Feeling a bit au fait with the subway system now. It's just as loud and busy as London, but it's quite possibly the easiest system to navigate, and an entirely full platform in rush hour is still silent. I think I've figured out the silence rule on trains- it's because every fucker is fast asleep, how on earth does everyone cat-nap so well? Obviously I looked into it, and it's a known phenomena over here, the sway of the carriage, white noise and feeling safe due to a culture of neighbourly consideration, can't imagine having any belongings left if I had a nap on a train back home!
She's either still asleep, or has listened to me about the no talking, finally. Sitting opposite to me on a busy commuter train, knowing we're here for 30 mins and I can still see the odd glimpse of her insanely neon shorts. It remains an alien concept but I actually really like it, I may ask her to adopt it back home. The silence that is, I've got no say in the abominations she wears. There's no brash conversations loudly echoing down the carriage about the next door neighbour running off with the postman leaving her kids to starve, no ridiculous displays of, well, anything.
Personally, I find it calming, and it doesn't make me feel like I need to explode with everything as much as I thought it would, how bizarre that ordinarily I find myself batting the status quo both internally and externally (often subconsciously), yet here I am a country with myriad cultural and etiquette rules to observe, and I like it. Maybe I could live here. It's not like I've properly unpacked or finished decorating the bathroom yet, so we're talking minimal upheaval. Maybe I could become the token fat gaijin in a maid cafe?
We're on the subway to Shinjuku, the busiest station in the world, in rush hour. No giant sardine train experiences though, maybe the real rush starts later, it's busy sure but not to the extent that I'm acquainted with folks in the way only can when smashed up against their delicates.
Had a bit of time spare, so decided to go and ask for the station stamp, that's another thing that covid has fucked up- half of them aren't doing it, Shinjuku included. I thought that yesterday's tiny station was because of its miniscule setup (just the two platforms), but it would appear that maybe it's a people-touching-it thing too.
Getting a seat on the next hour long leg of the journey to Mt Takao together has made for a slightly less grumpy Small, and I've found a vending machine selling hot black coffee for the equivalent of 59p, winner. Even managed a sneaky slightly-less-illegal pork cutlet and cabbage sandwich (sounds gross, tastes delicious), snaffling it next to the vending machines.
We arrive after 90 minutes of journeying and head to figure out where the fuck this mountain is. The tour company said that I could either get a cable car halfway up or to the top, and back, which I like the sound of as my strained achilles is demonstrable right now. Sneaky prawns, it in fact only climbs a third of the way, a 20-30 minute walk to the Temple from there and then again to the summit of Mount Takao. I'm looking around me and there's a handful of the usual hiking superstars, but many of them are extremely elderly/slow/using walking sticks to get around, so I'm reassured and we hop on the cable car.
Small could not understand the gradient of the seat on entering, the steep incline at 31° making for entertaining angles until we hit the big climb. I'm touching knees with a gentleman in rather an un-Japanese way, until it levels out. I've slurped my morning coffee jelly though so I'm armed with apologies and ready to take on the world.
Small getting a fortune gachapon hand delivered by a performing mountain monkey rolling it down a track thriugh a teeny tiny Torii gate had her in stitches. The laughter is music to my ears and somewhat lessened my pending angst at the oncoming marathon. The little old dears still hobbling along the relatively flat path make me wonder, where the fuck is this temple and summit?
It's like we're having a leisurely stroll in the woods, passing the 450 year old octopus cedar tree 'Tagosuki' with ease, topping up our supply of togorashi spices from a hillside store and then - BAM....
The steps, ascending to the gods (quite literally) appeared out of nowhere, after what felt like what I now confirmed had been an upward slant going off the damp upper lip. The guide leaflet notes a place of the 108 steps, so surely that's going to be it right? Wrong. Whilst beautiful, that was just the beginning.
The vast stone steps are beautiful, cold, and were I not on religious ground whilst hauling myself up them, I'd call them cruel. I'm the only fat one but not the only one popping a lung up, though I'm getting a little annoyed at how easy it appears for the very old ladies whizzing past me. But then I realise where I am, what I'm here to do and that I should stop whinging like a little bitch and get on with it.
The view are vast, soaked in whilst eating what appeared to be chicken balls on sticks, but turned out to be baked bread balls coated in sticky soy sauce, absoluty delicious and unlike anything I've ever eaten.
We cleanse our minds as much as you can do with a proper dab on, weak knees, and sweaty child, and head through the Negai Kanau Waku Kuguri wish ring and the Yakuoin Yukiji temple. The entrance to this temple is my favourite yet with all the bright colours, I'm fully wowed and it takes what little breath I have left away.
We get our goshuin stamp and carry on. The steps and climb is a bit brutal now, and its not just me being fat and lazy either as theres a notable decline in pace from nearly everyone on the next step. But my god is it worth it. The view, a panoramic scene of mountains all around us, Mount Fuji in the distance, is just magnificent.
After a look around all the tourist bits, and deciding that as we've managed to do all this before lunchtime we head back down the hill to find some food and stop near the chair lift gate for some traditional soba noodle dishes. Small managed to throw her miso soup everywhere and instantly went to clean it up, Japan has fixed my child, I'm in raptures!
The chair lift is an experience and a half, and vertigo kicks in amidst Small's laughs of glee looking down, the bump of the rails bringing her all the joy whilst I'm praying to all the gods at all of them temples that I don't just jiggle off and roll down like the fat ginger tourist that I am all the 300+ metres down the hill.
All things said, she's not been too much of a bastard today and in reward I decide to surprise her with a visit to the Pokemon Centre in Ikebukuro, partly in thanks for her sleeping most of the hour and a half journey back. I have no idea why she's so knackered, I'm the one that has had 3hrs sleep, but I'll let it slide.
Ikebukuro is stunning, in the way that only a Japanese town with its glittering lights and shining billboards can be. Sunshine City, the department centre that we've headed to, is a kawaii nirvana and shes truly in her element.
We get all the treats then head to a cat cafe, which unfortunately don't allow children under 13 but we're recommended another one that does, on the other side of Ikebukuro but unfortunately closes to new entries in 17 minutes. I run like it's last orders at the Chinese buffet and theres no shits given for the sweat running down my face blurring the glitzy streets and slightly misaligned google maps instruction. We make it at the time they're closing, however with my terrible Japanese and the help of google translate they allow us in.
Now we all know cats own humans, and these furry bastards couldn't give two shits about being played with, but she's blissfully unaware to this fact and gets stuck in. Theres a Maine Coon that looks like it wants to eat her, yet still she tries to pet it, so away I sup my free coffee until closing time. Shes so grateful, shes been missing the cats at home and this was just what she needed. A cheeky stop at the Animate character store and after being told that all the shows she likes are so old in Japan that we've no chance of getting any merch from them, we head home to open the days gachapon haul instead.
Its been a busy one, and we're both truly shattered, but as our holiday is drawing to a close, she has nothing but gratitude for every single thing we've managed today.
Tomorrow is our last full day, theres one Asahi left in the fridge, and after having a semi-conscious sit in the gigantic bath tub its 2am and time to sleep.
Last day tomorrow, I'm so tired that I'm not planning a thing, not setting an alarm and I pass out.