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Tales from Japan – part 2

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onday morning we boarded a train to make our way to Hakone. We passed through Shinjuku station, one of the busiest stations in the world. Madness would be the best way to describe it. With over 3 million people going through it per day, and more than 200 exits, it was a near certainty that we would get confused here. Naturally, we accidentally exited at the wrong gate, then went through the turnstile without paying. Our sincere cluelessness was enough to placate the guard and we settled in for the 90 minute ride to Hakone.

We were nervous about staying in another ryokan, but our place in Hakone was an oasis. Friendly staff, large rooms, an outdoor bath, and the sound of a rushing river right outside our window. I bought beer out of a vending machine here, and not just any vending machine but one with a poorly translated sign. Two birds with one stone on the scavenger hunt. The sign reads: “Canned beverage makes you refresh. We carefully did the best selection. They are outstanding among others.”

Badly translated sign.

Beer from a vending machine!

We walked around Hakone for just a bit, they are really into dried fish here. I slurped down one a half bowls of noodles for a late lunch – noodles are the Japanese equivalent of burritos for me. I can eat them for every meal and in large quantities. One theme that keeps coming up is how truly alien things can be here. Case in point: our noodles had something in them that no one amongst the four us could determine if it was animal or vegetable. Also, the textures are so unique that upon trying something for the first time it can be hard to say whether or not you like it. Eating can be sensory overload.

The soap in our room had some kind of warning or announcement. We never figured it out.

That night our ryokan served us dinner in a large banquet hall. We were fortunate enough to get a private room that came with a crib for Laxmi. Our dinner was another baffling experiences that begin with a plate of raw meats and vegetables sitting on a burner. A waitress came in to start it cooking while we ate a variety of appetizers. We mistakenly started eating a plate of rice and beans, which turned out to be something we were supposed to add to the soup that was being made in the center of the table. Dinner was very strange, but highly enjoyable.

Dinner, almost always a mystery.

Tuesday morning I ran the streets of Hakone, which are beautiful but can be very steep. I have yet to see another jogger here, so I’m not sure if there is any special etiquette that goes with it. Later that morning we set out to see a temple, which required a very steep climb through a local park. The effort was worth as the temple was beautiful and looked like something I had only seen in movies. This was exactly the sort of thing I was hoping to see in Japan. The temple had a graveyard of indeterminate age. Some of the gravestones are covered in moss and they could just as easily be 100 years old as they could be 10 years old. Later in the day, our random explorations along the side of the road uncovered several shrines that looked like they had been there for a long, long time. We felt like Indiana Jones as stumbled upon shrine after shrine tucked into the woods. Of course, Indy never heard the sound of cars whizzing by as he made his discoveries.

The graveyard.

Discoveries along the side of the road.

Another scavenger hunt item: battle a robot.

We wrapped up Tuesday by having dinner at our ryokan wearing our yukatas, which are traditional Japanese robes. Very festive to eat dinner in a restaurant in your bathrobe. The food wasn’t quite as crazy as the night before and started off with cuttlefish sashimi. Turns out that I love the stuff. The biggest challenge was keeping my yukata sleeves out of the open flames on table. No telling how many etiquette rules I would be breaking if I set myself on fire. Later that night, Anne and I watched Lost in Translation on our laptop that night…it was one of our favorite movies already, but after being in this country our appreciation for it has increased tenfold.

Dining in yukatas.

On Wednesday we hit a different part of Hakone, via a mountainside rail car. Beautiful trip that ended with us at the Hakone Open Air Museum, the home to some incredible sculptures in a stunning environment. We spent the afternoon strolling through the mountains, with the leaves just beginning to turn, looking at sculptures by Rodin, Henry Moore, and many others. It even had an enclosed building with a Picasso exhibit. Museums aren’t usually my thing, but I LOVED this one. I had no expectations going in and was totally overwhelmed.

The Hakone Open Air Musuem.

Inside an exhibit that I named “The Tower of Awesomeness”.

I would be overwhelmed again a few hours later when we wandered into the Venetian Glass Museum solely because it was located across the street from our next ryokan. Words cannot describe how gorgeous this place was. The museum was dedicated to classic and modern glassworks, but the real draw of this place was the glass forest. The trees and bushes were wrapped with glass and wire sculptures creating a wonderland that looked like Willy Wonka’s vacation house. We strolled around the gardens until closing time, and walked back to the ryokan for dinner. This night’s meal consisted of us grilling our own food at our table. We managed to generate enough smoke that the other patrons asked for the doors to be opened. Dinner is always such an adventure here.

Venetian Glass Musuem.

The relaxing images of Japanese television.


Written by Scott

November 18, 2007 at 9:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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One Response

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