It rained on our June wedding day, neither torrentially nor offensively. Just a purring trickle, the kind that drips repetitively, pitter patter pitter patter pitter patter from the orifice of a neglected tap, sufficiently audible to the ears of the undistracted, failing short of a genuine irritant.
It was hardly a Shakespearean tragedy – all seasoned UK dwellers carry brollies year round. I was predictably told that it wouldn’t matter, that the day would be perfect regardless but those well-meaning yet anticipated words did little to appease my pre-wedding angst.
Then, the day came.
It rained – from start to finish in one form or another.
And it was perfect.
The nervous bride back then would hardly have believed that it would eventually become a topic of light humour.
These days, when submerged under grey canopies and droplets on the patio, we rarely whinge; rather we find ourselves laughing wryly about how ”this weather is just like our wedding day,” the pregnant clouds bringing laughter to us in the most unexpected of ways.
Following our big day though, the weather lords showed repentance. We flew to the Maldives in wet season; it rained the entirety of the week before our arrival but we were granted five days of flawless blue skies and shallow lagoons where fish would wade alongside us. We travelled to Borneo in wet season for 10 days. We had one evening of rain only, which started ferociously within minutes of us returning to our lodge after an entire day spent outdoors on a river safari, where we were completely at the mercy of the elements.
A Day Trip to Mount Fuji from Tokyo
One particular day in Japan this April however, it seemed we had played the last of our climate trump cards. After a few days of delightful springtime sunshine in Tokyo, we drew the curtains in our hotel room one morning to find a city bathed in fog. Ironically, it was the one day, above all others, that we were seeking clear skies because we were off to see (or not see) Mount Fuji.
Pumpkin’s disappointed face was apparent. As a closet geography and mountain nerd (a title he vehemently refutes), in the pre-me era, he went off to Nepal alone with just a local walking guide by his side to climb in the Himalayas. He once had to cancel a solo visit to Kilimanjaro at the eleventh hour when life got in the way. There is something about visiting a mountain but not seeing its peak that perturbs his precise and organised nature.
I reminded him there was much else to be excited about. The Fuji Shibazakura Festival, a snoop inside an ice cave, strawberry picking in the Japanese foothills and wine tasting.
This was all part of our one day trip tour from Tokyo to the Fuji Shibazakura Festival in the Minamitsuru Yamanashi region and with or without Mount Fuji, this was one of the parts of our Japan trip I was most eagerly anticipating.
Fortunately, we soon learned that Pumpkin wouldn’t need any consoling when, midway through his sentence, our tour guide paused and hastily urged us to look to one side to see the first glimpse of Fuji. He then arranged an impromptu pit stop at a viewpoint to take some photographs of the mountain views before driving onto the ice cave. He must have been well aware that this brief moment of visibility had a short shelf life and that it would be our only chance to see Mount Fuji that day, as indeed it was.
The Narusawa Ice Caves near Mount Fuji
Having heard from several people that Japan can still be chilly in April, I insisted on packing my bulky, waterproof coat, especially as we had been advised to carry warm attire for the ice caves. You can imagine how annoyed I was with myself when I realised I had left it behind at the hotel.
Suffice to say that delving into an ice cave is absolutely freezing – literally not metaphorically. The Narusawa ice cave is a relatively small one and we had the option to borrow helmets and ice boots. Use the helmet folks – there are more enjoyable ways to spend a holiday than nursing a head injury. As for the boots, our guide advised us that trainers with good grip are usually fine for walking inside but don’t push your luck with flip flops or sandals.
With a combination of natural ice formations and manmade sculptures, the walk inside the cave isn’t arduous by any means but will be no fun for anyone claustrophobic or with sore joints. I’m a wee lass in height so the most I had to do was stoop low now and then but Pumpkin’s near 6 foot stature had him crawling on his hands and knees at one moment, albeit transiently.
The Fuji Shibazakura Festival
By the time we arrived at the festival, we questioned whether that morning’s view of Mount Fiji had merely been a figment of our imagination, such was the resurgence of hazy mist enveloping us. The Shibazakura are vivacious pink, white and purple blossoms that tend to bloom in April and May in Japan, otherwise known as pink moss.
