As a kid growing up in Southern California I was no stranger entertainment. We are indeed the Entertainment Capital of the World. Radio, television, music, and film making, as well as the abundance of tourist and amusement attractions in the region, undoubtedly makes us the #1 entertainment place in the world, except for one thing, the stage.
Denise and AJ in front of the theater.
To find the best musicals, the greatest musicals, there is only one place to go, and that is Broadway, New York City. They know, we know it, and if you ever go to a show on Broadway your pocketbook will know it.
Shows on Broadway are expensive. There are ways to try to mitigate. You can do what we did and try to find a show like Groundhog’s Day that is previews and rush it. That is when you go to the theater the day of the show you want to go to and see if there are any discounted tickets. There is a cost to that, in our case it cost us $119 dollars when we walked out during intermission when we discovered how much bad language can be crammed into a 4 minute song (it is a lot). It also means that you can you can find yourself 3 rows behind comedian Caroline Rhea. You just never know what is going to happen when you follow your dreams and perhaps that is why Broadway is so magical, because it is a not only a place of dreams, but it comes with a soundtrack.
Today (4/23/17), Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is opening on Broadway. It is amazing show. It brings in that magical mystical musical adventure that is Broadway. A mix of new and old songs, it brings new twist to the Roald Dahl classic. It is very different than both the 1971 Gene Wilder and 2005 Johnny Depp version.
It has the “Pure Imagination” song, it has some definite dark moments (when the oompa lumpas start singing you know something bad is going to go down), but it is unique, and they are my favorite part in the musical. How they do them is something you have to see for yourself.
As magical as seeing a show on Broadway was it was kind of eye opening. First of all the theaters are very close to each other, which is good because they are all in walking distance. The second was that they are all very small, or at least smaller than their Los Angeles counterparts. The term Broadway show does not necessarily mean that the show plays on Broadway, which is a street in New York, it more refers to how many seats the theater holds. If the theater has over 500 seats it is considered a Broadway show. The largest is the Gershwin Theater (currently playing Wicked) at 1,935 seats and the smallest is the Helen Hayes Theater (currently under renovation) at 597 seats. Compare that to the 2,703 seats at the Pantages and you notice the difference. The third thing was parking. At $38.01 an hour, you are not parking on Broadway. You are going to take public transportation in, which is fine because the streets.
Paying full prices were not so fun.
It is very bright outside at 11 pm on Broadway.
Rush tickets can be a great deal if available.
The Neil Simon Theater currently playing a revival of Cats
The Wonka Emporium did sell chocolate but not Wonka bars, kind of weird
Did not buy the soundtrack.
A pre-show selfie at the Lunt-Fontanne
Hamilton playing at the Richard Rogers Theatre, next to the Marques playing On Your Feet, as seen from the Lunt Fontanne Theater
Caroline Rhea sat three rows up from us during the show.
A lot of people were pushing the button that was clearly labeled “Do Not Push.”
At $38.01 an hour, you should really find another way than your car to get to the theater
Apparently musicals run on Macbooks.
The production poster for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
We waited at the door to the Lunt-Fountanne Theater at 10am to get discount tickets but there were none.
We were that close to the Groundhog day show.
Side view of the Lunt Fontanne Theater showing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Look, a car elevator
The inside of the August Wilson theater.
The August Wilson Theater playing Groundhog Day.
A look into the box office of the August Wilson theater.
I am very happy to have been able to have finished this experience for the list. Saying that however I am OK watching the new musicals preview at the Macy’s Thankgiving Day parade and waiting for the good ones to come out to Los Angeles.
Our original plan for visiting New York City included visiting all five of the New York Boroughs. We did accomplish this goal, but the day we had planned for the Bronx did not quite go the way we wanted. What wanted to do is to go to a park near the zoo and eat pizza in the northern Little Italy of New York. What we did is get stuck in a very heavy rainfall and ended up getting very wet while running down the Gran Concourse. Which is probably just as well because looking at Bronx history I learned it too didn’t quite go the way it wanted.
This is a drawing of the Grand Concourse in the 1890s
To understand this you have to look back to New York in the 1890s. At that time New York was booming. So much so that they had so many jobs available that they were practically begging people to come and work for them. Hence a great migration was started and poor people from all over the world started arriving in New York. At first when the immigrants started to arrive, they lived in Manhattan, but the locals very quickly came to the agreement that although they needed workers, they didn’t really want to live close to them. No worries, there is lots of money and all of this land north of Manhattan in an area known as the Bronx. This guy, his name was Aloys Risse (who happened to be an immigrant himself), got this great idea on how to get the immigrants to the Bronx. It was a better than great idea, it was a grand idea, The Grand Concourse.
The Grand Concourse was a huge two story street that was to rival the Champs-Élysées in Paris. It was bigger, longer, and it had all these cool buildings built along the way. Everything was great until the prohibition came along in the 1920s. A bunch of poor immigrants and a law the majority of the people did not want to follow gave rise to bootleggers (illegal alcohol sellers) and that gave rise to crime. The situation got worse with the Great Depression and World War II, when many people left the area. In an effort to boost the population of the Bronx and to clean up Manhattan, the city adopted a policy that anyone on welfare in the 1960s was to be moved to the Bronx. This created a huge immigration of African Americans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans to the area. They didn’t get along with each other very well and a wave of arson swept the Bronx in the 1970s. It was so bad that by 1980, 90% of all housing units were declared unsuitable for habitation. Eventually the citizens of the Bronx had enough and a ten year housing plan was put into effect. Financially backed by the city of New York, it worked and in 1997 the Bronx was declared an “All American City”.
