Tokyo (Japan), 20.09.2013
After a day by foot through imperial Kyoto, the next morning I picked up a rental car at the station. And here I a hefty surprise waited for me: two days of car rental costed over 48.000 yen, or 480USD! 30.000 yen were only for dropping off the car in another city. I thought about the news of Japanese tourists being ruthlessly ripped off in my hometown Rome I had read in the paper some years ago. This felt like payback time, although there were several such moments in my time in Japan.
This country is just so expensive, every move I made sucked cash out of my pocket. And as if this wasn’t enough, the lady at the rental station handed me plenty of papers informing me of all kinds of penalties for all kinds of infractions. I was completely terrorised as I sat down in the car. Not only was it extremely complicated to drive in Japan due to the overkill of signs and instructions. I also felt I wasn’t behaving properly most of the time, and any smallest infraction would cost tons of cash again.
The first stop of the day was at Tenryu-ji temple and the Arashiyama bamboo grove. The temple itself was a rather small site, with a garden behind the main building of great beauty, order and attention to detail. Behind the garden, up the hill, the path led through a bamboo forest with thick, high trees. Back in the car, I drove eastwards out of town. I got lost and somehow ended up on a very narrow, one lane road through an amazing forest along a chocolate brown river. Back on my planned route, I stopped at the Kinkaku-ji temple. The site was quite packed with bus loads full of school children and tourists. Still, the golden temple was a beautiful sight, even more so from across the pond that reflected the building in its green water.
It was late already, and the plan was to drive up through the Japanese Alps, where I had read about several interesting villages I wanted to see. The navigation system kept talking to me in Japanese while I struggled to find my way through the countryside roads. In the dense traffic, average speed dropped to 20-30 km/h and I got lost several times trying to find a motorway. At lunch I stopped at a roadside steakhouse, the first restaurant I found in an hour of searching. The Dixieland music they played drove me mad while I tried to find an alternative plan for the afternoon, reading in the LP guide while eating. I called several hotels in a town much closer to where I was, but the first one was full, the second one hang up since they didn’t speak English and the third one didn’t pick up the phone. Back on the road, I finally made it onto the motorway shortly afterwards, but ended up on the wrong one. So I took another smaller road to get to the right motorway. Hours later I reached it, but the lane in my direction was closed. It was 17:00, I had an hour left of daylight, and it became clear I wouldn’t reach the mountains anytime soon. I kept driving, but the countryside roads were completely jammed, since the entire traffic from the motorway reversed on them. In the dark I stopped at a roadside restaurant, where three people that spoke no English drew directions to a hotel on a piece of paper for me. I followed their map, but didn’t find the hotel, when suddenly a huge roadside motel appeared. The room was microscopic, the bathroom a plastic box of 2x1m and just 2m high, but I was safe for the night! They even had an open restaurant. I had driven mere 166 km in 12h on the road, what a nightmare day. If traffic would continue at this pace I would go nowhere the next day and not make it back to Tokyo where I had to drop off the car the next night.
Early in the morning I hit the road again, and luckily I found the motorway entrance right away. I drove towards Tokyo and made good progress in the morning. The more km I got behind me the more I relaxed after the previous day’s shock. Driving on Japanese motorways in the rental car was boring. The countryside was nothing special, the car wouldn’t drive faster then 120 km/h, and even if it would have the traffic didn’t allow for more. I thought about all the crazy countries I had crossed in the Evoque and had to smile, looking at the orderly, civilised behaviour on the roads here. Then at about noon, suddenly Mount Fuji appeared set a distance. It was the one site I hoped to see on this trip from Kyoto to Tokyo, and shortly afterwards I left the highway to drive around it. The weather was great and no clouds hindered the views on Fuji-San as I kept admiring it while I drove on. At lunch I stopped at a restaurant I had read about in the LP guide, the Sanrokuen in Kawaguchi. In here, every party sat around a fireplace, hot coal got served and then came a plate with fish and meat delicacies to barbecue myself, slowly, by myself. The food was great, and a cold beer was the right treat after a hot morning on the road. While eating I studied the layout and decoration of this rustic, half open air place that felt very inviting from the moment I had stepped.
After lunch, I drove to Motosu lake, where a great view of Fuji-San was waiting. Unfortunately the water was moved and the mountain didn’t reflect in the water, but it was a great sight. From there I took the road north to the motorway that led me to Tokyo. I thought I had all the time I needed, but traffic slowed down the closer I got to the city. In the end I barely made it to pick up some laundry I had left to wash, check in at the hotel and drop off the car at Tokyo station after driving through every single road around the eastern side of it to search for the car rental place. Back in Tokyo, the city lights got all my attention, and the streets were full of people on this Friday night in Ginza. It was a different city then the one I had left some days ago.