Hakone – Princes, Pirates and black eggs!

27 04 2010

About a month ago, my best friend Lauren came to visit.  We had a really busy schedule because this was probably the last chance she will have to visit me in Japan.  One of the first things we did was to visit Hakone using a package from JAPANiCAN.

I’ve been to Hakone so many times that I’ve lost count, but this was Lauren’s first time.  The package from JAPANiCAN was really really good value.  For 11,900yen we had bullet train tickets from Tokyo to Odawara, and one night at the Hakone Prince Hotel.  Using the bullet train to get to Hakone was really quick, cutting a 5 hour journey from my house in half (I live in the sticks!).  Once we were in Odawara we bought some Odakyu Freepasses and we were off!

Hakone Checkpoint

Firstly we caught the bus to Hakone-machi were we had some lunch at a restaurant overlooking Lake Ashi.  This is also the start of the Ashinoko hike, but this time I wasn’t there for hiking.  Our next stop was the Hakone Checkpoint Museum.  This is a recent (2007) replica of the Checkpoint along the Tokaido Highway, and it’s pretty interesting because it illustrates how difficult it was to travel in the Edo period.  Only people who had documents and legitimate reasons were allowed to travel from Tokyo.  And anyone caught trying to sneak by the Checkpoint were arrested and tortured in some very gruesome ways.  Although the Checkpoint buildings themselves are new, the attached museum is a bit…  aged…  and doesn’t have much English signage.  But its pretty easy to guess things like ‘this instrument was used for torture’, etc, etc.

Inside the Hakone Checkpoint

Inside the Hakone Checkpoint

Old Tokaido Highway

Old Tokaido Highway

From the Checkpoint Museum we walked along a small section of the old Tokaido.  The old highway was lined with cedar trees to give some shade to travellers, and even though it’s right beside a roadway, you can still get a feel for what it must have been like to walk from Tokyo to Kyoto.

Certainly something that didn’t exist back then is the Pirate Ship Cruise we caught across the lake.  I had high hopes that while in Hakone we would have fine weather, but we were not lucky, and there was no views of Mt Fuji that day.  But despite that, the round trip from Hakone, on the Pirate Ship, then ropeway, and finally cable car is still fun, and an interesting view of Japan for those who have only really seen the cites beforehand.

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

Egg Ice Cream

Egg Ice Cream

Of course, our next stop on the round trip was Owakudani, an active volcanic area.  From the ropeway station we were lucky to catch a glimpse of the top of Mt Fuji, and then it was up the trail to try some Kuro-tamago, black eggs that have been boiled in the sulphurous hot springs.  Each egg you eat is said to add another 7 years onto your lifespan, and if that’s the case I managed to add another 17.5 years to my life that weekend.

What got me really excited, however, was Egg ice cream!  I’ve mentioned before how there is a lot of variety of ice creams in Japan, but this was the first time I had ever seen Egg flavour.  Thankfully the ice cream didn’t really taste very eggy, but more like pudding.  I truly think it was pudding flavor, but re-named so that they would sell more….

Owakudani

Owakudani

As we were staying at the Hakone Prince Hotel, we backtracked on the ropeway to the lake, and caught a bus around to the hotel.  The Hakone Prince is kind of like a resort style hotel.  It is on a large piece of land (there is even a golf course), and all buildings and attractions were owned by Prince.  But unfortunately the isolation ment there wasn’t even a convenience store to be had, and dining options were either the two restaurants at the hotel or room service.  As we had a late-ish lunch and eggs, we weren’t starving, so we decided that room service was the best option for us.  It also gave me a bit of a thrill as I had never ever ordered room service before.  I had the seafood curry, and it was the best seafood curry I had ever had.  Plus it was really novel to have my dinner wheeled in for me (^-^)

Seafood Curry dinner

Seafood Curry dinner

The next day the weather had turned bad.  It was 3 degrees C and raining, and being in the mountains, the clouds had set in.  We had already decided to go to Yunessun, a hot spring theme park, so the turn in weather wasn’t so bad for us.  Yunesun, although a little expensive at 3,500 yen, is really great for people who don’t want to bathe naked, because it has a swimsuit zone with many different kinds of baths like wine, sake, green tea, charcoal, and more.  Although, the outside area is a bit trying when you are running from bath to bath and it’s only 3 degrees!  The most interesting bath for me was the Dead Sea bath, it has a very high salt content which makes you float very easily.

