Michi No Eki – Japanese Road Trip

Early morning Koyasan. The air is crisp and cold. -1C. A refreshing shock to the system, we walked down from our guesthouse to Okunoin Cemetery.

The entrance was lined with stone lanterns and towering Japanese Cedars. These cedars, around 1300 of them were massive, towering at around 165 feet and being anywhere between 200 and 600 years old. They reminded me of what the Red Woods in California must look like. There are over 200,000 statues and tombstones of all shapes and sizes. Near the entrance, there was a huge metal rocket ship, a statue of a dog, the kind that look like a mop, and have bangs that cover their eyes if not cut. They even had companies like CCS Coffee, Nissan, and others. I guess in Japan when you join a company it’s like being a part of a family until you die.

Streams cut through the cemetery and we walked over small bridges and gravel paved paths to get to the large temple at the top where monks were holding prayer service.

The place was serene and echoed crow calls that cut through the thin morning air, loud, just like our steps over the rocks and gravel. We entered the temple and, on the ceiling, hung hundreds of lanterns. The stroll through Okunoin was extremely peaceful and Studio Ghibli-esque. Green moss fur covered stones, statues, and trees that gripped and ate rocks over time.

We got back to where we parked our small toaster-box-of-a-car, a black Honda WGN that made it all the way up the cutbacks and sharp curving roads to Koyasan. 

At Tsu Kawage michi no eki now and will be sleeping out in the parking lot tonight.

Tomorrow we will drive 4 hours to Mt. Fuji where we’ll be staying in a hotel that’s got a view of the mountain.

Setting up the car to get ready to sleep has gotten easier. We’ve got a system down. The packing cubes are used as pillows and since we’ve compartmentalized the other suitcase by putting it into the other larger suitcase, we’ve saved a ton of space and now have room to simply recline the front seats, unfold the sleeping bag and lay down, all cozy and ready for bed.

A portable bed on wheels.

“The stroll through Okunoin was extremely peaceful and Studio Ghibli-esque.”

Sitting in Douze Shokudo, a random restaurant we stumbled upon on our way up the coastal road to Mie.

This morning was ominous and the mountain road down to the sea was blanketed in fog. We intended to go to the Onsen but the entire place was damaged from flooding and mudslides, so we nixed our original plan and instead kept on going up the coast. A monkey sat in the road and others scampered alongside. We drove high up next to the gorge and the sun eventually peaked out from behind the mountains warming up the day. It went from freezing to hot real quick. The river below was pristine, and a piercing blue color reflected off the surface. Trees stuck up high and their trunks exposed looked like toothpicks covering the mountainside. Tunnels cut into the mountainside.

Last night we finally arrived at our pit stop. My neck is killing me from constantly peeking around the corner on the windy roads. The drive was intense because sometimes 2 lanes became one and large mirrors on the cutbacks are needed to see if there is any oncoming cars. Some of the guardrails were damaged and that didn’t help employ any faith.

The sun’s about to rise and Bella and I are huddled the car. We took out all of our belongings last night and reorganized everything to fit perfectly in the trunk. The front seats went back perfectly and are flush with the back seats. We used our packing cubes as cushions and pillows and covered the seats with our large 2 person sleeping bag. We also hung up our quick dry towels covering the windows for some privacy.

The rest stop doesn’t open for another couple hours so after sunrise, we’re going to head to Kawayu Onsen and sit in the natural hot springs. Bella mentioned there are warnings for Mamushu or pit vipers so we’re a bit worried. Get bit and spend 10 days in a hospital. Supposedly 2 to 3K people get bitten each year and 10 have died. Doesn’t sound like a good time, so hopefully others will be at the Onsen to spread out the risk!

At Oishi Park checking out the lake and Mt. Fuji off in the distance.

It’s a cloudy day and the peak is covered but the weather is great. Tourists with all sorts of cameras and lenses are taking pics from all angles. There’s a large garden but most of the flowers aren’t in bloom. I took a photo of all the photos of what types of flowers are supposed to be here and at what time during the year they’re supposed to look like. Bella’s looking up restaurants to eat at on TripAdvisor. Our check-in is at 3pm…which I find to be a pain in the ass. In this country check out is at 10am too. So basically 5 hours between check in and check out. Way too long.

Yesterday I proposed to Bella. My best friend, partner in crime, travel companion, and everything else in between. It snowed at the Subaru 5th station at Mt. Fuji so it was all the more romantic. We drove up and along the way the peak could be seen peeking out from the rows of trees lining the road. As we got closer the road made noise and the car started to vibrate. At first I thought something was wrong until the vibrations and noise made a melody. The road was singing! The hills were alive with music, literally!

Laughing as we made our way up, ears popping, air thinning and getting colder.

