Sunrise in the Land of the Rising Sun, and two wonderfully weird new KitKat flavors!

January 1, 2010

I have never been a morning person; daybreak is just not my cup of oolong. That said, the scenery in Shizuoka, southwest of Tokyo, makes up for the early hour. Almost. I was taking a photo of the festive sailboat, when I noticed Mt. Fuji looming up in the background. For the third year running, I have been the first in my group to lay eyes on Fuji-san in the new year, which reputedly bodes well for success in the upcoming year (although you couldn’t prove it by the last two years, that’s for sure). Shortly after this picture was taken, we boarded the adjacent ferry (below), and made our way out into Suruga Bay for a first glimpse of the sunrise and a closer look at the fabled mountain.

A layer of low clouds obscured the eastern horizon…

but that didn’t stop intrepid photographers from huddling topside in sub-freezing weather in the hopes of catching the first rays of the new year. The sun cooperated quite well, actually, illuminating the snow-capped peak of Mt. Fuji with the soft pink glow so sought after by camera buffs.

Our next stop was Kunozan Toshogu, the original burial place of Ieyasu Tokugawa, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate which ruled Japan from 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. If you read James Clavell’s book, Shogun (or saw the movie), the title referred to a powerful daimyo, Lord Toranaga, whose character was based on Ieyasu Tokugawa. A year after Tokugawa’s interment, his remains were moved to Nikko, north of Tokyo, where they rest until this day. However, while in Kunozan Toshogu, one can still visit the gravesite of Ieyasu Tokugawa’s horse, which occupies a space adjacent to its master’s original crypt. There are 1159 steps leading up from the coast to the shrine. My traveling companions, Masako and Saki, can be seen partway up.

Of the 1159 steps, we climbed all but the first 1100 (which explains why they look so fresh so close to the top), opting instead for alternative transport:

Inside the temple grounds, reds, greens, gold and black dominate the palette:

A young kimono princess pays 100 yen for her fortune, a small piece of paper with details about studies, romance, finances, travel, and health. If it is a good one, she will keep it close at hand for the year; if it is one of the unhappier ones, the paper will be affixed to a board at the shrine, allowing her to leave her bad fortune behind when she descends the mountainside.

The view from the shrine is really breathtaking…

On the way out, I stopped in the attached gift shop and picked up the two latest flavors of KitKat bars…

For those of you not familiar with Japanese KitKat bars, they come in all sorts of arcane flavors in addition to the normal chocolate wafer bar available stateside. There are Orange, Mango and Apple KitKats. Cherry, Pumpkin and Banana KitKats. All of those are comparatively normal, and reasonably tasty as well. Then there are some more unusual flavors, like Soy Powder, Roasted Corn, and Buttered Baked Potato KitKats. Also Lemon Vinegar and Vegetable Sports Drink KitKats. But I think these two new ones may take the prize: the one in the red package is Miso Soup KitKat, and the one adorned in green is Wasabi KitKat. Wasabi, for those not up on their Japanese condiments, is a piquant Asian horseradish, which when prepared looks like guacamole, but tastes not unlike oven cleaner. I quite like it, actually; nonetheless, I haven’t yet screwed up the courage to try one of the Wasabi KitKats.

I arrived home at sunset, and thought I would take one last picture of Mt. Fuji (it is the flat-topped inverted cone “roof” dead center in the pic) from my balcony, at the close of a really excellent January 1st. Happy New Year, everyone!