Garlic twists from the Bronx were yummy.
Enjoyed the chicken roll. Reminded me of Costco.
AJ demonstrates the proper folding technique of a New York Pizza slice
The result of this is the Bronx still has a lot ethnicity it had back in the late 19th century, but most of the historical buildings are gone. The Grand Concourse however remained. It was on that very long, very wide road we briefly paused to take a picture, declared that we had made it to the Bronx, and quickly found a pizza place that was warm and dry. We were very much wet that night coming home, but we like the Bronx, can say we made it.
The Grand Concourse 2017.
This is a view looking to the police station. I don’t know why but I thought it was hilarious they were putting on a musical about the Bronx.
The entrance way to Delmonicos has a trophy case with a bunch of awards.
The year was 1825 when the first steam ship from Albany in New York arrived on the Manhattan bay. Stepping off the ship was the esteemed guest, the one and only, Marquis de Lafayette. It was at that moment the United States suffered a major diplomatic embarrassment. There was no place for this man to eat. The existing taverns and inns were not the type of place a man like this would want to be seen at and the newly created coffee house did not serve enough food for a group setting. Luckily, a few families got together and agreed to host the Marquis de Lafayette, but not before his couriers dispatched the news to Europe that the United States had no restaurants, not even a small cafe. Hearing this, two years later, two swiss men, John and Peter Delmonico decide to establish the United States’ first restaurant. Actually, they started two business, a restaurant and a corner store. The corner store did not do too well. The restaurant went on to fame. Don’t believe me? Watch this:
Delmonico is known for many things but mostly for it’s steak, the Delmonico cut. The Delmonico steak is a special steak that combines both a ribeye cut that resembles a filet mignon and a strip steak (which by itself is known as the NY steak). What makes a Demonico cut special is by cutting the steak in this way it makes the rest of the ribeye only good for stew meat. The benefit being the steak is extra thick and very moist.
A medium well steak has pink in the middle and brown on both sides.
This is what I would call a medium steak, I sent it back.
AJ really liked the Mac and Cheese with Alaska king crab and truffle sauce.
Denise had the seafood pasta al dente.
The Creme Brulee and Baked Alaska for dessert.
The inside of the Baked Alaska.
There was no question I (John) was going to order meat when going to Delmonicos. What I didn’t know is that I could up my game even further and get a 45 dry aged rib-eye. This is considered the best of all meat, all the fat, no tendons. It also gives the meat a different flavor from sitting for that long. In order to do that you have to have a special refrigerator, so as to age the meat, but not let it go rotten. I ordered the steak medium well, which is when both sides are brown but there is still some pink in the middle. The presentation was good, but it came out medium. That is when is light pink on the outside, dark pink in the middle. That was Chef’s suggestion. I tried two bites, the second only at the waiter’s suggestion that I try again, but it wasn’t that great. I sent it back do get a little more heat. On the second round it came out perfect. I asked for some horse radish sauce but it really didn’t need it. It was good on it’s own. For a side I had an asparagus and broccoli dish that was infused with walnuts. For dessert we shared a creme bruelle and a baked Alaska, which is ice cream inside a baked meringue cake.
It wasn’t a cheap menu, but it wasn’t like those crazy ones where they don’t list the prices.
It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
The Pedroza’s were here.
Delmonico’s was the first restaurant in America to allow women come by themeselves.
We were practically the only people there.
This room was called “the Boardroom.”
AJ did not like all the waiting that is involved in a formal restaurant.
The bar room was very noisy with people talking.
Watch out! They let the Pedroza’s in!
Cost wise it was an expensive meal but it wasn’t the most expensive meal I have ever had (that was Victoria and Albert). Considering the exclusivity of the restaurant and that we had our own waiter (he only was at our table), it wasn’t that bad. The ambiance was very nice and the staff was great. We were very appreciative of the courtesy afforded to us even the only coat we had for coat check was a raincoat. I do have to say although it was fun I still consider us more of a Sundowners type of crowd. It was great steak but I am not sure it was worth 10 times what we paid back in California.
The seal of Brooklyn means “Strength in Unity” in Dutch.
Translated, the seal of Brooklyn means “Strength in Unity” or at least that is what they told me because I don’t speak Dutch. Brooklyn is the most populated borough in New York with about 2.6 million people. If it was it’s own city it would rank as one of the most populous in the nation. Which sounds like a trivial thing to say, but significant in that Brooklyn was at one point it’s own city. In fact, established by the dutch in 1645, it predates the island of Manhattan.
At first glance the borough may seem new and hipster but if you look deep down you will see that it has a lot of history.