By the time we finished at Yunessun it was time to head back to Hakone Station and on to Toyko on the bullet train.  So, the goals of 1- see (a bit of) Mt Fuji, and 2- go to an onsen were achieved.

Lauren also made a great video of our trip – you should also check out her YouTube Channel!  (er, also, language warning!)





Hike – Mt Myojyogatake (Hakone) 明星が岳 (箱根)

24 02 2010

Quick Overview

Mt Myojyogatake

Mt Myojyogatake

A long and somewhat difficult hike that’s quite steep to begin with and can be rocky and slippery in wet conditions.  There isn’t much traffic on this route, so it’s good if you want to get away from the tourists, however it doesn’t afford much of a view apart from Gora 強羅 (unless you hike to the top of neighbouring Mt Myojingataka 明神が岳), and when I hiked there was evidence of animals using the tracks.  There are also no facilities (food or restrooms) on this trail.  Other highlights of the trail are passing the clearing of the Daimon-ji 大文字 (a large 大 symbol) on Mt Myojyogatake 明星が岳, a few pampas grass and bamboo groves, and Amida-ji Temple 阿弥陀時.

Distance: 12.6km
Duration:  5 to 6 hours
Difficulty: Medium to difficult
Season:  April to December
Starting point:  Gora 強羅
Finishing point: Hakone Yumoto 箱根湯本

Maps

A map of the hike  can also be viewed at GPSies

The Mapple 山と高原地図 map series number 29, which includes Hakone 箱根 and it’s surrounds, can be bought on Amazon.co.jp. Note, these maps are in Japanese, but have some English and furigana.

The Hike

From Gora Station 強羅駅 cross over the railway line to the right and head down hill on the residential street.  At the end of the street take a right and then a left and you will be on a steep winding road down to the river.  When you reach the river turn left and follow the road over the Miyagino Bridge 宮城野橋.  Here you can take two routes.  The road directly right on the other side of the bridge will take you to a trail that will lead you directly to the summit of Mt Myojyogatake 明星が岳.  Or if you continue along the road that crossed the bridge you will join a trail that leads you to a mid-point on the ridge between Mt Myojingatake 明神が岳 and Mt Myojyogatake 明星が岳.

Trail head

If you choose the trail direct to the summit of Mt Myojyogatake 明星が岳, follow the signs leading there.  I chose the second path to the midway point.  For this path, at the first traffic lights after the bridge, and across from the Miyagino Shishomae 宮城野支所前 bus stop take the street to the right.  Walk up the streets following the signs pointing to Mt Myojingatake 明神が岳 or Mt Myojyogatake 明星が岳.  From the trail head you will walk up stairs past a few backyards until you enter the real forest.  The walk up to the ridge is mostly stairs and can be slippery when wet.  It should take about 70 minutes to reach the ridge.  From the ridge, if you take the trail to the left you will climb Mt Myojingatake 明神が岳.  It is also a steep climb, and should take about 45 minutes, but I have read the view is quite nice on a fine day.  If you take the trail to the right you will head towards Mt Myojyogatake 明星が岳, passing through some wild pampas grasses, and the bottom of the Daimon-ji 大文字.  It takes about 50 minutes to reach the highest point of Myojyogatake 明星が岳, where there is a tiny shrine.

Cleared forest

Keep heading to the right down hill, and after an hour or so you will exit the trail onto a road.  Keep following the road straight ahead towards Tonomine 塔ノ峰 for about 900m, and you will again see a trail heading up hill on the right.  Take this trail and follow it for about 30 minutes.  You will pass a few areas of forest that have been cleared before seeing a sign to the right for Amida-ji Temple 阿弥陀時.  Take this path down hill.  There are a few stairs here, and it can also be slippery in wet weather.  In about 25 minutes you will come to a sign pointing to the left downhill for Amida-ji Temple 阿弥陀時.  If you go ahead here for a few minutes you will come to some caves.  After checking them out you can continue on to Amida-ji Temple 阿弥陀時.

