo Cafe. They offer both socially-distanced indoor or outdoor dining, and we chose an semi-isolated indoor table by an open window. We each had a cup of coffee, and shared an order of kalua pork Eggs Benedict. I am not sure how anyone finishes a full order of this – one half of it (and no hash browns – Brett got those) and I was stuffed! It was very, very delicious though and a wonderful start to our day. The pastries on offer were very tempting as well but we managed to leave without eating or buying one.
We had planned to head to Hanapepe after breakfast to explore the Habitat for Humanity thrift & rebuilding store as well as drop off some clothes, but we sadly discovered it was closed on Mondays. We don’t need or want anything but have always wanted to check out this big store. Our upstairs neighbor furnished over half of his apartment with some very nice things from this place, and we’ve heard other good things about it from others. We ended up going back home for a while with a decision to visit later this week.
It was pouring rain by the time we started down to Hanapepe Old Town for our lunch at Japanese Grandma’s Cafe. We had heard good things about this restaurant, and had wanted to eat there since before we left the island in 2018. We figured lunch would be less expensive than dinner, and we were not disappointed. I had originally planned to order tenzaru (tempura shrimp and vegetables with cold soba noodles) but the calorie load for that meal is outrageous, so instead ordered hayayako (chilled tofu) and vegetable futamaki (sushi). Brett ordered a tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) bowl topped with a soy-ginger sauce and a nice salad. Even though it was raining it was still warm enough to eat outside (under cover). Our waitress surprised us with a very tasty slice of house made matcha cheesecake to help celebrate our anniversary!
Plans for the day had included a late afternoon walk at Kukuiolono and then picking up takeout for dinner from Paco’s Tacos up at the park clubhouse. A continuing downpour kept us from walking, but we still wanted those tacos! Brett somehow also included beans and rice when he placed the order so he had those as well, and we enjoyed our delicious tacos with some added cilantro, onion, and a few tomatoes and along with a couple of celebratory gin & tonics.
The day was supposed to end with scoops of Lappert’s ice cream, but when it was time for dessert neither of us wanted to go back out in the rain, and we also really didn’t want another dessert. We had eaten enough.
The total cost for our three meals ($88, including tips) was slightly less than we would have spent for dinner and drinks at the restaurant, and our time together was priceless. The total number of dishes that had to be washed in the evening was six: morning coffee cups, glasses for the G&Ts, and the plates for our tacos. We had such a good time that we decided to make a Day of No Cooking our annual anniversary event, no matter where we are in the world at the end of every March!
Our youngest, YaYu, began college two years ago, but at that point we had no nest. We had sold most of our stuff, our car, and when she took off so did we. The label “empty nesters” didn’t seem to fit.
But, once again we have a nest. We have furniture, appliances, linens, and dishes again. We have a car. We have our clothes hanging in closets instead of folded into a suitcase. We’ve been sleeping our own bed since the first of April. The few things we put into storage are back with us. We are happy to be settled again.
When YaYu headed back to college last week, her absence delivered an unexpected jolt along with a deep feeling of emptiness. She had been with us full time since the end of March, and it took us a few days to realize she wasn’t just hanging out back on the deck, or laying on our bed to read. She wasn’t going to help me fix dinner. She and I weren’t going to study Japanese together. Even though we were ready for her departure, it was quite a shock.
Brett and I were full-time parents for 40 years, with only a short six-month break between taking our son to college and Meiling joining our family. There were always kids around doing kid things, needing kid things, from babies through high school. They kept us constantly busy, made messes, argued with us, studied hard, played hard, ate us out of house and home, made us laugh, made us cry, and a couple of times even scared us to death. They always made us proud though. We loved them unconditionally and always felt loved unconditionally in return. Our goal was always to give all our children roots and wings, and prepare them to fly out of the nest on their own to live as good citizens and good people. We feel like we accomplished that goal.
So now it’s just the two of us. We don’t have a new destination or another adventure to fall back on these days and are instead socially distancing ourselves at home most of the time. Brett and I make our own calendar, arrange our own time, eat what we want, fulfill our own needs. It’s wonderful but it’s also a very different experience for us, almost unreal at times. The lack of children in our home has also been a reminder of our own mortality – we knew how old we would be when YaYu left home, and we’re now past those ages.