Brooklyn became a borough of New York City on January 1, 1898, about 15 years after the famous Brooklyn Bridge was built. As a borough Brooklyn is definitely part of New York City, but it also has a distinct feel that keeps it’s own identity. Kind of gritty, kind of hipster, Brooklyn is a Borough that feels lived in. Not to say that people don’t live in the other boroughs, but you feel it more in Brooklyn. It was in Brooklyn that I saw more people in the parks, in the stores, and on their stoops talking to each other. Lots of talking, in lots of different languages.
On almost every corner there is a deli. The deli is like a 7/11 in that is meant for convenience food, but they make it to order for you hot or cold. Some have tables and chairs where you can sit but most food is meant for take out. In between the corner delis you will find small restaurants and trendy coffee shops. Also, in the mix you will find plenty of parks (that are almost always attached to a public school) and warehouses (where you buy stuff that is not food).
I miss getting sandwiches at the corner deli.
The corner deli is a staple of New York and Brooklyn is no exception.
At $1.50 a sandwich, McDonald’s could never compete in Brooklyn.
I loved the vintage shops in Brookyln
Food is plentiful in Brooklyn
I don’t know why but Boar’s Head is the primary go to meat in Brooklyn.
The fish and the cheese come in daily
Couldn’t be New York without a bagel place
They say the water makes the difference for a New York bagel.
Part of the metro goes through Brooklyn but the main form of transportation is the elevated trains that go through all 69 square miles. The most famous locations in Brooklyn are the bridge and Coney Island, but also important are the continental plaza (where Washington regrouped after his defeat) and the artsy Williamsburg.
Continental Army Plaza
At the warehouse you can get anything that is not food related.
This noodle factory in an old beer factory shows how Brooklyn constantly recreates itself.
Waterbury and Wilson are known for their street art.
Everyone is very friendly in Brooklyn
No “magic” mushrooms at this shop, but they were exotic looking.
The crepes on Wilson were cheap and good.
This crepe was called the tornado
This was in the middle of the Maria Hernandez park, who was killed after advocating against the drug dealers, but it worked because I didn’t see any drug dealers (unless you count the chocolate chip cookies, those are like crack).
The J, M, and Z runs through the heart of Brooklyn
Even the cheapest buildings have style in Brooklyn
Unlike other boroughs you can see that people actually live in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn was our “home” base for our New York trip. We stayed at the Bklyn (no, I spelled that right) House Hotel. It was I would describe as a hipster hotel. The rooms were a bit small, but it had cool graffiti (urban) type art throughout the hotel. It took us about an hour to get to anywhere in Manhattan (the main island) via the elevated train. It cost us about $40 a day less to stay in Brooklyn over Manhattan. Denise said she felt safe and enjoyed going over the bridge every day.
In a very non-descriptive building at 1131 S E St in San Bernardino (there is also a location in Fontana) California you will find Sundowners Family Restaurant. They call themselves a restaurant but what they really are is an old-school cafeteria. When we were newly married I would often take Denise out to this place because it was cheap and we couldn’t really afford much. This last weekend we were on our way back from going to the temple and I had twenty dollars in my pocket. Twenty dollars will easily get you two fast food or counter service meals, but I wanted a sit-down place, the only place I could think of was Sundowners.
Denise was happy she didn’t have to cook or clean.
Going into the line at Sundowner there are a bunch of billboards announcing everything they offer. Something on the lunch menu caught both of our eyes. They had an item labeled “The Delmonico Lunch Special.” This caught our eye because when we made reservations to go to Delmonicos in April (which we had to make in January), we were told to expect a minimum of a $200 bill. Here at Sundowners they had a picture of a Delmonico steak, and the price? $11.09!! And that included Texas baked bread, baked potato, soup, and a soda. Denise got a tuna melt (which also included the same things my lunch special had) but I knew immediately what I had to get. We ordered our food and the two meals and the final price was $19.39. I couldn’t believe it I had my sit-down meal for under $20 and I had change in my pocket!
Sundowners is always seasonal and over the top with their decorations.
So of course the question is was it any good? I am not going to say it was the best steak ever, but for the price you really can’t beat it. I don’t know if the cut of beef I had was a true Delmonico, but it certainly looked like one. It had the traditional cross hatching, the traditional triangle bone-in cut, and the New York strip steak cut. The meat was tender but the cooking was not optimal. I ordered my cut medium well-done, so I expected it to be thoroughly cooked but was looking for the center to still have some pink, the pink line was not there.
High class dining it was not, but for the price it was great. How can anyone call a $11.09 steak anything less than great. You can’t even go to the store and buy a raw piece of meat for that price, let alone have someone cook, serve, and clean up after you.That has got to be one of the cheapest steaks I have ever had and the funny park is Sundowners sells several other cuts of beef and the “Delmonico Special” is the most expensive.
I order it medium well-done. It was cooked well but it was missing the pink strip which indicated it was a bit over cooked.
The presentation of the dish was simple but it had all the basics.
The appetizers consisted of clam chowder soup, saltines, and a soda.
It will be interesting to see what the real Delmonico has to offer. I expect them to be better, that is without question. The question will be, are they 20 times better? It is gong to be a tough act to follow.