From Amida-ji Temple 阿弥陀時 just follow the road down and to the left to reach Hakone Yumoto Station 箱根湯本駅 in about 15 minutes.

To and From

As always, the following routes are just recommendations.  Please use Hyperdia or Jorudan’s Train Route Finder to find the most suitable route for you!

From Tokyo 東京, you can either catch the JR line or the Odakyu 小田急 line.  The JR Tokaido line 東海道線 leaves from Tokyo Station 東京駅, and takes 86 minutes and 1,450 yen.  Or you can catch the Kodama Shinkansen to Odawara 小田原 from Tokyo Station 東京駅, costing 3,640 yen and taking 36 minutes.  The Odakyu 小田急 line leaves from Shinjuku Station 新宿駅 and goes to Hakone Yumoto Station 箱根湯本駅.  You may have to change at Odawara 小田原 to continue further on.  The Odakyu 小田急 line either costs 1,150 yen and takes approximately 110 minutes, or if you catch the Romance Car (reserved seating) takes 89 minutes and 2,020 yen.

From Hakone Yumoto 箱根湯本 catch the Odakyu 小田急 Hakone Tozan Tetsudo line 箱根登山鉄道線 to Gora 強羅.  It takes 37 minutes and 390 yen.

There is also a bus to Miyagino Bridge 宮城野橋 from Gora 強羅, but it is irregular and probably quicker to walk the distance.

If you are staying in the Hakone 箱根 area for a few days Odakyu 小田急 has a Hakone Freepass, which covers return trip from Shinjuku 新宿, and many of the other forms of transport around the area.  The 2 day pass is 5,000 yen, and the 3 day pass is 5,500 yen.  Details can be found here.

Links

Odakyu Hakone Freepass – http://www.odakyu.jp/english/freepass/hakone_01.html

Hakone Zenzan, some other hikes in the Hakone area and weather reports- http://www.hakone.or.jp/english/osusume/hike_list.html

HakoneNavi, tourist information site for Hakone – http://www.hakonenavi.jp/english/

My Flickr set of the hike – http://www.flickr.com/photos/michelelisa/sets/72157622650744760/

The map of the hike on GPSies – http://www.gpsies.com/map.do?fileId=aczcuerkubjxtjxm


Useful Kanji

Amida-ji Temple 阿弥陀時
Daimon-ji 大文字
Gora 強羅
Gora Station 強羅駅
Hakone 箱根
Hakone Tozan Tetsudo line 箱根登山鉄道線
Hakone Yumoto 箱根湯本
Hakone Yumoto Station 箱根湯本駅
Miyagino Bridge 宮城野橋
Miyagino Shishomae 宮城野支所前
Mt Myojingataka 明神が岳
Mt Myojyogatake 明星が岳
Odakyu 小田急
Odawara 小田原
Shinjuku Station 新宿駅
Tokaido line 東海道線
Tokyo 東京
Tokyo Station 東京駅
Tonomine 塔ノ峰





Hike – Ashinoko (Hakone) 芦ノ湖(箱根)

6 12 2009

Quick Overview

Lake Ashi

This is a pleasant (if long) walk around Lake Ashi (Ashinoko) 芦ノ湖.  With views of Mt Fuji 富士山, and access to transport to many other sightseeing places in the area, it’s quiet scenic.  The trail is mostly flat and well-defined and signed.  Usually very quite, as most tourists use the boats to cross the lake, but a good option if the weather is fine and you have the time.  Suitable for anybody who can walk long distances.  Also has a few beaches along the way to stop at and have a picnic lunch (but no shops or toilets).

Distance: 12km
Duration:  3 to 4 hours
Difficulty: easy
Season:  April to December
Starting point:  Hakone Machi 箱根町
Finishing point: Togendai 桃源台

Maps


Note, the last few kilometers of this trail won’t show on the embedded map, but you can access the whole map on googlemaps!

A full map of the hike  can also be viewed at GPSies

The Mapple 山と高原地図 map series number 29, which includes Hakone 箱根 and it’s surrounds, can be bought on Amazon.co.jp. Note, these maps are in Japanese, but have some English and furigana.

