THURSDAY brought grey skies and freezing temperatures to Tokyo. It was Little Boy's turn to enjoy himself in Thomasland after the past two days of temple and garden hopping. He was quiet throughout the early bus trip to Hakone, by the slopes of Mt. Fuji, where Fuji-Q Highland Park was located.
ON THE WAY there we passed through industrial towns and valleys surrounded by pine-covered mountains. Although the trees were in a dull shade of brownish grey, one can imagine how verdant the countryside really is in the spring and summer. It seems that illegal logging is rare in these parts.
AS SOON AS we were finished admiring the many hills and grassy fields surrounding us we suddenly caught sight of that oft-depicted mountain with its perfect, gentle slopes capped by white- MT. FUJI. We were more in awe this time compared to that short sighting from the bullet train because the mountain (or should I say volcano, because it is, technically, that) was right in front of us, looming vast and large, its presence commanding.
UPON alighting from the bus we proceeded to cross the highway through an overpass, mistakenly thinking Thomasland was on the other side of the road. We realized too late that we were on the right side the entire time, but it was a lucky mistake since we were able to take pictures from the top of the overpass, where Mt. Fuji could be seen in all its glory behind us, the view unimpeded by trees and structures.
WE BOUGHT entrance tickets to FUJI-Q, instead of the more popular day pass which would have allowed us to ride everything on offer (including 4 kinds of roller coasters, a longish rolller-coaster ride clocking in at 3 minutes, a bicycle ride for the lazybones and scaredycats on wires high above the ground, a huge, horrific haunted house) because we needed to catch the bus to Gotemba after lunch, so all we had time for was Little boy's wonderland.
MANY locals, Pinoys in Japan and forums on the web cautioned us that Thomasland was a very tiny part of Fuji-Q and not really worth going to unless your kid is obsessed with the series, which Little boy was. We walked through the amusement part with low expectations but were plesantly surprised.
A BRICK archway with the words THOMASLAND greeted us and we knew we made the right choice in bringing Little boy here instead of Disneyland or Disney Sea. We took pictures by Knapford Station, and Little boy frolicked in the souvenir shop, where Thomas themed toilet paper, seaweed, furry slippers and toilet seats, among other things, were being sold at high prices to fans of the railway series. Being suckers, we bought 2 toys for Little boy, one of which he promptly lost the next night while I was eating my most memorable Japanese meal.
LITTLE BOY rode on a Duncan roller coaster, Harold the Helicopter, Lady the steam engine, the Sodor boats, Percy and Thomas bump cars which he controlled (steered, started and stopped) all by himself, Cranky simulating a ferris wheel on drugs (it was a jerky, fast ride), Mavis with the tambourine and singing attendant, and a Toby tunnel ride in a cave with life-size Gordon, Spencer, Harvey, snow-covered Percy, a real turntable, and a chocolate factory at the end of the ride! Even the adults had fun!
AFTER an exhausting morning, and I say exhausting not because the park was huge but because it was so darn cold (2-3 degrees C) and it took all our energy to keep our hands warm, we had a very average pasta lunch at the theme park then proceeded to the nearby bus stop where we were the only foreigners around. There was an old, tiny shelter where we took refuge until the bus to Gotemba came. A friend of SIL told us about the outlet shops in this place, 1 1/2 hours from Hakone, and since hubby is a shopaholic, off we went! The road to Gotemba was lined with pine trees, a view of Mt. Fuji's cone, a touristy fishing village (literally, a place where tourists went to fish by the banks of a river), a small beach, and rolling hills covered with something mustard-yellow- a bizzare sight. Gotemba itself is a quiet, sleepy town that offers hiking tours to Mt. Fuji, a smattering of Onsen (public baths using water from mineral springs heated to 40 degrees C), and other nature-oriented trails for the adventurous city-phobes. The outlet shops are located in a sprawling, modern complex put up by a US company. It seems small from the entrance, but in fact you have to cross a bridge spanning a deep ravine to get the to other side. There are 170 shops in all, with big names like Escada, Gucci, Miu Miu, Prada, Hugo Boss, Furla, Tod's, Kate Spade, Cole Haan, Celine, and A. Testoni, to name a few. Hubby was in shopping paradise! Little boy was asleep the entire time. We boarded the bus for Tokyo after 4 hours of window-shopping, hubby with a wide grin on his face after purchasing new shoes. It was so cold there was no point in trying on clothes; SIL and I just felt so lazy we gave up after one round of the place.
TOKYO was drizzling at 8pm, and we were famished and tired so it had to be fastfood for us, because we were ready to hit the sack. SIL brought us to a cheap place frequented by salarymen, where you choose from window displays of fake food, place some money in a vendo machine and press your choice. Afterwards you present a receipt to the counter and pick up your food. The noodles were not spectacular-tasting, but hot, filling and fast, just what we needed that rainy night.
sil choosing our dinner. fast food at its fastest. hubby even timed one customer, 5 minutes to finish his meal then in 2 minutes another one took his place.
hubby's dinner: plain soba with broth and seaweed and a bowl of tonkatsudon
my dinner: thin soba noodles in a salty broth with various toppings - no meat or seafood