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January 6th 2014
Published: January 8th 2014
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Hi everyone

The last couple of days around Gotemba have been amazing. I'll just talk about a few highlights. On Saturday we took the Hakane ropeway (cable car across the mountains). We had some spectacular views of the geothermal activity on the mountain. Lovely smell of rotten egg gas!

The ropeway was absolutely packed because it was still Japanese new year. It's hard to describe the density of the crowd. We were packed in like sardines but people were quite calm and happy. This was quite unlike the crowds in the Kyoto food centre where it really as every person for themselves. Our reward for the long and crowded journey was to eat at a dumpling restaurant at Goyan. One particularly tasty and fattening dish was chicken wings. Ah, but these are no ordinary chicken wings! Basically the bones and meat are removed from the wing and the meat is then stuffed back inside the chicken skin and fried. Irresistible!<br style="color:� font-family: UICTFontTextStyleBody; font-size: 17px; line-height: normal; -webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;" />After lunch we went to the Little Prince Museum which is based on a 1940's French story about a boy from a small planet who after meeting six people on other planets, came to earth where he met a snake, a fox and an aviator. The story is full of homilies for living a good life. Not sure why the Japanese love it so much.The museum was also dedicated to the author. The museum had acquired many artifacts of his life, including his passport and flight log. He based the story on people he met during his lifetime. He was celebrated as an author and aviator, but his flying record was so bad that we would never go up in a plane with him at the controls! An interesting part of the visit to the museum was when the elevator close door button was inadvertently pushed before Peter was inside. Instead of bouncing open, the doors continued to press together and squash him. Basically peter was trapped between the lift doors and his shoulders were bruised. The moral of the story is to beware of feral man eating lifts in japan The next day we took the scenic toll road into the mountains where we experienced snow and spectacular views of Fuji-San and the lake. That night we went to the the illuminations which were very spectacular. Imagine the Blackpool illuminations confined within a large park. The Japanese elements were amazing. Overhead were a flock of wooden birds that seemed to be flying. Up and down the avenues there were masses of small white painted tree branches interspersed with twinkling fairy lights. It was very crowded with a well behaved crowd of people of all ages.We were lucky enough to get into the German beer hall for dinner. It was a carnivores delight. Maureen had a set of ribs of Fred Flintstone proportions. No problem though her Barney and Betty dining companions helped with the devouring. Peter found a wheat beer from a microbrewery that was supreme! It was gently snowing as we left the restaurant. It was so pretty. Yesterday was a day of most amazing experiences. Maureen's Japanese teacher Yuko invited us to her home to participate in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. It was exquisitely done and I hope we didn't disgrace ourselves too much. She wore the most beautiful Kimono. There are quite a few steps in the ceremony and it's important to drink out of the correct side of the bowl. The house was exquisite and so Japanese. We were very privileged to have that experience. Later in the day we went to the extensive Fuji information Centre which was very informative. Peter has fallen in love with the mountain which greeted us every morning and night while we were around Gotemba and was even in front of us at the ryokan when we awoke. We have each taken over 50 photographs of this beautiful landmark. Peter's day was made with a visit to the Kirin whiskey distillery. I'll let Peter tell you about the technical stuff. The distillery is 40 years old and we could have bought a 40 year old bottle for ten thousand dollars! Instead he bought an 18 year old for substantially less. The guide was a delightful Japanese lass. In terms of providing facilities for non drinkers, it beat the Scottish distilleries by a mile. There was a very big cafe where the tasting occurred and there were alternative drinks for non whisky drinkers. Very civilized. After a quick visit to a couple of mind boggling Japanese supermarkets, we headed off Namazu To stay at a traditional Japanese ryokan. We had a suite which had four rooms. The bedroom was as big as our lounge room and the six mat tatami dining room next door was about 2/3 that size. Although we hadn't minded staying in the small rooms we've had, it was luxurious to spread out.We had a traditional and very high end meal for dinner. Unfortunately we didn't really know what to do with some of the food. We really wished we had an English menu but we ploughed on irregardless. The first of seven courses was Sushumi, slices of five types of raw fish with a wonderful sauce. I'm not normally keen on raw fish but these fish were superb. The next challenge was to figure out what to do with a fondue pot of milk and some chopped vegetables and meat. We had had Shaba shabu before, but never with milk. Through the wonderful medium of pantomime, we learned that the meat and veges were supposed to be cooked in the milk. The cooked food was quite pleasant. We took a few photos for you to see what we had. After dinner we visited the bathhouse. This time there were both inside and outside baths. After gradually cooking myself in the inside pool, I braved the cold and went to the outside one. Luckily for me it was hot! It was weird to soak your body in hot water and have your head in the freezing cold air. When I dashed back inside I had the whole pool to myself. It was truly magical. Peter was next door at the men's equivalent. There was even a sauna but that seemed a little pedestrian after the baths.Next morning after breakfast we walked down to the bay (Sea of japan) and climbed the very steep Tsunami sea wall down to the black sand beach like the beaches in Bali. What a way to end a trip to japan. Unbelievable!<br style="color: #000000; font-family: UICTFontTextStyleBody; font-size: 17px; line-height: normal; -webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;" />We are now travelling at 200kph on a Shinkansen heading for Osaka to fly home. I am having a wine and peter a whisky. Very civilized way to travel. I am really hoping there is WiFi at Kansai airport. I've gone without for more than a day and I am getting twitchy.

love Sandy and pj xx

Additional photos below
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Tea cermony with YukoTea cermony with Yuko
Tea cermony with Yuko

This was a magical experience

8th January 2014

What a great trip. I might get Bronnie there yet. The school I worked at in Geelong was owned by a man from Gotemba and that was the name of one of the houses. We had a Gotemba teacher (Shigeo) stay with us when he accompanied a student group to Australia in 2006. See, I can spin out a story too. Loved all your blogs.
9th January 2014

Hi Stuart It's a wonderful place and there is so much to see and do. Amazing Gotemba connection. It's a small place by Japanese standards but the closeness to Fuji is quite something. love Sandy Yes, we both have the family story telling genes

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