The Hike

From the bus stop at Hakone Machi 箱根町 follow the edge of the lake around to the left.  You will have to walk along a couple of streets, but as long as you stick to the route closest to the lake edge you will be able to pick up the trail.

Initially you will walk on a service road around a small mountain.  There are a number of different short trails on the mountain if you want to do some extra exploring.  If you keep to the service road you will come to a picnic area with some public toilets and a large gate.  This is the last toilet until the end of the walk.  Next to the  gate is a smaller gateway for people. Just pass through that and you will be on the path to Togendai 桃源台.

The path follows the edge of the lake, and the only deviations are little paths that lead down to the lake edge.  Occasionally you will be able to access a stone beach next to the lake, so bringing a picnic lunch and something to sit on is a pleasant way to spend some time.

Towards the end of the hike you will join a bitumen road nearby a flood gate and boat ramp.   Here, again, stick to the path closest to the lake’s edge.  After a kilometer or so, you will come to a large river crossing the path.  You will have to cross the river on the main road.  On the other side  of the river is a large camp ground.  Follow the road around the camp ground, and keep going until you reach Togendai Ropeway station 桃源台ロープウェイ駅.

To and From

As always, the following routes are just recommendations.  Please use Hyperdia or Jorudan’s Train Route Finder to find the most suitable route for you!

From Tokyo 東京, you can either catch the JR line or the Odakyu 小田急 line.  The JR Tokaido line 東海道線 leaves from Tokyo Station 東京駅, and takes 86 minutes and 1,450 yen.  Or you can catch the Kodama Shinkansen to Odawara 小田原 from Tokyo Station 東京駅, costing 3,640 yen and taking 36 minutes.  The Odakyu 小田急 line leaves from Shinjuku Station 新宿駅 and goes to Hakone Yumoto Station 箱根湯本駅.  You may have to change at Odawara 小田原 to continue further on.  The Odakyu 小田急 line either costs 1,150 yen and takes approximately 110 minutes, or if you catch the Romance Car (reserved seating) takes 89 minutes and 2,020 yen.

From Odawara 小田原 or Hakone Yumoto 箱根湯本 catch the Odakyu 小田急 bus to Hakone Machi 箱根町.  From Odawara 小田原 this takes about 60 minutes and 1,150 yen.  From Hakone Yumoto 箱根湯本 it takes 45 minutes and 790 yen.

Departing from Togendai 桃源台 you have a few options.  There is a bus back to Hakone Yumoto 箱根湯本 and Odawara 小田原 taking 45 or 60 minutes respectively, and 840 or 1,200 yen respectively.  Or you can take the scenic route over Owakudani 大涌谷 by catching the Ropeway.  The other option is to catch the boat back to Hakone Machi 箱根町 or Moto Hakone 元箱根, and then catch the bus from there.

If you are staying in the Hakone 箱根 area for a few days Odakyu 小田急 has a Hakone Freepass, which covers return trip from Shinjuku 新宿, and many of the other forms of transport around the area.  The 2 day pass is 5,000 yen, and the 3 day pass is 5,500 yen.  Details can be found here.

Links

Odakyu Hakone Freepass – http://www.odakyu.jp/english/freepass/hakone_01.html

Hakone Zenzan, some other hikes in the Hakone area and weather reports- http://www.hakone.or.jp/english/osusume/hike_list.html

HakoneNavi, tourist information site for Hakone – http://www.hakonenavi.jp/english/


Useful Kanji

Lake Ashi (Ashinoko) 芦ノ湖
Hakone 箱根
Hakone Machi 箱根町
Hakone Yumoto 箱根湯本
Hakone Yumoto Station 箱根湯本駅
Moto Hakone 元箱根
Mt Fuji 富士山
Odakyu 小田急
Odawara 小田原
Owakudani 大涌谷
Shinjuku Station 新宿駅
Togendai 桃源台
Togendai Ropeway station 桃源台ロープウェイ駅
Tokaido line 東海道線
Tokyo 東京
Tokyo Station 東京駅





tickled pink

25 10 2009

In a way, not much has been happening lately, but on the other hand, lots has.  We’ve just finished the mid semester exams and sports day at school, and during that time I had a number of days off.  Now its the 5 week hard slog until end of semester exams and winter break.

