I know I’ve been saying this for every day of this trip so far, but honestly hands down, this is the highlight! This is the day when I experienced events that I know I will remember for the rest of my life. Writing about it now, everything already feels like a dream… 🌸❄
For my fifth day in Tokyo, I spent the whole day touring with KKDAY. I took their Cherry Blossom Day Tour from Tokyo: Lake Kawaguchi and Arakura Fuji Sengen Shrine tour (disclaimer: nope, this was not sponsored). I actually booked this tour last minute, just when I was finalizing my itinerary a few days before my flight to Tokyo. My original plan was to go on a Fuji tour with a couple who coincidentally would be in Tokyo, with overlapping travel dates with mine (they’re great friends of mine, and they constantly read this blog… so here’s a shoutout to Mai and her husband Jam 😊). However, they had to cancel their trip last minute 😔. We haven’t booked anything, so I was free to choose another activity for that day. I still wanted to go outside of Tokyo though, but I was reluctant to participate on a tour on my own. Well, something changed my mind.
While browsing through the tours on the KKDAY website, one specific tour package took my attention. The web page of that tour had the photo of the same scenery on my phone. I didn’t know that the place on that photo actually existed in real life. I thought it was just an imaginary place.
I remember setting this as the wallpaper on my phone upon finishing booking my flights last year (August to be specific). Doing this trip altogether was a huge leap of faith for me and so having that wallpaper was my constant reminder to myself that I could make this trip happen (remember: this is my first solo trip + first time to visit Tokyo… that’s two huge walls that I had to go through). I don’t know — looking at that KKDAY tour and looking back at my phone’s wallpaper, I felt like some sort of serendipity was being presented to me. I felt like this is the tour that I needed to be on (oh how right I was, more explanation later about these serendipitous forces 😊). On the tour details, it said that there are 400 steps up to the pagoda. I found that a bit intimidating because of the condition of my knees. But again the thought of “it’s now or never” came back to me. And so, I went for it and booked the tour. A feeling of “fulfilling my destiny” rushed within me. Did I actually prove that the law of attraction is indeed true? I randomly just chose that wallpaper (not knowing it exists in real life), and now I’m actually going to that place.
The Journey Begins
And so the day of the tour came. I have always been worried about this specific day of my trip because according to the Accuweather site, it will rain on this day. This is the only day predicted to be rainy in this trip, which felt kind of ironic. This is the only day that I needed some clear skies because this is the day of my Fuji tour. Oh well, I still hoped that I would still be able to see Mt. Fuji despite the rainy weather (oh life is really a box of chocolates… read on 😉).
I was able to arrive (safe and sound!) at the designated meeting place as instructed on the KKDAY tour page. I was feeling a bit stressed because I was worried that I won’t be able to make it on time or I won’t easily locate the meeting point (memories of our tour in Taiwan rushed through me). Thankfully, Japan has a very punctual train system. I didn’t really need to be worried of the “traffic” because I was able to check what time I would arrive on my station. But well, there were still some unexpected events that happened enroute to the train. This is my fifth day already right, so I should have known by heart the way to the train stations from my hotel, right? Heck no! Specifically on the day that I had an appointment, I made two wrong turns, which ended up with me taking a few minutes longer than expected to reach the train station from my hotel. 😵 Well fortunately, things still went alright as I was able to arrive at the meeting place just 10 minutes before the assigned time (which in Japanese standards is late already LOL). The only catch was because I was all in a hurry, I wasn’t able to eat breakfast. 😢 I told myself I’ll just munch on some leftover Uji Matcha snacks that I still had on my bag.
Up on the bus, our tour guide told us we will have designated seats. And hey, apparently my seatmate was a Filipino! Looking at the seating arrangement, it looks like this is KKDAY’s SOP — they place together people that are from the same country so they’ll meet friends on tour, even if traveling solo. Nice one KKDAY! My seatmate’s name, according to our seating arrangement layout, is Carl. I actually didn’t realize he is Filipino (I just said a quick hello as I sat down). I only realized that he’s a kababayan when he pointed at that small plastic in the pocket of the seat in front of us and asked me “Para ata to sa suka?” Took me a few milliseconds to process what he said, then I finally exclaimed “Oh you’re Filipino!”. That broke the ice easily. It’s nice to speak Filipino after 4 days (or speaking to someone generally 😂). We exchanged a few introductions. He said he’s traveling solo (same!) and it’s his first time in Tokyo (same same!!!). I’m just so happy to know we share this same experience. I wanted to do more small talk with him, but meh I didn’t want to invade his personal space, so I let him be for the rest of our trip to our first tour destination.
My First Snowfall
I was all going emo while listening to music and looking at the scenery (I was seated at the window side) when I noticed something unusual happening outside. It was so foggy! It felt a bit weird (similar to that feeling I had traveling to the Sutro Baths in San Fransisco) because I felt like I was in some horror movie 😂. I looked at the window shield by the driver and noticed that bits of crushed ice were splattering on the screen. And I realized the unthinkable — it was snowing!!!
Upon arriving at our first bus stop, it was already snowing heavily. Yoko-san, our tour guide in the bus, told us this was very unusual weather at this time of the year. This is her first time to experience this actually. Well because of the weather, there’s little chance that we would be able to see Mt. Fuji. For me, this was 100% okay because I’m just so happy to see snow for the first time. And Carl agreed also (it was also his first time to see snow), he said that experiencing snow is a more personal experience than seeing Mt. Fuji from a distance (which I wholeheartedly agreed).