The Fuji Shibazakura Festival allows visitors a chance to see carpets of pink moss juxtaposed against the more subtle tones of a pristine lake and a Mount Fuji backdrop (when the skies are clear enough!)
We had been warned that because we were there during the earliest part of the season, the pink moss was not yet in full bloom so the coverage of blossom was patchy rather than uniform throughout the fields.
Even without full bloom though, it was breathtaking to see the elongated and stratified layers of floral tapestry surrounding us, somewhat reminiscent of the lavender fields in Surrey that I had visited a couple of summers ago.
The incessant drizzle furred up my straggly and already unruly hair and the wind exploited the vulnerable fold in my umbrella.
Dressed in two flimsy layers that were never built for mountainous terrain, the goosebumps soon made themselves known to me but instead of racing for cover, as I typically would, I found myself unable to hurry, unable to peel myself away from the moment and eager to throw aside my brolly to embrace the Shibazakura wholeheartedly.
Another lovely touch at the festival is the endearingly and aptly titled Mount Fuji Delicious Foods Festival, a series of food vendors nestling under marquees with adjacent seating areas. Don’t be fooled by the casual appearances – as is so often the case in Japan, sometimes the tastiest local foods are found lurking behind the most unassuming exteriors and this is a perfect example.
We were told that some of the food suppliers trading at the festival have actually competed locally to showcase the best provincial specialties and it was harder than I imagined choosing what to opt for. In the frosty weather, a plate of hot, flavoursome carbohydrates called out and I ultimately selected the Fujinomiya Yakisoba noodles, which were simple, un-fussy and yet bursting to the seams with flavour.
I may not have expected the on-site patisserie to be anything special (after all, how fanciful can a dessert be when it’s found in a field in mountain highlands?!) But then I tried the cherry blossom and strawberry éclair and that soon laid any doubts to rest!
There is a small souvenir shop on-site and anyone with a penchant for traditional Japanese sweets (wagashi) will have a hard time choosing between the many elegantly packaged boxes on offer but go for something seasonal such as strawberry, cherry blossom or peach and you can’t go too wrong.
The Japanese are skilled at incorporating seasonal local fruits and flowers into not only their food but also their drinks.
Later that day, we were taken to the Katsunuma winery and given an insight into the Japanese wine production process before being offered samples of locally made Japanese wines including the unusual peach wine and matcha wine flavours that I had neither seen nor heard of before. (If you’re a London based matcha addict, don’t miss this matcha tour!)
Strawberry Picking near Mount Fuji
On this memorable day trip to Mount Fuji, I found myself strawberry picking for the first time in 25 years!! Yes, a quarter of a century has passed since I last picked strawberries, which is unfathomable given that strawberries are such a quintessential part of a glorious British summer.
I made up for lost time here at this indoor strawberry growing farm and unlike many places at home, we were informed that we could eat as much as we wanted whilst there but were not allowed to smuggle out a secret stash for take-out purposes.
As an added treat, a chocolate fountain and bowl of marshmallows were provided, which was a decadent way to jazz up the ordinary strawberry picking experience and or for those wishing to be more conservative with their condiments, there was the option to dip your strawberries in condensed milk rather than chocolate. It was a first for me but surprisingly I much preferred it to the more familiar classic pairing of strawberries and cream.
We soon reclaimed our missing appetites, which had escaped from us after a heavy lunch and the experience brought back fond memories of gleeful picking strawberries as a child.
From the blankets of blossom that framed the pavements at the Shibazakura Festival, the still tranquil ambience of the Fuji Five Lakes region and the rosy strawberries that our fingers plucked with zeal, this April day in the highlands of Japan proved to be one of the most idyllic of our entire trip. And to have seen Mount Fuji, despite the weather’s best attempts to engulf it, was the icing on the cake.
- Remember this is a seasonal experience so if this is something you want to see whilst in Japan, aim to plan your trip in the April/May period but remember there are no guarantees on the extent of the bloom
- Various tour companies arrange trips to the Fuji Five Lakes region and the Fuji Shibazakura Festival. We arranged our day trip with Japanican, which included all costs and entry fees for the day with the exception of lunch, which guests choose and pay for independenetly at the Delicious Foods Festival
- Wear layers and sensible walking shoes and bring warm clothing for the ice cave visit.
Have you ever had a rainy day of bliss?