Because I’ve had extra time off, and because the weather has been great (well, barring that late typhoon on Oct 8th), I’ve had plenty of time to go hiking.  I’ve actually gone 3 times this month, which has me at a never before achieved physical fitness level (^-^)v

Firstly I hiked from Mt Takao to Mt Jimba.  It was probably the hardest hike (barring Mt Fuji) that I have done to date.  Mainly because it was 19km.  But I survived and had a great feeling of accomplishment afterwards.  It was actually really good timing, after the typhoon, because the sky was really clear and I could see Mt Fuji, Tokyo, and even all the way to Mt Tsukuba, which is pretty rare.

Last weekend I went to Hakone for 3 days 2 nights.  While I was there I did two hikes, the first from Gora to Hakone Yumoto, and secondly a walk around Lake Ashi.  The Gora hike was pretty hard, and I have to admit that I was kinda freaked out about the possibility of seeing a bear.  The hike around Lake Ashi was a lot easier, and I actually meet with a friend I had made at the summer camp I worked at, which made the hike really pleasant.  And of course I went to onsen and had a massage, so it was also a pretty relaxing weekend.

On Friday I decided to go to Nikko for the day and walk the Senjogahara marshes.  I was a little disappointed I was too late for most of the leaves changing, but despite that, it really was a beautiful walk.  I think I might try to go again in summer next year.

I worry a little that I’m somewhat of an addictive personality.  I really seem to have caught the hiking bug, but I also know I’ll probably only be able to go once a month from now, at least in the winter months.  But I’m totally excited about using my new thermal cup when I do go hiking –

Thermal cup/mug thingyopen thermal cup

Is it possible to have a thermal bottle/mug fetish?  because I swear I have about 6 things now….  Anyhow, this one is specifically designed for hot drinks, and is really easy to use.  Its kinda sad, but I’m particularly impressed with the pouring cap –

openclose

You just push down on the red button to open the spout, and to close you push the tab on the side in!  Very smart – I like that you don’t have to touch the spout.  I tried it out on Friday, and I was also surprised at how long the water inside stayed hot.  It’s supposed to keep it at 70deg for 7 hours or so, but it lasted longer!  So now I’ll be able to take tea with me when I go hiking.  How exciting!!Azuki Flavoured Pepsi

Apart from hiking not much has been happening, however there are a few things that have tickled my fancy.

At 7-11 the other day I spotted Azuki (sweet red bean) flavoured Pepsi.  Only in Japan…

It wasn’t flavoured cola, but more like flavoured sprite.  Actually, it wasn’t bad, however it really didn’t taste much like azuki to me.  But I’ll try anything once.

I also got a delivery of bulbs the other day, in the hopes that come spring I’ll have a lovely pot of lovely flowers.  I planted them up this morning, and here’s what it looks like now –

one day, I'll grow up into beautiful potted flowers....Let’s just hope I don’t manage to kill them…  I’ll post photos when they bloom…  If they bloom…  Really, I’m good at killing plants….





ACK!

10 09 2009

ACK! It’s been over a month!?! Boy you must be thinking I’m slack. But I have a good reason, really!

Um… okay….

Maybe not that great. But yeah, things have been happening to conspire against me blogging. I think summer holidays do that to me. Either I’m incredibly busy or sleeping. However, that’s all over now, and I will endeavor to stick to Goal #1. Both Goal #1s…

My school’s summer holidays are from about mid-July until September. I always have the best intentions to spend as much of my vacations travelling around. Last year I managed to go to Kyoto with a friend, travelled to Aizu Wakamatsu and Sendai for the Tanabata festival, climbed Mt Fuji, visited my family and friends in Australia, then travelled with my parents to Hakodate, Sapporo and Furano in Hokkaido. It was a very successful vacation! A number of these trips were part of my ‘Things I MUST do in Japan’ list, so I was really happy. This year I intended to do a number of things from that list too, however time and money constraints limited what I was able to achieve.

As I mentioned in my last few updates, I did go to Hakone and Nikko, but apart from that I didn’t have the chance to travel much in Japan. Some of the events I did manage to go to however included the Sumida River Fireworks and Summer Sonic.