In the 13th century St. Francis of Assisi (Italy) was given the small chapel of St. Mary’s in which to use as a base of operations. It was not a very good chapel and had to be rebuilt, which is said he did by hand after hearing the world of God come to him and say “Go and restore my house.” According to the story while praying in that chapel during Mass he got another vision that said to “go forth and preach penance and conversion to all mankind” and so was born the Franciscan order in the Catholic church. In the Franciscan order this revelation is celebrated on August 2nd.
Fast forward to Wednesday, August 2, 1769, Father Juan Crespi, a Franciscan priest accompanying the first European land expedition through California, led by Captain Fernando Rivera Y Moncado, talked about a “beautiful river from the northwest” located at “34 degrees 10 minutes”. Recognizing the amazing coincidence of the date, and seeing as though they were Franciscans they named the river Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de la Porciúncula. Thus Los Angeles got it’s name.
In the hallway of the Cathedral of our Lady of Los Angeles is a sacred stone from the original St. Mary’s Chapel in Assisi, Italy. The stone symbolizes the spirit for which Los Angeles got it’s name. Los Angeles is a place to be explored and so is the Cathedral.
Old murals mix with new paintings.
A modern painting meets visitors upon entry.
This wall contains paintings highlighting the original 21 California Missions.
A sacred stone from the original St. Mary’s Chapel in Italy.
The main altar in the cathedral.
The final resting place of Chief Justice Malcom Lucas who presided over the California Supreme Court for a number of years. I think they will update his cover later.
Many of LA’s past Cardinals and Bishops have been laid to rest in the Cathedral.
The refurbished stained glass windows are impressive.
The chapel containing the remains of St. Vibiana, a third century Martyr.
The Los Angeles Cathedral sits on a huge plot of land on Temple St. that overlooks the 101 freeway, which intersects the heart of Los Angeles. It was opened in 2002 to replace the Cathedral of Vibiana, which had previously been the cathedral of Los Angeles, that had been severely damaged in a 1994 earthquake. There was a lot of back and forth on what would be done with the damaged cathedral, but in the end the old cathedral became a public library and the Catholic Church constructed a modern cathedral.
As a modern cathedral the lines a very sleek and minimalist. Though minimalist in nature there are antique touches throughout the building. One of my favorite example of this is downstairs in the mausoleum. The mausoleum is very modern looking in with clean lines, housing the final remains of important and famous people such as Gregory Peck, Chief Justice Malcom Lucas, Bishop Thaddeus Amat y Brusi (first Catholic Bishop of Los Angeles), and even Saint Vibiana (a martyr from the 3rd century). Despite the modern look, the mausoleum is decorated with the stained glass windows from the old Cathedral of Vibiana.
A few years ago when AJ was little and I (John) was out of town on business Denise went out to downtown Los Angeles with AJ in a stroller. Being a downtown LA explorer, Denise has been encouraging me for sometime to take the audio tour.
I am not sure I can add anything to the knowledge of the Walt Disney Concert Hall that you can’t readily access via Wikipedia. The Disney Concert Hall was finished in 2003. It is located on Grand Ave. and is in walking distance to both the Civic Center and Pershing Square Metro Red Line. It is home to both the LA Philharmonic and the LA Chorale.
Tickets at the Walt Disney Concert Hall can be expensive, but the good news is that the audio tour is free. All you have to do is leave an ID card for collateral for the tour wands.
It should be noted that there are elevators, but there are a lot of stairs in the concert halls, so make sure you have some comfortable shoes, although I did see one lady in high heels walking up 5 flights of stairs (how did she do that?!).
There are a lot of small spaces in the concert hall such as the Wellington Music Room (currently exhibiting Jazz singers).
The tour was interesting, but I have found that when it comes to architecture I prefer more flourishes and decorative touches. The would paneling of the concert hall gave it a warm feel, but the overall simple ascetics of the was too bland for me. My favorite part of the tour was the back of the concert hall where they had a little garden. In the garden they have a rose fountain made out of Delphine China. Apparently Mrs. Disney was a big fan of Delphine China and collected it on all of her travels. Her favorite flower was the rose. The architect decided to make a fountain out of Delphine China. According to the story there is cheap china and expensive china. The architect went out to find cheap china but when Delphine found out what they were going to use the china they insisted the concert hall use the expensive stuff. So the fountain has a bunch of very expensive broken plates in it.
Even in downtown LA all Disney tours end at the gift shop.
Haven’t been very consistent on the blog lately but life as always moves on. In September there were four major happenings for the Pedroza family. In this blog I will talk about our trip to Arizona, Denise’s Birthday, and Amy’s graduation from Bible school. Yeah that is only three but I am kind of pressed for time and I am hoping to write about the fourth event later when I have more time, but my guess is most people reading this blog already knows what happened.
Denise has a large family which means we have a lot of nieces and nephews, I guess it doesn’t have to mean that, but with us it does. This month one of our nephews in Arizona turned eight and he invited us to his baptism so we took a little road trip. In addition to going to the baptism and visit with relatives we were able to able to walk around both Tucson and Phoenix. I play a game called ingress where you get little patches for visiting different points of interest, so it was fun walking around and getting to learn about new places.