We are thoroughly enjoying being a couple again, but we also miss our little birds. Other than YaYu coming back at Thanksgiving, we’re not sure how long it will be until we’re able to see our other children again. We have always gathered for the holidays, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen this year. It’s not just because of the pandemic – they have jobs, and adult lives and responsibilities that don’t allow them to easily get back here these days. Life goes on though, and there is video messaging, Zoom, and other ways to stay close and in touch. But the nest is finally empty, for real this time.
My sister sent me the above photo last week. My brother has been transferring my mom’s photos to digital files and sent this one to my sister for some reason.
A little backstory on the photo: I am 14 and in my first year of high school. I am waiting for a boy named Jim to pick me up for the semi-formal Homecoming Coronation Ball, wearing an older woman’s orange cocktail dress that my mother made me buy because she did not want to pay for a semi-formal dress. I hated the orange dress and didn’t want to go to the dance wearing it. I actually ended up getting my wish because Jim never showed up. It hurt at the time, but looking back it was a blessing in disguise. I would have been miserable, and I didn’t like Jim all that much anyway.
The first thing I noticed about the picture though was how small I was, a mere slip of a girl really. I was almost as tall as I am now, but I was so slim. You couldn’t have convinced me of that back then though because I was already convinced I was fat. I was always on a diet because the message I kept getting over and over at home was that I was overweight. It started when I was in middle school, when my older brother came up with a nickname for me, “Super Oink,” to let me know he thought I looked fat. He eventually shortened it to “Super,” but the name still hurt me deeply. My parents laughed every time I brought it up and thought it was funny and told me to “get over it;” my brother was never asked nor told to let it go (my brother still calls me Super today, like it’s some endearing connection, but I refuse now to use or respond to it). The hurt was so deep at the time that I moved over to my grandmother’s home for a few months, walking to school every day and hitching rides with friends for choir practice and church on Sunday (my grandmother didn’t drive). My father got in on the weight shaming as well from time to time. For example, during the summer after my freshman year I practically starved myself and exercised daily to lose weight because I had been selected for the school’s drill team and thought I should be thinner for that. When I went to tell my parents one morning that I had reached my goal weight, my Dad’s only comment was, “Well, your legs still look heavy,” and there was no comment or rebuttal from my mother. I remember feeling crushed. By my junior year I was attending Weight Watchers meetings even though I had trouble convincing them I needed to lose weight.
When I look at that picture of my 14-year-old self now I feel angry, sad, and disappointed, just like that young girl in the picture felt that evening. I was not overweight, even by a little, but I had already been conditioned to think I was, already seeing the “fat girl” every time I looked at my reflection and constantly comparing myself to other girls I thought were thinner. I know now they weren’t.
Why did I think I was overweight? Why was I made to feel so ashamed of how I looked? That’s what makes me angry now, not just for myself but for so many women. Who did/does that serve? What did it/does it matter? What was/is the point? Back then I was a good student, read constantly, had nice friends, and earned my own money babysitting in the neighborhood. I was healthy and active. No one outside of my family seemed to care what my weight was or how I looked, so why did my family keep it up? Because of their judgements and remarks, and also because super-skinny models like Twiggy came to be seen as desirable and attractive at about the same time, I have spent most of my life obsessing about my weight and food, always asking myself if I “look fat” in something, always thinking things would be better if I was “thin,” and constantly following one diet or another and berating myself when my weight creeped up. For what?
That early conditioning has been more potent and ingrained than I ever imagined, and has stayed with me, impossible to get rid of. It has only been in the last two decades that I began to recognize and remember what had been going on and begin to change my attitude and how I see myself. I worked hard to raise my daughters differently so that they exercise and eat well for no other reason than it is healthy. I’m losing weight now for my health as well, so my joints don’t ache. I am no longer obsessed with food and I refuse to buy a scale. I accept that I will never be model thin, but again, so what? Sadly, I still stop at a mirror whenever I pass one and check to see whether I “look fat,” and I still see a fat girl most of the time, not what Brett, my children, or others see. I’m still healing, but I’m not there yet and sometimes wonder if I will ever get there. The scars of the past are deep.