Japan is very big on summer festivals, particularly fireworks. Sumida River is the biggest and oldest firework festival in Tokyo. The fireworks themselves go for about 90 minutes, but it is near impossible to get a good vantage point unless you reserve your spot some insane time in the morning. That being said, it’s still an experience going. Festivals are a lot of fun, with people in yukata, food stalls, and a fun atmosphere. However, I think next year I will go to my local city’s festival instead, because I actually want to see the fireworks.

In recent years, as well as summer festivals, summer music festivals have become popular in Japan. Summer Sonic, which is held in Chiba and Osaka, and Fuji Rock, in Niigata, are the two biggest. I really want to go to Fuji Rock, however this year the line up wasn’t great, and Niigata is quite a way away. So I went to one day of Summer Sonic instead (it’s a 3 day festival). Although there weren’t any acts that I was dying to see, I did enjoy Dragon Ash, Phoenix, Mercury Rev, the Silent Disco, and Nine Inch Nails(totally surprised me, but NIN were the best act of the day). Overall the day was more fun than I expected.

Apart from those couple of events, there wasn’t much else to my vacation. I did spend a day at the ‘seaside’ (or bayside to be precise). Odaiba is an island of reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay. You can catch a boat from Asakusa along the Sumida River to Hinode Pier, and from there across to Odaiba a ferry. During July and August a special life sized statue of a Gundam was built to promote ‘Green’ Tokyo. I have no idea what Green Tokyo was about, but the statue was very very cool. Every once in a while it would play theme music, move its head, and steam, which was pretty cool. But what really impressed me was the details, things like the decals, and hydraulics (fake of course), which made it look like it could have just walked off its stand. Too bad they are taking it down. I think it would have been a very good tourist attraction. Anyway.

While I was in Odaiba I took the time to go to Miraikan or MeSci as it’s known in English. It’s a museum that is supposed to ‘share’ innovative science. There are a lot of interactive displays, and it’s well set out and very funky, but I was disappointed that there didn’t seem to be that much. I suppose when I think of a science museum with interactive displays I think of basic sciences. There’s not many ways you can have a display of the International Space Station and make it interactive. And driving a robot remotely just isn’t my thing. However, the one exhibit that was really cool was the internet display, designed to show kids how information is sent around the internet. Using black and white balls as bits you try to send a word to another input station, but the balls have to go along all these ramps and through big windy things. Very cool. Overall, even though I found Miraikan to be a bit dull, young kids would like it.

Oh, and I finished off my day in Odaiba by conquering my fear of heights and walking across the Rainbow Bridge. Got some great pictures of Tokyo too, check them out!

For the rest of my vacation I knew money was going to be sparse, so I took up an offer from my company to teach at an English summer camp. The camp was a lot of fun, and really wasn’t very hard work. I got to meet 3 other teachers from my company who were lovely ladies, and my group of kids was friendly and tried hard. I think the most enjoyable part of the camp was the BBQ/bonfire/ghost walk evening. We ate a heap of meat, got to light small fireworks, dance around, and freak out the kids (we were the monsters)(and yes, I am kinda sadistic).

The final part of my vacation was two weeks spent in Australia. Two weeks seems like a long time on paper, but it really flew. I visited my grandfather, aunt, uncle and cousin, and also managed to catch up with a few friends. I went shopping for clothes (I just can’t buy pants/underwear in Japan), multiple doctor/dentist appointments and ate many foods I missed. It was really wonderful to go back home, I’ve been missing it a lot lately. And believe me, it was very sad to leave. It was also very distressing to get my credit card bill (4 days of shopping, and averaging $500 a day… you do the math) but at least I have clothes now.

And now it’s September and it’s back to school. Admittedly it’s only the first week of school, but things have been slow so far. I’m expecting to get slammed next week. But I would have to say the most interesting thing about being back at school is the ‘measures’ the school is taking in regards to Swine Flu… It’s not even flu season yet!?! Regardless, if a kid comes down with a fever during class time, we have to give them a mask, send them to the teacher’s room, and then to the nurse’s office. And on top of that, the school has decided to limit the Culture Festival in a few weeks time. Now, if you’ve ever watched a school-based anime, Culture Festival is when all the kids open a maid café or make a haunted house in their classroom. People from outside the school (family/friends/complete strangers) can come and look around, etc. This year however, the school has limited the festival to one day, no food will be sold, and only families that have returned their RSVP’s can come. I can tell you now a lot of the kids will be disappointed.