Some mosaics I got while playing Ingress in Phoenix and Tucscon
An interesting sign I saw in Tucson. Sadly the troops did not come home in 1971.
AJ shows the cowboys in Picacho his technology
AJ and Denise enjoying pork belly sandwiches in Phoenix
Phoenix City Hall has cool building features.
Dogs on a Short Leash has some interesting hot dogs. All of them come in nan bread instead of buns.
Now you know where “the hole in the wall” comes from (and a spider bug mobile).
September is Denise’s birth-week (yes it is not a birthday). This year Denise turned 40. Most women would not talk to you ever again if you published their birthday, but not Denise. Quite the opposite, she is more than happy to tell you all about her age. One of greatest attributes of Denise is that she is very comfortable in who she is. I (John) know she met with lots of people for her birth week, so I can’t say all of what she did. With AJ and I, we spent the day at miniature golf and at Chipotle.
This month I (John) also went down to South Gate, CA to see my sister’s graduation from bible school. For the last two years she has been going to Teen Challenge bible school. Bible school may seen trivial to some but for my sister this is a great achievement as it means that for I think in the first time in her life she has a purpose in life. Which the lack of which can destroy you, so for her to have one makes me happy. I am excited for her future prospects.
So with that life moves on at the Pedroza household. AJ is very excited about Halloween coming up. He has told me he wants to be a dragon, should be interesting. Denise says she is planning to have less items on her “to do list.” I (John) plan on being occupied with work stuff for the next few months. If I am lucky I might be able to get out and do a few weekend trips here and there.
In many ways Japan is very normal. It is a land of hard working people that get up and go to work every day. On the other hand Japan is very different from the Western world. There are things that you will see there that you can’t even imagine back home. Case in point is the Robot Restaurant. I asked Denise to describe the place and she said, “it is proof that Liberace can still exist in the modern world.” The decorations are over the top but it is more than just decorations.
You really can’t miss the entrance to the restaurant.
Making the decision to go to the Robot Restaurant was one that I (John) hesitated on. It was for one thing kind of expensive, about $80 per person which included a bento meal. The second thing is it is located in the middle of Kabukicho (the red light district). It used to be that you had to be over 18 to get into the show and early reports said that it was not a place that any respectable person wanted to be caught in. Other reports however gave a different picture, saying that the show had changed and was now more family friendly. In fact when I was doing my final research I found that there was a discounted children’s ticket. Knowing that there were decency laws in Japan we decided to take a chance and buy a ticket.
Tickets for the show were very popular and we had to book several days in advance. The day we were able to get tickets just happened to be the same day AJ and I (John) were scheduled to return from our Mt. Fuji hike. The tickets we got were for 7:15 p.m. and we were scheduled to return from Mt. Fuji at 2:30 p.m., except it took us longer to get down the mountain than we thought and ended up getting back to Tokyo at 4:30 p.m. It was just enough time for AJ and I to take showers, get changed, and run out to the metro station. As a result of the short rest my feet were still pretty sore from the climb, but I was able to hobble my way to the show.
Shinjuku station is always a bustle of activity. At night it is even more so, as the night lights come on, the Japanese come out to see them. The short walk to the Robot Restaurant was very colorful. There was lots of people and lots of flashing lights, but there was no mistaking where the Robot Restaurant was. It was the flashiest of all the places in Kabukicho.
The stairs don’t have handrails but there is plenty of stuff to grab on to if you think your going to slip.
The waiting lounge was I think inspired by Liberace.
The outside of the restaurant was just a preview of what was to come. Inside the building was even brighter than the outside. The rules were very clear that there was no flash photography allowed but the lights inside were so bright, that taking pictures were no problem. The first thing we were told to do was wait in a lounge, which was very over the top decorated. There we were entertained by a guy dressed up as a robot playing an electric guitar. At the bar there was a little robot that would speak broken English.
After the man with an electric guitar finished we were let down some flashy stairs to the basement for the main show. The seating was assigned and was very compact. Denise and I got sushi bento boxes and AJ got a beef and rice bento that was heated with a built in heating element. The show is hard to explain but it is a high energy, in your face (literally), high volume show. It was broken into four acts in which there was a break so that they could set up for the next act. It was a very engaging show if only for the fact that you never knew what or who was going to show up. The show was catered mostly to foreigners in that the dialogue was all broken English with English and Japanese subtitles.
Here is a little video to give you an idea of what we saw:
This kind of show is kind of a once in a lifetime thing, I am glad we saw it once, but I doubt I would pay to see the show twice. Looking out to the audience it was hard to say that this was an authentic Japanese experience. I was told that the manager was an American. I only saw two other members in the audience that looked like they were from Japan. Yet, this was a show that I have never seen anything in any other part of the world and for that I will call it a Japanese experience. I am still sure what we saw, it was kind of like a dream, but a dream I definitely will not forget.
The drummers made a very dramatic entry to start the show.
One of many dancing robots.
For being robots, these two were very wobbly.
This lady on the left was the MC/Ringleader who gave an introduction for each set.
They pulled this airplane around before the show to show you how close the floats were going to get to you. That is to say when those wings head for your head you better duck!
AJ and Denise with their bento boxes.
