I'm a Reasonable Man. (get off my case)

May 1, 2010

And we all went to heaven in a little rowboat

Filed under: akihabara,food,hakone,japan,kobe,kyoto,mt. fuji — Reasonable Man @ 3:53 am

It’s been a long few days without internet, but thoroughly enjoyable and eventful nonetheless. For the sake of brevity I’m just going to summarize what we did and post a few pics. After our bout of illness in Kyoto, we had a pleasant day-trip through town where we checked out Nishi market, had some squid-bar on a stick, wandered through a famous temple that I can’t remember the name of, and then we departed for Kobe to meet up with our friends again.

Once we arrived in Kobe, we received news that the travel agent Jessica had been trying to plan a mini-vacation to Mt. Fuji with finally had our plans in place. We met him at a Mister Donut restaurant (?), and we learned we would be staying at the Hotel Okada in Hakone, and would be leaving the next day mostly via the Shinkansen bullet train. J&B would return to Kobe afterwards, while we would move along to nearby Tokyo for the last few days of our vacation.

After several hours of travel, we eventually arrived at the Okada, which is part hotel, part ryokan — the traditional “inns” of Japan. At a Ryokan you typically strut about in a robe-like kimono called a “Yakuta”, have dinner brought out in several courses as you sit on the floor of the squat table in your room. We’ve done this before, and enjoy it. However, this Ryokan, and Hakone in general is famous for its “onsen”, or hot spring baths. I think all of us except Jessica were a little nervous about this at first. In an onsen, you basically get buck naked, sit on a little stool and shower/bathe/shampoo yourself clean, then enter a large pool that is basically a giant hot tub, with dozens of other nude Japanese men (or women if that happens to be your gender), and soak for as long as you want. Sounds weird, but once you’ve done it, you’ll keep going back. The open air outdoor onsen are even better.

We toured the local scenery, found a nice little path featuring lots of waterfalls and temple-ish things. Hakone is a a truly beautiful area, there’s virtually nowhere you can look that isn’t highly photogenic and serene. There is are rivers and streams everywhere, and they look nice, but Japan has a strange fascination with paving the bottoms of all their rivers with concrete for reasons that are unclear to me. It’s nestled between large, forested mountain ranges, and the narrow road to our hotel was very steep, but pretty busy. There are rumoured to be Japanese flying squirrels around, but all we saw was a creepy little forest crab. After our never-ending dinner, they bust out the futons (the hotel room, shared by the four of us, is basically a large empty room with a table and a TV) on the floor, and more or less force you to go to sleep by 9PM because you’re so full and the room is covered in beds. Not a heck of a lot to do at night in Hakone anyways.

The next morning, we bought “Hakone Free Passes” that were anything but free that allowed us to tour and travel throughout the region for two days with a single ticket. We took a train to Lake Ashi, where we boarded a comical pirate ship that ferried us to the other side of the lake in 30 minutes. The ride offered us terrific views of Mt. Fuji, which is something of an exotic sight as it is often obscured by clouds or haze. The weather was clear and the scenery was beautiful. (Writing that last sentence reminded me of the hilarious postcard phrase “The weather is here, wish you were beautiful”, but I digress…) From there, we took several rope-way cablecars, which are pretty damn cool, to another place I can’t recall the name of, but we affectionately dubbed “Fart Mountain”. This mountain contains numerous suphur springs that are a popular tourist attraction, but smell like farts everywhere you go. The closer you get, the worse it stinks, and we got up reaaal close. Here you can purchase black eggs which the area is famous for.. they move regular eggs up by cablecar to the top of the mountain, hardboil them right in the sulphur spring, and they come out black. You can by 5 for 500yen and they were delicious. Legend has it that consuming one will extend your life by 7 years, but I don’t believe that to be an accumulative effect.

A couple of more ropeways later, and we were in another small town featuring an outdoor Picasso museum. We balked at the ticket price to get in, laughed at (and felt bad for) a worn-out stray cat trying to keep its shit together in the blowing wind while sunbathing, then headed back to our hotel. We had another huge ryokan dinner, the morning presented another “Viking Breakfast” (?) buffet, and man can the Japanese do a breakfast buffet.

This morning we and J&B parted ways, they back to Kobe, us returning to Tokyo to wrap up our vacation. We’ve just checked into the Khaoson Smile Tokyo hostel, and I’m writing this from the top bunk of our room which is hilariously small and can barely contain our luggage and ourselves at the same time. Not sure what we’ll do next, Akihabara (“Electric Town”) is closeby so we’ll probably check the nighttime action out there. I think I might try to buy a watch. I love my grandfather’s WWII-era wind-up watch, but it’s looking a little gaudy.

I’d like to use this space to give a special shout out to Jessica and Brandon for putting us up (and putting up with us) this past week, introducing us to food and touristy things we’d likely never attempt on our own, teaching us a lot, being our interpreters, and just being all around great people. You guys made our vacation! We’re having a better time this trip than on our last one, and that vacation was a tough act to follow. We’ve got 3 nights left, and are getting a little excited for home (but not that excited).

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