But such is life in a society prone to panic.

Did I ever tell you about how natto sold out when a TV show said eating it every day was good for dieting??? Crazy group mentality….

*edit – apparently the swine flu panic isn’t over reacting, at the moment about 12 kids from the school have contracted it…. great….





Of weddings, clouds, and statues

24 07 2009

A couple of  weekends ago (see, I’m already behind…) I was invited to a friend’s second wedding party in Yokohama.

I find Japanese weddings to be very different to what weddings I have attended in Australia. Firstly, in Japan they hold a number of parties. The actual legal wedding occurs at your local ward office, and is really just like going to sign the document. Then you have wedding parties.

Most couples have at least 2 wedding parties. The first being a wedding ceremony and formal reception. The second party is more like a reception, but the couple would have had a “costume” change, and more guests would be invited. The guests have to pay for the party, around the order of ¥5000 or upwards, but this will probably include food and drink. It’s also probable that there will be some sort of game either to get to know the other guests or for prizes. These 2nd parties only last about 2 hours, and then afterwards guests will either head off to the next party, an after party, or home.

Oh, and did I mention, its also customary for guests to wear black or dark colours to a wedding in Japan???  Particularly if you go to the first party.

All in all it must be an exhausting day for the couple, with sooo many events to attend. Personally I do prefer the western style of ceremony and one reception, just seems a whole lot easier to me, because Japanese weddings are such a big production!

Anyway, the party I attended a few weekends ago was a lot of fun, and it was good to see a lot of my old colleagues. Because it was in Yokohama I opted to stay there overnight, it’s about an hour and a half from where I live, and then the following day went out further to Hakone to enjoy some hiking and onsen.

Mikas Wedding Party in Yokohama

Mika's Wedding Party in Yokohama

Alas my Hakone plans were a bit too ambitious for someone who was out late the night before, not to mention the weather wasn’t agreeable either.  Hakone, being in the mountains, is often in the clouds.  On a good day you can see Mt Fuji from Lake Ashi.

Lake Ashi and Mt Fuji

Lake Ashi and Mt Fuji

And on a bad day, well, you can’t see much at all…

Lake Ashi in cloud

Lake Ashi in cloud

On the Monday I wanted to do an 11km walk around Lake Ashi, and then hike back down the mountains to Hakone-Yumoto. I did start the walk around Lake Ashi, but about a third if the way around clouds set in and I decided it was best to turn back. So instead I headed back to my hotel, B&B Pension Hakone. My hotel was a very pleasant surprise, very cheap, but included breakfast and a discount ticket to a nearby onsen (Mori no Yu, part of Yunessun). So that evening I rested my sore muscles in the hot spring.

The next day my plan was to hike from Gora station to Tsukahara station before heading home. But again my exhaustion got the better of me (in the end I did walk over 20km in the two days) and I went to the Hakone Open Air Museum instead.

The museum was very interesting. I had been meaning to go there for a long time and I’m happy to have been now. It’s a museum dedicated to displaying statues outdoors. But for me it was very interesting to learn my own tastes in sculpture. It seems I tend towards shiny things and the human form. And not abstract sculptures, which surprised me because I tend towards more modern artwork.

Anyway, I didn’t take many photos, becuase the signs all said no photos.  But then walking about I saw many people using cameras, so here’s a couple of the sculptures I liked –

Shiny Ball thingy

Shiny Ball thingy

Disembodied Head

Disembodied Head

By the way, for anyone interested in hiking in Hakone, this site is a great resource if you don’t mind wading through the Japanese on their maps – Hakone-Zenzan.  The hikes I was planning to do were #1, #4 (which doesn’t have a map, but from Hakone Machi just keep following the closest road to the lake going left, and you cant miss the trail head), and something in the area of #18. I used the Mapple Hakone hiking map to plan my hikes.  (One day when I actually do the hikes, I’ll do a proper write up…)