When they put up the chains and the evil robots came out we knew the show was going to get crazy.
It was an expensive but the “Goraiko” (sunrise shot) was worth it.
Getting up to the top of Mt. Fuji was for me (John) a long and strange journey. 23 years ago I had been a California Youth Ambassador assigned to Japan. My job at the time was to promote California by going to different places in Japan. In the four months I was in Japan I went everywhere and everywhere I went was Mt. Fuji. On a clear day it dominates the Japanese skyline as it can be seen from almost anywhere on the main island and sometimes even on the smaller islands. As I traveled the land I saw Mt. Fuji over and over again. It seemed to call out to me and I remember starting to call it Fujisan (my friend Fuji). Even though I called Mt. Fuji my friend, it was a friend I didn’t really know and so I knew someday I would have to come back to visit.
The Yoshida trail is very well marked.
On July 1st, AJ and myself (John) set out from Toyko to go and climb Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji is 3,776 meters high, which comes out to about 12,389 ft. tall (half the size of Mt. Everest). It took us 24 hrs. to reach the top from the 5th station (the tallest point you can get to by bus). Our goal was to see the sunrise from the top of Mt. Fuji, which we did on July 2nd, 2016.
Even though we trained for three months, we really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into, even after summiting we weren’t quite sure what we had done. Despite that, looking into the rising sun struggling to break free from the clouds we knew instinctively that we had done something significant.
The beginning of our hike up to Mt. Fuji started at Shinjuku station in Tokyo. Transporting over 3 million passengers per day, Shinkjuku station is registered by Guinness World Records as the busiest transportation hub in the world. To give you a hint as to how big this station is, it has 51 railway lines that cross it. The bus station is on the 4th floor. It is amazing in itself to see how they drive these giant highway buses in some very tight corridors. It had already been a busy morning, since Denise and I had been to the Tsukiji fish market earlier in the morning. AJ and I arrived at the Shinjuku station at about 8 a.m. It took us awhile to find the right platform, but thanks to a tourist information center on the first floor we found our way to the bus ticket sales counter. I had prepared the day before by having the concierge service write down “I would like one adult and one child ticket to Mt. Fuji” on a piece of paper. I handed it to the sales lady and she responded “ie”, that means “no” in Japanese. At first I thought the paper was written wrong so I mustered my broken Japanese and muttered “Ni kippu kudasi Fuji”, which means “two ticket please Fuji”. Again “ie” but this time she handed me a timetable which clearly marked that all the bus tickets were sold. “Great!! All this way to be told I am idiot because I didn’t make a bus reservation.” I was told that there was a train that I could take but it would cost me double the amount of the bus and I wouldn’t get to the 5th station until 2 p.m. This was a problem. Starting a hike up Mt. Fuji at 2 p.m. would get us up to our mountain hut in the dark. Doable, yes, but not a fun way to start an epic hike. So while I tried to figure out what we were going to do, AJ decided he was going to do what he does best, twirl around like a mad man. I guess it worked because after a few minutes of him twirling a lady handed me a paper with the number 252 on it and said that if I came back at 9:52 a.m. I could try to get a cancellation ticket. I thought “what do I have to lose” so I took the number and we came back at 9:52 a.m. and to our surprise they called our number. We were very happy to get a seat on that bus. So happy that I made sure that I reserved and pre-paid for a 12 p.m. bus returning to Shinjuku station. I didn’t want to be stuck at the Mt. Fuji 5th Station without a return ticket.
At the third station there was an amusement park called Fuji-Q.
The adventure started at Shinjuku station in Tokyo to catch a highway bus.
This was our version of carbs-loading for the climb.
The Fuji Subaru line is a highway only open during the summer that leads to the 5th station.
At the base of Mt. Fuji there are many picturesque villages.
The 5th station kind of looks like the gift shop section of Disneyland.
A picture from the shrine at the 5th station.
My mom always told me “remember the day you left on” so we took a picture.
The bus trip was about 2 hours long. As we slowly headed into the interior of the country, things went from metropolitan to very green. At the base of Mt. Fuji are many different towns and villages. The side we were ascending from was from the Shizouka prefecture. The bus made a stop at the third station which is home to an amusement park known as Fuji-Q. From there we turned up a road called the Fuji Subaru Line. The Fuji Subaru Line is a road that is only open in the summer, which is the when Mt. Fuji is officially open for climbing.
The trail from the 5th station to the 6th station is mostly very gradual with lots of trees and shade.
The Mt. Fuji 5th Station, or as they translated it on the bus, the Mount Fuji Fifth Step, is kind of a weird preview for the hike that was about to come. That is to say, it didn’t represent at all the hike that was about to come. The Mt. Fuji 5th station is basically a tourist trap. It is like that part on Main Street USA at Disneyland where you walk through the shop just to find a door that opens right into another shop. There were hikers there, but there were also photo spots, horse rides, vending machines, and a very colorful shrine. They sold these souvenir walking sticks there as well. We had our own hiking sticks but bought a half a stick so that we could put it in my backpack and get branding stamps along the way. They also had ice cream at the 5th station. It was kind of hot when we got our hike started (at 12:30 p.m.) so we felt mountain berry (tasted just like strawberry to me) ice cream cones were the way to go.
