Little Robot

Climbing Mount Fuji is not very much fun at all. Sorry to dispel the romantic thoughts that you may have had about scaling this famous little hill, but that is my truthful opinion from my one experience of this particular ascent. Historically, walking up Fuji-san was regarded as an arduous religious experience. One that was usually completed in straw sandals and white, wrapped robes. Try saying that last description after a saké or two! Anyway, this hike is one which both I and people throughout history have found to be a chore.

Nonetheless, to entirely focus on the negatives would be to miss the point. Reaching the top of Fuji-san is a momentous achievement; one that is thought to bring you closer to an understanding of yourself and of nature itself. If timed accurately, you also get to view a rather majestic sunrise too. See these sites for sensible climbing tips: Japan Guide or Huffington Post. Sure – you may be fighting off altitude sickness, battling past hordes of eager tourists and walking past scenery that includes snack vendors and public toilets. Yes – you clamber among a moving layer of sharp and crumbly volcanic rock. That does not matter! You have the sense of achievement of reaching the summit of a real (and hopefully still inactive for a long time) volcano! You join the long line of those that have met the soon-to-be-sunlit end point of the true Japanese spiritual pilgrimage.

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A long line is an increasingly prescient observation. Since being marked as a World Heritage Site, climbing up Mount Fuji has risen to the top of many people’s ‘to do in Japan’ wish lists. In a fairly restrictive mountaineering season, due to the weather and chance of avalanche, there are still a colossal 300,000 people a year that stagger to the top. Fuji-san memorabilia litters the shelves of the ‘tourist tat stores’, especially in Tokyo, and pictures of the summit are more frequently witnessed than David Beckham in boxer shorts. But, is there anywhere to get pre-adventure sustenance for hikers of the vegetarian persuasion?

It was by random chance that I happened upon the wonderful ‘Little Robot’ cafe in Fujiyoshida (Trip Advisor link with location). Not to be confused with the bright lights of ‘The Robot Restaurant’ in Shinjuku, this community cafe serves numerous dishes without meat or fish. Fujiyoshida proved to be rather quiet when I visited. Most of the shops and meal-providers were very much closed, and clearly this town was suffering from the poor weather at the time. It is, however, superbly positioned with close proximity to many popular sights: the Chureito Peace Pagoda (where I was going) as featured in many of the tour books, Sengen Jinja (Shrine), Fuji-san himself, the Fuji Five Lakes, Fuji Q Highland, Mt Fuji Visitors Centre and the Mt Fuji Radar Dome Museum. In short, it is a gateway town for tourists; and easy to access via car, bus or train (Fujijyuko Line). What better location for reviving and healthy vegetarian fare, then?

‘Little Robot’ is a cafe and community centre, where you can organise Mount Fuji travel plans with local tour guides or attend udon cookery workshops (Facebook page). The building is kominka, meaning it was an old-fashioned and dilapidated Japanese house but it has been refurbished. It is a warm and cosy restaurant, with extremely friendly staff and food made with locally sourced ingredients.

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While I sat with friends in the simply decorated and wooden style interior, musicians tuned their instruments and cheerfully chatted to the staff. Suitably relaxed, I ordered and adored the vegetarian burger set meal, complete with a tasty blend of fresh coffee (or a dessert, had I not needed a caffeine fix). My friends also loved their fish and meat options (around half of the menu is vegetarian). My meal featured a tour of different tastes, textures and combinations. The soy meat was, well, ‘meaty’ and accompanied by a thick, sweet sauce. Seaweed was laced with a delicious garlic dressing and was soft on the tongue. Roasted vegetables bathed in an apricot jus and really contrasted nicely with the last garlicky mouthful. The side salad was both fresh and delightfully crunchy.

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What a wonderful surprise this bistro provided! One of my favourite aspects of travel is coming across unexpected foodie finds like this one, and I truly believe that a visit to ‘Little Robot’ would provide helpful sustenance prior to the challenging adventure that awaits those tackling the peak of Fuji-san. It would surely be a relaxing dose of sobriety to sit in a down-to-earth community cafe ahead of hitting those dizzying Fuji heights. Alternatively, it could provide relief for those blurry eyed, yet accomplished, adventurers who conquered the summit of the looming volcano. So, why not give the ‘Little Robot’ a try, whether you swing by Fujiyoshida to visit the mountain itself or some of the fascinating attractions nearby?

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Rory.

rory

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