Like it or not, we are now in a time of unknowns and uncertainty.
As the number of cases of COVID-19 continues to climb in the U.S., earlier this week the CDC put out even more stringent recommendations, especially for those over age 60 and/or those with health issues. Don’t travel. Stock up on food and medicine. Prepare yourself to stay in your home for several weeks. The notice was nothing if not sobering even though Brett and I are healthy and have no underlying health issues that would increase our risk of death if we caught the virus. But we’ve chosen a different lifestyle that doesn’t fit so easily into normal parameters and we have to add that into the mix.
We have to travel next month as our 90-day visa for Japan will expire. We will have two long days of travel when we leave here, including an overnight hotel stay, before we reach our next destination. Although long flights are not recommended, we don’t have a choice in the matter – most flights from Japan are long by definition. However, flying is currently one of the lowest-risk means of travel thanks to the efficient air filters in planes, and as long as high-touch surfaces are wiped down and frequent handwashing or sanitizers are practiced (although we still can’t find any hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes here). We have already heard directly from the airline to reassure us about the steps they are taking to make sure the plane will be as clean as possible, and our risk as low as possible. Actually, the highest risk we face will be in airports, and we’ve been reading about steps to take to make ourselves safer as we transit through them. We are finally in possession of some masks and will use those in airports as we travel, and our son and daughter-in-law are in the hunt for hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes for us. We’re very thankful we have no long layovers this time, and we will probably be dealing with fewer fellow travelers than usual. Does all this mean we’re not worried? No, but we are getting ourselves informed and taking every step we can to stay healthy.
We’re all waiting to hear about what’s happening at WenYu’s and YaYu’s colleges. Both of them are on spring break this week or getting ready for their break next week, and both have already had to cancel and change plans. Neither of them knows yet whether their colleges will close or not. YaYu doesn’t know whether her roommate will be able to come back or not – she flew home to Seattle for the break. WenYu canceled a trip to New York to see Meiling – students have been encouraged to stay on campus during the break – and Wellesley looks to be moving to close the campus and dorms in the next few days (nearby MIT and Harvard have already closed). If their schools do close, WenYu has a place to go in Massachusetts, but if Bryn Mawr closes we will have to get YaYu to family in another state until the end of the term. So far there has been no word about whether this year’s graduation ceremony will be happening at Wellesley, but most likely if the school closes it will be canceled. Meiling and her boyfriend have so far not canceled travel plans (Paris) for later this month, but are watching daily and will make a decision in a few days. Both are currently working remotely from home. It’s looking more and more like we will be canceling our May and June travel, and will probably lose a good piece of money as the airline tickets were purchased outside of the current free cancellation window (in my opinion, those are the tickets that should get free cancellation and refund, not the ones that were purchased when the threat of the virus was more imminent). We are waiting to hear whether NYC theaters will be closing or not, but at this point, Brett and I don’t think it’s going to be such a great idea for us to be in a theater with lots of other people, even if it is to see Hamilton. (Update: We woke up to a message from YaYu that Bryn Mawr had gone to remote classes. She can stay in the dorm for now, but we will get her out and to a family member as soon as possible. No word yet from WenYu.)
We are grateful not to have been affected by the stock market crash, at least so far. The majority of our income comes from Brett’s military retirement and our Social Security benefits, but Brett also receives a pension from his former employer that may eventually be affected – time will tell. It’s only a small portion of our total income, but its loss would be felt.
For the time being, we are fine. We are cautious, paying attention, and learning as much as we can about the things that will affect us going forward. We’re certainly not afraid, or even close to panic, but know that the potential for things to get very bad in the U.S. exists and is growing every day. We also recognize that things could go south in our upcoming destination very quickly as well. Only time will tell. Everything is fine for now and will continue to be . . . until it isn’t anymore.
After a very comfortable night’s sleep at the cabin, we woke up Sunday morning to sunshine and the most amazing view of Mt. Fuji imaginable from our living room window. I almost didn’t want to go anywhere just so I could look at it all day, but we were all ready to go by 9:00.