Everyone was just so happy seeing these little drops of snow fall to the ground. I felt like I was a kid again, looking happily at the sky. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It felt so magical.
After all the hype of the snow, we all calmed down (I think that applies only to me haha because I had to) and went back to the bus to go to the Arakura Shrine. And then that ‘oh oops’ moment struck me — it’s snowing. There are 400+ steps up the pagoda. I’m a disaster in-the-making. 😨 Well, Universe it’s all on you. I give my fate to you that everything will be alright.
Up The Shrine
And so we arrived at our stop! Apparently we had to walk for a few bit before reaching the stairs up the Arakura shrine. Well my worst fears were confirmed — the pavement was slippery because of all the snow (some parts already were submerged with snow up to the ankle). I had to walk very slowly because good gracious heaven knows what would happen if I slip and hit my kneecaps first (I think it would break and I would be rushed to the hospital and that will be the end of me 😭). Carl was actually kind enough to walk in the same pace as mine. I think this was the moment he asked if I am an otaku (uhmm no?). I told him a bit of my experience in Akihabara wherein I didn’t recognize most of the animes that I saw there.
When we reached the stairs, I knew this was the start of my “little pilgrimage”. Carl was busy filming with his phone, so I thought hmm I guess I’ll go on my own from here? And so I began going up the stairs. I didn’t stop climbing (I just paused for a bit here and there to bow at the Tori gates of course, taking in all the beautiful scenery with my own eyes). This place was just straight out of my dreams. I felt like I was in Narnia, reaching the place through the wardrobe. ❤️❤️❤️
And then I reached the pagoda. I was at awe that finally, I’m seeing this oh-so-familiar scenery in real life.
There were no people yet when I got at the spot of the pagoda, save for one who was carrying a DSLR on a tripod. I checked the trail and there were still stairs upwards. Maybe there’s still something there? And so I continued going up. There were no one in site and the surroundings were eerily quiet. I saw a bear sign by a tree and I got scared for a bit. Then I saw this lady foreigner going down the flight of steps. I built up my courage and made small talk. Our conversation went somewhat like —
Hi! Is there something else up there? She said there’s a hiking trail, but nothing more to see. I guess the main attraction here is already the pagoda.
Then I told her about the bear signs I saw. She said I didn’t have to worry, because the bears are for sure in hibernate mode.
Then I went on going on a happy rant that I’m so happy to see snow. It was my first time to see snow! I’m from the Philippines (a tropical country) so there’s no snow back there. She said she is from Germany. And yeah it’s unexpected that we actually had snow today One local, that she was able to talk to, told her that this is only the third time in his life so far that he encountered this kind of weather. How lucky we were!
I can’t remember what we talked about next, but after a few exchanges, we happily said “It was nice meeting you!” and headed the opposite directions. I still went up for a bit and found this little covered sitting area up the trail of steps. I stayed here for a bit. I took this moment to just breathe in everything that I was looking at. I paused and prayed with a grateful heart to the Universe that I was able to make it up here unscathed. After a few minutes of quiet time, I began the descend. I think there’s only 20 minutes left before our assigned time to return to our bus (or else I’ll be left behind… for real. I saw that happen to some tourists that were with us in our KKDAY tour in Taiwan). But I was not worried. I took my time and strolled calmly around the place, absorbing every bit of the beautiful surroundings.
When I arrived at the pagoda again, of course I had to take pictures of it! At this point, there were already several tourists at the photo spot. I asked this kind Chinese lady to take my picture.
And then for the rest, it’s all selfies! 🤣
The pagoda is so beautiful from any angle!
Then I continued going down the steps. I took this opportunity to take more photos of the place.
I looked closely at the cherry blossoms that were now frozen with snow. I don’t know but aside from the feeling of amazement, I somehow felt a bit of sadness. I don’t know why. 😦
At the last tori gate, I did a long solemn bow. I thanked all the spirits and every magical creature that reside in that place for taking care of me because I didn’t slip on any step. I also extended my heartfelt thanks for letting me visit this place. 💗
With less than 10 minutes left, I walked back to the snowy pavement and back to the parking lot where our bus was at. I didn’t dare hurry my steps because I knew the road was slippery. I think I arrived a few minutes past our designated time. Yoko-san (our tour guide) approached me and confirmed my name as soon as I arrived at the parking lot. Well, I was just actually the last passenger to return (huhu hontoni gomenasai). I spotted Carl sipping some coffee at the waiting area. Hmm so I guess I was really that late, huh. I think he had described me to Yoko-san as the lady with the totoro handbag 😅 that’s why Yoko-san spotted me easily as I arrived.
And so we all returned back to our bus to go to our next destination. Because some of the passengers opted to stay on that place to go around on their own, the bus had more vacant seats this time. Carl asked me if it was okay if he transferred seats, which of course I told him yes (but deep inside I got a little sad huh).
When the bus drove off, I began reflecting my journey in the shrine. Fortunately during the flight up and down the stairs, my knees didn’t hurt. I was so happy. I just felt a bit bad for leaving Carl behind because I could have taken good photos for him at the pagoda. But oh well, priorities. I had to do some soul-searching. I was not there as a tourist — I went there as a visitor who, because of some string of magic and luck, was able to go to that place that I first saw as just a wallpaper on my phone. I’ll never ever forget this experience. 😊