We made a stop at the 4th station and the gift shop sold expensive ice cream (who eats ice cream when it’s below freezing!?), Mt. Fuji special edition coca cola bottles, and Mt. Fuji air in cans…basically empty cans. We parked and walked to the main area where I got down on a knee, nervous, and asked Bella to be mine. She said yes and it was the happiest I’d been. After 3 years together and all the adventures we had been on this was something special. We walked behind the main area and it began to snow. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen it snow. After getting in the car and warming up, happy, we drove down a bit and got out to hike and take some better pictures where Bella wasn’t crying. We made a snowman.

After winding down the mountain we went to Moose Hills burger to eat. Feeling stuffed we went to Fuji Village to find a parking spot to camp out for the night. There was a huge open field and the mountain could be seen in the background with a huge cloud being sucked around the peak which made it look like an ice cream swirl. I set up the hammock in the park for the first time and told my closest friends that we were engaged. That evening we ate snacks at the place and found a decent spot to park and crash for the night. What an eventful day!

Woke up at 5am. The windows were covered in ice.

Outside were the boxiest of cars and RVs. After turning on the defrosters and heater we got ready, took a bird bath in the public restrooms and hit the road.

Drove up the windy mountain road to Mt. Wakakayu and we’re now sitting in the car in the parking lot. 4 deer are just in front of us laying down in the parking lot. The entire Nara Park has thousands of deer randomly roaming, as if they own the place! We saw deer walking across the street, up to shop entrances, in office parks like they were going to work, laying in the street and getting fed crackers by tourists. The drive up required paying a toll. We hate tolls. Literally, it’s highway robbery! $5 with parking included. We were laughing that they’d probably charge extra for that too. Seems like everything in Japan costs money.I guess that’s the price you pay when you want nice stuff!

The leaves from the trees line the sides of the streets and roads. Foliage of orange, yellow, brown and red colors paving the way and indicating that fall and winter is here. The window is covered with raindrops and it’s drizzling lightly, making the roads slick black and all the more nerve-wracking when cutting back and forth up and down the mountainside. Overall though I think I’ve got the knack for driving on the left side now.

I was wondering if the locals here eat the deer meat. It seems that they’re revered here and since they’re the main tourist attraction I can’t see them doing so. Anyway, I have a hankering for some venison all of a sudden.

Sitting in the back of the plane about to take off to Danang.

We spent the night in the Aeroplaza lounge area. Like Black Friday shoppers, we behaved like animals and rushed to find a cushion bed to claim as our own. In the back corner we found our nook, our prime piece of real estate was right next to a table with all the charging outlets, the restrooms were just around the corner and we got out our sleeping bags and laptops to settle in for the night. Behaving like we owned the place, one of us would stand guard while the other would hit up the Lawson’s outside to load up on beer or to go take a shower next door. I say stand guard lightly, as in Japan everything seems safe and the people are well mannered and extremely polite. You can leave your belongings unguarded and you don’t have to worry about theft. I went back to the 3F to get the rest of our luggage that we had stored earlier in a locker. Walking around the airport I can’t help but find prime locations to set up the hammock, wishful thinking. Tossing and turning, I couldn’t sleep comfortably and ended up waking up at around 5am.

We repacked our luggage and now everything is compartmentalized and organized. I like the feeling of putting together a puzzle and putting in the last piece that fits perfectly. The feeling is similar to finding a cozy comfortable corner to settle into, like packing yourself into a place and fitting in just right. I feel this way about our home, Vietnam.

After we dropped off the portable WiFi two guys approached us just before we were getting on the escalator, they flashed police badges and it felt like a movie.

Were the badges real or a kids toy? They were really polite and held clipboards and asked us questions about how long we had been in Japan and basically what our business was. They apologized multiple times, as most Japanese do and let us go on our way. I suspect they were in training and found the two foreigners that stood out.

Our flight is about 5 hours and even though I didn’t sleep well last night I’m wide awake. Hopefully, the beef Udon noodles will help knock me out in flight. I’m now sprawled out and taking up all the seats. The back of the plane is completely empty and laying down feels great. Outside the window, the sky is fresh blue and as we fly above the clouds the plane’s shadow can be seen. Even further down, large ships carrying containers can be seen cutting through the ocean heading to the port in Osaka. The city lines the coast and the mountain top is exposed. Humans are but ants and buildings all but tiny boxes from up here.

Maybe if I doze off I’ll wake up and be in Danang. A form of time travel that I prefer. Listening to David Bowie’s Space Oddity, lyrics, sitting in my tin can, far above the world, planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.

Joseph Pallante
Joseph Pallante
An avid traveller, Joe enjoys spending time exploring the New Zealand countryside. In his spare time, he travels around in his campervan, writes about nature and how to live a frugal and sustainable lifestyle.

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