During my one week stay near Fujisan, I stayed at Earth Ambassy’s Solar Cafe. I came to know about this place from Jolene, who was doing marketing and PR for Ecoteer. She wanted to travel by backpack, therefore had checked on Ecoteer’s website for some projects to volunteer. Solar Cafe runs a volunteering programme where volunteers stay and help out at the cafe, as well as around the farm. However, it is a seasonal volunteering work that runs through the summer. As winter approaches, there is nothing to plant in the farm. Jake, the owner of Solar Cafe, was kind enough to accommodate Jolene for almost 2 months and me for a week!
Kawaguchiko (河口湖) is probably the station to arrive to visit Fujisan. There are two ways to get to Kawaguchiko Station, either by train or bus. We took a bus from Tokyo and the journey was approximately 2 to 3 hours. Kawaguchiko Station was full with tourists when we arrived. There were less bus ride in the winter. We waited for 2 hours for the last bus to Narusawa which took approximately 30-40 minutes.
Solar Cafe is a very eco-friendly place to stay. From the cafe, one gets the best view of Fujisan, sometimes hiding behind the clouds. This is probably the first place I stayed that has a composting toilet. Although no flushing was needed, it smelled good all the time. Nevertheless, I still find it gross to look down if I ever needed to throw up into the hole. When I was in Tokyo, I was amazed of their electronic toilet even though I’ve long heard of this technology. Hearing it and using it myself was indeed different. I particularly missed the heated toilet seat when I was at Solar Cafe. Jolene told me the temperature had dropped drastically since the end of November. We used heather here. I think being for such a long time on the island, my body has adapted to stand the heat and it could not tolerate cold. I wished there was a slight warmth to feel comfortable, therefore I was most of the time beside the heather. Every morning I felt like this…
Despite the cold, I enjoyed the cozy bedroom with sliding door and sleeping on a futon placed on tatami flooring, just as many who visit Japan would like to experience. I still remembered seeing bedrooms like this when I watched Doraemon when I was young. I find it very simple.
Usually in the summer, the sun heats up the water and volunteers have warm water to shower outside. However, during the winter there isn’t enough sunlight to warm up the cold water. Jolene and I showered at an onsen nearby. Onsen (hot spring) is also one of a kind experience in Japan. Yurari Onsen is about half an hour walking distance from Solar Cafe. My first time was quite awkward. To be naked in front of others didn’t come naturally. A small towel was barely enough to cover much. After some time of walking around and soaking with naked women, it didn’t feel that bad anymore. There are many types of tub or bath and sauna indoor and outdoor to soak in. The best part was to dip in the hot spring overlooking Mount Fuji. The onsen also offers other services like massage, meals, etc. If anyone ever passes by, a visit to Yurari Hot Spring is a must to pamper oneself!
While staying there, Jake hosted a party. Jolene and I helped to serve drinks. My knowledge on mixing alcohol was quite limited. I could only make my big-time favourite cocktail Mojito and a simple mix of Coke and Jack Daniel. The party wasn’t crowded but had enough people to start a party. The best part of helping to host is the bedroom was just at the back and I could easily just slip into bed whenever I wanted. I was quite surprised that the party lasted until past 6 in the morning, even though there was no one on the dance floor anymore. Apparently Japanese party the whole night, some even until 10am!
Although there wasn’t any volunteers who stay at Solar Cafe, it was open a few days a week. People who drove along the highway would stopped for a break at the cafe. Hiroko-san, who works there, would prepare prepare drinks, cook and clean up the place. One of the specialties is pizza. Usually Hiroko-san prepares lunch for us and we cooked dinner ourselves. A few times we had dinner at the onsen. A day before we left, she came to make us pizza. I had the chance to help her. She tried a new recipe…I gotta say her pizza taste good!
Most of the time at Solar Cafe was relaxing, nothing much to do except watching movies and reading books. We went out a few times. Once to a view point on the hill with Jake and his friends. Mount Fuji looked stunning, especially when the sun set. I was lucky enough that a Malaysian friend, Kuan Chung, had the time to drive all the way to Narusawa and we went sightseeing around the area. We went to Kawaguchiko and Saiko. Although the weather was quite chilly that day, the scenery was beautiful. I wanted to show him Mount Fuji from the hill top but the clouds were blocking the view.
Other than that, Jolene had booked us a caving tour at Aokigahara Jukai, a forest formed over volcanic rock from Mount Fuji last eruption. It is also known as “Suicide Forest”. Suicide rate is considered relatively high in Japan as compared to other countries. Many had attempted to commit suicide in this forest and sadly, some succeeded. Jolene explained that it all started from the novel Kuroi Jukai (Black Sea of Trees) dated back in 1960, where two of the characters killed themselves in this forest. Not knowing of the history to this mysterious forest, I asked how did they kill themselves. Jurika, our guide, explained people who came here to die, would just stay in the forest and wait for death. It is a very slow but torturing death. Therefore, this forest has long associated with death in Japanese culture, which is the practice of ubasute, in which the elderly is taken to a remote place and left to die. Many had claimed hiking though the forest was terrifying but when I stepped foot in the forest, I did not feel anything eerie or scary, in fact it felt calm. Throughout the hike, we walked on two different types of forests, one covered with larva from the volcano eruption and one without. The highlight of the hike was going into an ice cave. Jurika was very experience and brought us down a cave that was covered in ice. It was quite an exhilarating experience, with all of us trying hard to balance each step without slipping and falling.
The stay at Solar Cafe was pleasant. I met many new friends and had a wonderful experience. Jolene told me it could get quite boring at times but my stay wasn’t long enough for me to have time to feel bored. Hopefully one day I would have a chance to go back there, maybe next time in the summer!