Our first activity of the day was the Mt.Fuji Panoramic Ropeway, which goes up to the top of Mt. Tenjō, across the valley from Mt. Fuji. It took us a couple of tries to find a parking spot somewhat near to the entrance as things had already begun to get crowded at 9:00 a.m., but we eventually found one not too far away. Even in spite of all the people the line for the ropeway wasn’t too long, and we were on our way up the mountain after only a short wait.
The view from the station at the top was spectacular. Besides the breathtaking view of Mt. Fuji, we could also take in all of the city of Kawaguchiko, Lake Kawaguchi, the Fuji-Q Highlands amusement park, and snow-capped mountains off in the distance. We hiked around the top for a while, took lots of pictures, and thought about hiking up to a torii at the top of the next mountain, but when we saw the sign that the hike would take an additional 40 minutes one way we decided not to go.
When we came back down from the mountain we could not believe the length of the line, almost four times if not longer than it was when we had arrived! Before going to our car we first stopped at the Fujiyama Cookie shop, located at the bottom of the hill, and bought ourselves several flavors of their famous cookies which are shaped like Mt. Fuji (Later in the afternoon when we drove back past the cookie shop, the line was out the door and down the street! We were glad we went early.).
From the ropeway we headed to see two of the Fuji Caves, created when hot air was trapped in lava during the Mt. Fuji eruptions. There are two caves, the Ice Cave and the Wind Cave, but the Ice Cave required a descent of 92 steps and 102 steps on the way up. and there was no way that was going to happen with a toddler and my knees. We instead walked to the Wind Cave which took us through a forest straight out of Harry Potter, with a thick tree canopy and amazing tangle of roots as well as small caves, burrows, and natural tunnels. The cave itself was quite cold and had its own wonderful ice formations along with other features. We had to duck down quite a bit to get to the end of the cave, and saw where the cave had been used in the past as natural refrigerated storage for seeds for reforestation and for silkworm cocoons. By keeping the cocoons in the cold hatching was delayed and allowed farmers and merchants to get two extra cycles for silk making.
Our last stop of the day was Iyashi-no-Sato, also known as “the healing village.” Located near Lake Saiko, the village stands on the site of a former fishing and farming village that was destroyed by a typhoon in 1966. The village now holds 20 reconstructed thatched-roof farmhouses in the kabuto-zukkuri (samurai helmet) style and serves as an open-air museum where visitors can experience traditional Japanese arts and crafts and local food specialities. Several of the houses contain shops and workshops, while others hold museums, restaurants and gift shops. Walking through the village is like being transported back in time to the early 20th century. Just outside the village there were once again farmers selling fruits and vegetables, and we finally bought a bag of apples.
Back at the cabin our DIL prepared a wonderful dinner of yakiniku with pork, beef and sausages, noodles, and a variety of vegetables that we grilled at the table and enjoyed with some rice.
We were up early Monday morning as we had to check out of the cabin by 10:00. Once again the sky had clouded over and obscured Mt. Fuji, making us extra grateful for the beautiful day we had on Sunday. After getting the cabin clean and the car loaded we drove to the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park so our grandson and granddaughter could spend some time at Thomas Land (Thomas the Tank Engine). In spite of the crowds and long lines for rides they had a wonderful time. Brett and I, on the other hand, mostly stood around and tried to stay warm (the temperature dropped to where we thought it might snow) while we gawked at the roller coasters in the main park. There were five of them, two with straight vertical drops, one that shot the cars from a catapult into a giant loop, one that sent riders down a giant couple of waterfalls, and the highest coaster I have ever seen, called Fujiyama, King of the Coasters. I love roller coasters but there was absolutely No. Way. I would have gotten on any one of those.
I will never be able to thank our son and DIL enough for including us in the weekend getaway. They spoiled us the entire time and picked up the tab for all admissions and meals. What a great time we had!
