September 11-12, 2011
河口湖, Kawaguchi-ko, literally translates to “‘river mouth’ lake”, one of the eponymous bodies of water in the Five Lakes District. Arriving at the lake was fuzzy in my memory: I promptly fell asleep as Tatsuya-san pulled out of the parking lot on Fuji-san and drove down the mountain slopes. My glycogen window and I had passed one another like hikers on a dark trail after we’d gotten off the trail. I was beginning to bonk; staying awake was a huge challenge after being awake for upwards of 30 hours, hiking hundreds of vertical meters for six of those hours, and catnapping in the freezing cold for perhaps 20 minutes. We picked up Maro-san and some other labmates at the local train station; for all I know a Totoro could have joined us in the van and I would have slept through all of it.
We arrived at the most adorable set of vacation cottages and homes on the shores of Lake Kawaguchi, or Kawaguchiko, and all I wanted to do was pass out and sleep for an eternity. Yet, neither sleep nor food were in the near future. We were covered in grime and sweat from hours of climbing Fuji-san; the only logical Japanese thing to do was to head to the local onsen, or hot springs. I sank into the outdoor tub set in stone with a stunning view of Fuji-san over the trees, feet less sore. My legs felt fine. When I’d dried off and tried every hand cream sample in the women’s side of the onsen, I returned to the tatami mat room to find the rest of the boys. “Did you see Fuji-san from your side of the onsen?” “You had view of Fuji-san?! We had no view!”
The weather at Kawaguchiko was perfect. Like Tochigi-ken, the weather was relatively dry; none of the oppressive heat and humidity inherent to Tokyo was present in this mountain prefecture. I would have been happy to remain there for eons.
We returned to the cottages after the onsen and began preparing the evening’s meal. I wandered down to the lakefront in the twilight.
The almost-full moon rose to the east, illuminating the lake.
Swan-shaped boats came in to roost for the evening.
The sign for our cottages (コテージ, koteeji) hovered over a guardrail, a bed of cosmos, and a stand of cherry trees, partially blocking the moon. I have no idea what the kanji mean while put together, but it’s something about either doors or number of houses + swamp + “center” (戸沢センター). Any ideas?
Back on the front porch of our cottage, the lab group was hard at work getting the evening’s barbecue ready: chicken, beef, vegetables, rice, noodles, and drinks.
I meandered back down to the lake to see the snake of lights ascending Fuji-san from the stations etched into its flanks. Cosmos, boats, and lights from the town across the lake bordered the frame. In an alternative universe, Swallows and Amazons would be camping out on the islands, plotting to climb the mountain, and engaging in piracy on the high seas of this inland lake.
Maro-san had just finished regaling the group with a recent victory from a research trip. (Guess which pictured members of the lab group lack working copies of the aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 gene?)
It was a grand going-away party. Two guys known never to smile were happy as hikers who’d conquered the tallest mountain in Japan.
And of course we brought a rice maker.
The next morning dawned bright. Fuji-san was still there, its lower slopes surprisingly verdant below the barren summit.
I couldn’t stand just looking at the lake any more. I changed into a swimsuit and dove in, relishing my first opportunity to really swim freely in Japan. Intermediate swimming classes at MIT paid off; I swam for about 30 minutes in the clear warm water out along a row of buoys and back to shore, where I darted back into the cottage and changed.
“Was it cold?” queried the boss as I dried off my hair.
“寒くなかった。絶好調です。” “It was not cold. It was in perfect form, going swimmingly.” I replied. (See, I can make bad puns in Japanese!)
We paused long enough to take a few photos before loading into cars and going sightseeing (観光). I truly miss this crowd of jokesters, motorcycle riders, and engineers.
Fuji-san, as it has for tens of thousands of years, remained, now with a few more clouds.
The cosmos grew brilliantly on the shore.
More photos here.
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