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Be Here Asia

Postcards from the Road — 022 — June 2019
Hello, my dear friends,

I just flew back to Japan from Taiwan and from the plane, I saw the tip of Mt Fuji, piercing through the clouds. It felt so auspicious, and even though I’ve lived here for years, the magic and awe it inspires every time I see it are the same. For that reason, I 100% understand why visitors would want to incorporate a visit or a view of the sacred mountain into their itinerary.

This month our postcard is from Kawaguchiko, one of the five lakes at the base of Mt Fuji, about 2.5 hours by train from Tokyo. This is one of the options that visitors who are coming outside of the July and August climbing season— or uninterested in climbing—could come to for a beautiful view of the mountain. 

This was actually my second trip to Kawaguchiko, on the first visit, I wasn’t wowed, and didn't see any reason to go there versus say, Hakone—which also offers views of Mount Fuji. 

After my second trip, I feel completely different. Kawaguchiko is an absolutely magical area and I see where I went wrong on my first trip—not venturing further away from the shore of the lake to the natural beauty only a short drive away. 

For this visit, I teamed up with local guide and actor extraordinaire, Chris Battin of Hidden Japan. Chris picked us at the station in his van and whisked us off to a lake-side coffee shop run out of the back of a van, where we could catch up and chart our course for the day. He even brought a selection of sturdy hiking boots, so we could change out of our trainers and into something more supportive for our day of walking. The hiking boots were very helpful because we were on rather rugged trails and they added traction. So thoughtful of Chris to bring them.

With Chris, you may have a plan, and you may be on a schedule, but it never feels that way. It feels more natural, like water flowing downstream, working from one destination to the next, with plenty of room to breathe and take in the beauty of each stop.

It was also with Chris that I had my first experience of forest bathing, also known as Shinrin-yoku -- which is a movement of mindfully walking in the woods that originated in Japan in the 1980s and is gaining popularity around the world.

It’s not that I haven’t gone hiking before, but I hadn’t applied the principles of leaving technology behind (cameras, phones), and more actively trying to engage the senses—sight, smell, touch, sound. Science now tells us that the reason we feel so good after spending time with trees is because we are inhaling a chemical expelled from the plants called phytoncides, and those chemicals help to reduce our stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline) and increases the activity of our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). It’s fun when science backs up something that we’ve already intuitively known to be true.

Our forest bath took place in Aokigahara, a forest of trees growing on top of the lava that came from Mt Fuji when it erupted in the 864 AD. The topsoil is only a few centimeters thick, so the roots of the trees and plants spread out all over the forest floor, adding even more to the feeling that you are standing on a wave, frozen in place.
Beyond forest bathing, we hiked down into a cave deep in the earth, stood under a rushing waterfall and ate steaming bowls of noodles with the local grandmas at the road-side stand. For our whole day together, Mt Fuji had been covered in clouds, it was a rainy and cold day, but luckily, right before we parted we were able to see Mount Fuji! It was a magical way to round out the day.
After basking in our view of Fuji, Chris dropped us off at our accommodation, the Hoshinoya Fuji, known as a glamping resort. If you are looking for a room with a view, this hotel has it for you (albeit at a high price tag). Probably safest to stay in Winter and early Spring, when the air is drier and the chances that clouds won’t be obstructing Fuji are higher. I had friends stay in April and this was the view from their room!
View from room in April. 
Our view mid-May was serene, but mountain free: 
If you are looking for something more traditional, but with a view, you can always stay at Wakakusa no Yado Maruei or even one of the campgrounds, like PICA, on Saiko Lake just next to Kawaguchiko.

It was a wonderful trip and I have a much better understanding of when and why to go. I'm excited to refer more visitors here and go back myself when the weather is warmer, so I can do more hiking and a bit of swimming! 

Happy travels to all!
All my best,

Elizabeth Mueller
Be Here Asia

P.S. Hoping your Olympic ticket submissions were more successful than mine, I ended up not getting any—but that's okay, I'll just plan to queue up on July 9th and try to order more at that time.
Email sent lovingly from Tokyo, Japan.

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