Well, we did not go to Hakone-Izu National Park for our getaway as I thought when I heard “Mt. Fuji” and “ropeway.” That, I was informed, would have been madness because of the expected crowds that would be visiting this week. Instead, we headed for the Mt. Fuji Five Lakes district, just outside of the city of Kawaguchiko. Because of traffic issues that were expected on Golden Week’s opening day, we spent Friday night at our son’s home, and were all up at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday and on the road by 4:30, arriving at our first stop, the Oshino Hakkai Springs, shortly before 9:00 a.m.
The Fuji Five Lakes, which wrap around the northern side of Mt. Fuji, were formed following several eruptions of the volcano as were the Oshino Hakkai Springs, which was originally a sixth lake that dried up. The air at the springs was crisp and quite cool when we arrived, but Mt. Fuji was covered in clouds – if you didn’t know better you’d never have known there was a very big volcano sitting just off to the side.
The eight Oshino Hakkai springs are an asset of the Mt. Fuji World Heritage Site, and are lovely, deep pools of extremely clear, pure water. The water said to be the best in Japan, and is revered by locals for its purity – “water of the gods.” When the snow melts on Mt. Fuji it enters the ground and passes through several layers of lava, which is porous. Apparently it takes nearly 80 years for the water to reach the springs which is why they are so clean and pure. The deepest pool, Wakuike, was over 26 feet deep and coins were visible sitting on the bottom (visitors have been asked not to throw coins though as it degrades the water quality). Koi could be seen swimming in layers throughout the pool, and beautiful green water grasses on the bottom waved back and forth. Next to the pool was small waterfall where cold, refreshing water from the spring was available to drink or bottle (we filled a bottle).
Surrounding the springs are farmhouses and farmland, and we visited several of the local vendors who were set up near the springs selling locally produced or grown items, including sweets, pickles and local crafts. We ate some grilled dango (balls of mochi basted with sweet soy sauce), grilled kusa mochi, made with local mugwort and filled with sweet bean paste (my favorite mochi, although I’d never had it grilled before), and hot chestnuts right from the roaster (Brett’s favorite). Several farmers had huge Fuji apples for sale – the samples we tried were very sweet – but we decided to wait until later to purchase those. The Five Lakes area is also known for growing wasabi, and I purchased two bags of wasabi senbei (crackers), and one of my favorite Japanese snacks.
Included in the village is a small museum, Hannoki Bayashi Shiryokan, which allowed us to walk around two more of the springs as well as visit an old, traditional farmhouse and outbuildings. The former farm owners were apparently silk manufacturers – silkworms were grown in the attic area of the farmhouse, and then woven into fabric with finished products made at the home. We were able to climb through the entire house and see how the rooms were set up and where work was done – it was fascinating.
After leaving the springs we headed over to a nearby small freshwater aquarium. Because of the streams coming off of Mt. Fuji and out of the other surrounding mountains, trout are plentiful in the area as are sturgeon. The kids especially enjoyed spending time here, and we came across several more farmers selling vegetables, apples, and eggs at the side of the parking lot – both my DIL and I were very tempted!
Then it was on to a nearby restaurant for lunch where we enjoyed another area specialty: houtou. These are wide, thick udon noodles served in broth. I ordered noodles with pumpkin, Brett had his with pork, and the lunch sets included pink rice (cooked with red beans), pickles, tofu and some other treats. We left with full, happy stomachs.
Rain was coming down as we left the restaurant and Mt. Fuji was still swathed in heavy clouds, so we decided to split up for a while before going to our cabin. Brett and I wanted to visit the Itchiku Kubota Museum just down the road, and our son, DIL and kids needed to do some grocery shopping. The museum was the most beautiful I have ever visited in my life and worthy of a separate post.
Our cabin for the next two days was wonderful. The house slept 10, and had a great room with a large, extremely well-equipped kitchen; a huge, luxurious soaking bath; a tatami room downstairs for two; and two bedrooms upstairs that slept four each. Both Brett and I said we could have happily lived in that house – it was lovely.
After getting unpacked and the food put away, we all took a short nap and awoke a couple of hours later to the magnificent sight of Mt. Fuji coming out of the clouds as the sun set – a beautiful ending to a terrific day, and a promise of a beautiful day to come.