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!)

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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…)