The trail from the 5th station to the 6th station was kind of deceptive, in that it was very easy. It was a little bit steep in some places, but it was very well maintained, and it had lots of tree cover that offered nice shade. There were a lot of signs warning people not to go too fast and each sign had an estimated time of arrival to the next station along with the distance. There were also signs at the beginning telling people not to do a “bullet run”, go up and down the mountain in one day. The sign said we would get to the 6th station in a little over an hour which we did in about 40 minutes.
AJ waiting at the donation center at the 6th station.
There are lots of signs warning people not to try to go up and down Mt. Fuji in one day.
The first marker of the Yoshida climbing trail is very beautiful with the fog and the trees.
The first part of the 6th station trail wasn’t too bad, just a bunch of gravel.
The ranger had a 4×4, which he used to patrol the trails.
Getting to the 6th station we thought the hike was going to be a lot easier than we expected. We happily paid our 1,000 yen (about $10 USD) conservancy fee (completely optional, but who doesn’t want to protect the trails) and continued on our way. Right after we paid our conservancy fee, the trail changed dramatically. First of all, there were no longer any trees. Second of all, the dirt trail turned into a decomposed volcanic (Mt. Fuji is really a volcano not a mountain) rock trail. Then finally, we started to climb up the first of many steps on the trail. Despite this new development we pushed on.
About 200 meters (think two football fields) away from the 7th station we came upon two interesting things. The first thing we came upon was a television crew. At first we marveled at the fact that there was a television crew on top of Mt. Fuji and started to wonder what they were filming. Then they saw us and got really excited. We knew that July 1st was the first official hiking day of the 2016 Mt. Fuji season. What we didn’t know is several locals had reported to the ranger station a story about this little American boy attempting to climb Mt. Fuji. So, the local news station got a hold of the story and sent a crew to find this American boy. And so there, right at the cooled lava flow, which is the other different thing AJ spoke to a news crew. AJ was not at all shy, anyone who knows AJ knows that he will talk to pretty much anyone about anything. The news crew I think got a little more than they bargained for, not only did they learn that his name was “AJ” and that he was from California, but they also learned that he is “8 and a half years old and goes to Madison Elementary School” and that he “is strong and prepared for the hike because he does jogathon at school.” The news crew was a little bit confused about what a jogathon was but they smiled and thanked us for the interview. AJ was very excited about being interviewed and told everyone on the mountain how “famous” he was, which kind of turned out to be true, because pretty much all the hut owners and workers knew AJ’s name going up that mountain. Whether it was by word of mouth or because of that interview I can’t say for sure, but his fame did get him some privileges on that mountain.
Lunch break at the 7th station was sandwiches courtesy 7/11.
Getting close to the 7th station the trail got very rocky.
It also got very steep.
Going up the mountain, I had enough cell service on my phone to capture a few portals on Ingress (location based game).
AJ eating his sandwich at the 6th station.
On the way to the 7th station AJ was interviewed by a local news crew.
AJ made lots of friends along the way. This girl was from Winchester, CA (very close to Riverside). She climbed and spoke with AJ from the 7th to the 8th station.
After leaving the news crew we started to climb up several lava flow formations. These lava flow formations were very rocky and pretty steep. Steep enough that to navigate them you needed to use both your hands and feet. No rope was required, but they did have guide ropes that showed you the way up the trail. Starting at the 7th station, we started to pass by a series of huts, which we used as rest stops. At the first 7th station hut we stopped and had our lunch, which was some 7/11 sandwiches that I had bought for the trip. At each hut there was a bathroom that you could use for 200 yen (about $2 USD) and different things for sale. The higher you went, the more expensive things got. While at one of the 7th station huts, AJ made a friend of a 15 yr. old girl from Winchester, CA. Winchester is very close to Riverside, CA, so those two had lots of things to talk about. AJ’s friend walked with us a long time on that trail.Which is good because it took AJ’s mind off the constant pace of the trail.
As we were almost to the 8th station my legs started cramping pretty bad. I don’t know if it was due to altitude or the length of the climb, but every time I had to scramble up a big rock my legs started to spasm. AJ was like a billy goat and loved the big rocks, but not me. Just as I was about to get to the first 8th station my legs seized up so bad that I slipped and fell on a stairway. It was so sudden that I barely had time to break the fall with my walking stick and arms. I fell on my behind really hard and it hurt even more. It took about 10 minutes of rubbing my thighs with my hands before I got my knees to bend again.
There were a lot of very long tour groups climbing Mt. Fuji.
A shrine at the 8th station.
John arriving at the 8th station. Took me resting on both poles to stay upright.
Needless to say, my climb from the 8th station to the 8.5 station where our hut was located was very painful. At the Mt. Fujisan Hotel, which is the biggest complex on the mountain, but still a hut and definitely not a hotel in my opinion, AJ’s friend left us. It was just me and AJ going up the mountain together to get to our hut. It was very painful climb and just before arriving I experienced another muscle spasm episode and literally crawled up the last set of stairs to the Goraikoukan hut.
A view up to the 8.5 station shows how steep the climb was.
AJ and John at the 8.5 Goraikoukan station.
I chose the Goraikoukan hut for two reasons. The first reason was that it was the highest hut you could stay overnight in on the mountain. This would give us the most amount of sleep time and yet have the opportunity to make it to the top of Mt. Fuji by sunrise. The second reason is that as part of their package they offered a hot dinner (it was about $150 for the both of us). There was a little confusion about our reservation, but I had my pre-paid reservation number with me. Also, the hut owner recognized AJ and decided it was big honor to have him staying at his hut so while we were at the hut AJ got to stay in the fire circle, which is something normally only the workers were allowed to do, but for AJ they made an exception. Our bed for the night was a futon mattress on a tatami mat. It wasn’t anything luxurious but after a full day of hiking it was all that we needed and I slept with no problems.
At 1:30 a.m. I could start to hear the movement of hikers and AJ told me that he needed to use the bathroom. I told him that once we left the hut, we could not come back and that we would have to start our hike up the mountain. He was OK with that so we got our stuff together, went to the bathroom, and started to hike up Mt. Fuji in the dead of night. I had packed two headlamps, but decided it would be better to have AJ use his headlight, put him in front of me and we would both be guided by his light. I had my headlamp on standby in case something happened to his. Right when got out of the hut we were faced with a big gust of wind that blew both of our hats off our head. We found my hat later in the morning, but AJ’s pokemon hat was never found.
The top of the crater was EXTREMELY windy.
AJ and John at the shrine at the top of Mt. Fuji.
The crater was very foggy and windy. From our view it looked like if you fell in it would be instant nothingness.
Inside the hut it was warmer, but at 12,000 feet it was still cold enough to warrant keeping our cold weather gear on.
AJ put in a 1 yen coin at the 9th station tori gate for good luck.
AJ trying to touch the crater marker beacon.
Two guard dogs are said to guard Mt. Fuji at the 9th station by causing fire, wind, and thunder.
To get goods up the volcanos huts use little tractors up the down trail.
Going up in the middle of the night was slow progress. We were tired both physically and mentally, but there was nothing to do but to go up so we did. At the 9th station we found a 1 yen coin and decided to put it in the tori gate for good luck. I also saw what looked to be a memorial cross, a little reminder that you didn’t want to mess around too long at the top of Mt. Fuji or you could be next. At the 9th station we saw the stone guard dogs of Mt. Fuji that legend says protects Mt. Fuji by sending down wind, rain, and thunder. The legend says that they make sure that only those with real intent make it to the top of Mt. Fuji. We were tired, but at that point nothing was going to stop us from making it to the top.
The top of Mt. Fuji is marked by rocked carved shrine and a obelisk declaring the shrine the 10th station. We climbed a little more up to the crater and found another obelisk that we believe was marking the highest point in Japan. The top was very cold and windy. We were told that the weather was -23 C (-10 F). It was COLD! It was so windy that while at the crater I had to grab AJ because he kept blowing away. At the top there were some wooden pallet looking benches which we sat next to to wait for the sun to rise. It was very foggy and it looked like the sun, like us, was struggling to get through the clouds. We had wanted to get a branding stamp at the top of Mt. Fuji, but because of the wind and cold, all the structures (including the shrine) were closed. We took several foggy pictures and decided to start heading down the mountain.
A view of the 9th station tori gate on the way down.
The first part of the down hill climb was particularly slow because we had to use the up trail. Normally there is a different trail for climbing down Mt. Fuji as there is going up, but because of a mini avalanche a few days prior the first part of the downhill trail was inaccessible. We dodged all the uphill climbers and eventually got back to the 8th station where we were able to go down the downhill trail. The downhill trail is composed of crushed volcanic rock and is kind of slippery. It is also used by the hut workers to drive these little tread tractors up the mountain, which is how they get their supplies up and down Mt. Fuji.
The downhill was very long. After the 8th station there was no water stops and we ran out of water at the 6th station. AJ kind of lost it a little and cried just about 300 meters from the 5th station. I knew he was dehydrated, because I was as well, but I told him that there was nothing we could do about it until we got to the 5th station. It seemed like forever to get to that 5th station but we did. We finally got to the 5th station at 12:30 p.m., which means we were on that mountain for 24 hrs. It was a long time. So long in fact that we missed the 12 p.m. bus that I had pre-paid. Luckily, I had enough money and there was space on the 2 p.m. bus (it cost about $26 USD one way).
It looks like there used to be a rescue hut at the 9th station but now it looks like it needs rescuing.
AJ decided to take a stab at the ice pack on the way down.
These concrete structures are meant for you to run inside and shelter in the case of a avalanche.
Even though it was July there was plenty of snow to be seen.
The downward trail takes you through the heart of a very dusty side crater.
A downward view of the Fujisan Hotel at the 8th station. The Fujisan Hotel is the largest of the hut complexes on Mt. Fuji, but to call it a hotel is a stretch.
We got back to our hotel about 4:30 p.m. and you would think that after an adventure like that we would just crash in our beds, but that was not the case. We had just enough time to take a shower, get ready, and move on out because we had an appointment with the Robot Cafe for that evening, but that is another story all together.
Here is a little video of our thoughts while climbing: