Archive for May 27, 2017

a weekend in hakone: delightful gardens at the hakone museum of art   9 comments

Saturday, May 27:  Before leaving the Hakone Open-Air Museum, I ask a man at the information desk how to get to the Hakone Museum of Art.  He seems unsure, but finally tells me to take the train to Gora Station, and then get on the Sounzan Cable Car to Ko-en Kami Station.  I had already done a Google map search and had seen I could take a bus, but he assures me it is easier to take the train and cable car.  Upon arrival at Chokoku-no-mori station, I ask a Japanese man at the station about a bus, but he impatiently motions that I should WALK to Gora Station.  I should have just hopped on the train as I have the Hakone Free Pass, so it doesn’t cost me anything additional to use any of the transportation in the area.  As it is, I blindly take the man’s advice and end up walking quite a way up a steep hill and then packing myself into the cable car with hordes of other tourists.

Getting around in Hakone is supposedly convenient because of all the modes of transportation, but the timing of such transportation and the confusion about where to catch each mode makes it a challenge.  It ends up being more time-consuming than I anticipated. Finally, I pop out of the cable car at the deserted Ko-en Kami Station, where I wonder if I’ve made a mistake because I’m the only one who gets off!

Just outside the station, I find some lively action, namely a tour group heading in the direction of the Hakone Museum of Art, indicated by a sign.  I walk quickly to get ahead of them, and pay my  700 yen entry fee before the crowd converges.  Then I walk quickly to the moss garden, keeping just ahead of the group.

Okada Mokichi (1882-1955) founded the Hakone Museum of Art in order that “works of art should not be monopolized but made available to be viewed and enjoyed by as many people as possible.”  He hoped that increased exposure to art would help elevate human sentiments and make a big contribution towards cultural development. The Hakone Museum of Art focuses on displaying medieval Japanese ceramics from the Jomon period (10,000 B.C. – 200 B.C.) to the Edo period (1615-1867).

I’m sure the museum has a great collection, but I don’t come here today for that.  I am here to see the moss garden and Sekiraku-en Garden.  I wander through the stone paths under the shade of the maple trees.  Before long the tour group passes by me and I have the garden to myself.  It’s a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of Hakone’s many tourist attractions.

moss garden at the Hakone Museum of Art

I love nothing more than a quiet walk through a deserted and peaceful place.

moss garden at the Hakone Museum of Art

moss garden at the Hakone Museum of Art

moss-covered steps

The moss garden also has a teahouse where green tea is served for a small fee.  I am decidedly not a tea drinker, which my Japanese students find shocking.   How could anyone not like tea?

tea house in the moss garden

moss garden at the Hakone Museum of Art

moss garden

moss garden

moss garden

moss garden

moss, up close and personal

pathway through the moss garden

tangled roots

Besides the moss garden, the museum grounds feature a Japanese landscape garden, Sekiraku-en Garden, which spreads over the slopes of Gora.  It features large decorative stones, a mountain stream and views over the valley and mountains.

Sekiraku-en Garden

Sekiraku-en Garden

tea house at Sekiraku-en Garden

Sekiraku-en Garden

Sekiraku-en Garden

Sekiraku-en Garden

Sekiraku-en Garden

Sekiraku-en Garden

Sekiraku-en Garden

back to the moss garden

moss garden at the Hakone Museum of Art

moss garden

moss garden

After leaving the beautiful moss garden, I decide I should go check in to my hotel. First, I have to find it! By now, it’s almost 4:00 and the other two things I hoped to do today are probably getting ready to close.  My plan was to also visit Choanji Temple and the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands, but as I already have a full day planned for tomorrow, I don’t know if I’ll be able to squeeze them in.

When I first arrived in Hakone this morning, a woman at the Tourist Information told me that I should take Bus S to my hotel.  She had given me a map of the area where I’d be staying, which is near both Choanji Temple and the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands. I find the bus stop right outside the Hakone Museum of Art, and take Bus S, watching for the Senkyoro-mae stop.  When I get off, I’m disoriented and have no idea which direction I should go.  I’m near a crossroads and could go in four directions.  I see some Japanese lettering which seems to match that on my hotel reservation; it says 500 meters, so I hike up and down and hilly road for half a kilometer.  At the end of the road, I see a beautiful building on my right and I think, Wow!  My hotel is beautiful!  I should have known better as I got one of the cheapest hotels in Hakone at ~ $107.  Many of the hotels in Hakone are $300-500 per night!! It turns out it was not my hotel at all but the fancy Hakone Venetian Glass Museum.  The woman at the desk directs me right back down the road from where I just walked, and tells me which direction to go.

Back at the bus stop, I see there are two roads going off the main road in a V; I take the left branch.  To my left, I find a quiet and pretty little garden and pond, which I stroll through. It’s delightful.

a secret garden not far from my hotel

whimsical garden

I continue following that road to the top of a hill where there is a hotel with a Japanese name.  I ask the doorman if it’s my hotel.  He directs me back down the hill and indicates I should have taken the branch of the V to the right.  Well, well, well!  That was the direction I had come from on the bus!

Back at the tip of the V, I walk up the hill that I came down on the bus.  It’s a long uphill slog, but finally after another 500 meters, I find a sign that says Nakamura.  At least that’s one word I recognize from my hotel name: Hakone Onsen Sanso Nakamura.  I walk up to the office to sign in.

Almost to the door, I run into a youngish woman who tells me she’s going into town to get some food at the Family Mart and she wonders if I’d like to come along. She tells me she’s from Amsterdam and is traveling around Japan; that she was here with friends but they have now left, and that I should get some mosquito repellent because the pests are inundating the rooms.  I thank her very much but tell her I just walked down three separate roads to get here, so I’d like to check in and relax a bit before I go anywhere.

Hakone Onsen Sanso Nakamura

I leave my walking sandals in a cubbyhole by the entrance and am told to put on some plastic slippers.  I’d rather just go barefoot, but I do as I’m told. I’m directed to my room, after the receptionist tries to find my name on the hotel register.  It’s right there in plain sight, my name in English, so even if he doesn’t know how to read English, it seems he’d recognize it  as the only English name in sight.

In my Japanese-style room, I find my bag all wrapped in plastic and nicely delivered from Hakone Baggage Services.  I check out the room and realize there’s nothing to do here, so I might as well head out to find something to eat.  I’d already read that the hotel didn’t serve any food.  The woman at the desk speaks a bit of English and tells me to go into the town; she gestures down the same hill I just climbed to get here!

Hakone Onsen Sanso Nakamura

Hakone Onsen Sanso Nakamura

Hakone Onsen Sanso Nakamura

After 500 meters, I reach the bus stop where I first disembarked and I walk through the pretty little garden in the V once again.  It doesn’t look much different this time than it did the first time I walked through.

a stroll through a whimsical garden

whimsy in green

tangles in green

I walk and walk down the long straight road in Sengokuhara looking for a restaurant, but I don’t see much of anything.  Finally, I find a place that appears to be a restaurant, so I wander in.

restaurant in Sengokuhara

entryway to the restaurant

Surprise, surprise!  Here I find the young lady from Amsterdam who I ran into at my hotel.  She tells me her name is Lee.  I ask her if I can join her and we have a nice dinner together.  She is of Vietnamese origin but grew up in Amsterdam, so she’s a Dutch citizen.  She says she loves to travel and was with friends until today, but she’ll be traveling alone for the next week.  She is so glad her friends (one of whom was a friend of her friend) have left; she was annoyed by the one girl who was just an acquaintance because she was on her phone constantly.  She is on her way to Hiroshima tomorrow by the Shinkansen.  She reports that all Dutch people live to travel and she’s no exception.

I order tempura and soba noodles.  I’m not really all that hungry after my pizza for lunch earlier, so I end up leaving most of the noodles untouched.  I do enjoy a beer though. 🙂

tempura and udon

me in the restaurant

It’s nice to have Lee to walk back to the hotel with, as it starts getting dark early.  The road up to our hotel is a winding road without much of a shoulder so is pretty dangerous.

Back at the hotel, I go to my room, get undressed and put on the robe I find folded neatly in my closet.  The hotel has a small onsen, so I go downstairs, wash off thoroughly, then soak in the very hot bath for about 20 minutes.  I’m tired from all my walking, so I’m sure this relaxing bath will help me sleep tonight. 🙂

Total steps: 17,088 (7.24 miles).

a weekend in hakone: the hakone open-air museum   11 comments

Saturday, May 27:  Today, I embark on my first overnight trip since I arrived in Japan.  My destination is Hakone National Park, a district of mountain spas and thermal activity contained within an extinct volcano some 40km wide. The volcano became extinct some 400,000 years ago, but hot springs and spas, along with bubbling hot mud emitting sulfurous gas, can be found in the still-active crater.  The main attractions of Hakone are its many onsen — hot springs with bathing facilities — and the variety of unique transportation modes available to get around.

Many people make a day trip here from Tokyo, but I think a day trip would be too much of a rush.  I don’t like to travel to a place and then have to hurry and scurry to see everything; if possible, I prefer a more leisurely experience. I reserved a hotel room earlier in the week when I saw the weather forecast was good, and I’m glad I opted to stay the night.

To get to Hakone, I can simply take the Odakyu line from Machida, two stops from Fuchinobe, but I’ve heard that for a small increase in price, I can buy a reserved seat on the convenient Romancecar.  The Romancecar is Odakyu Electric Railway’s name for its limited express luxury tourist services south-west of Tokyo, to mountain resorts such as Hakone and Gotemba (Mt. Fuji), as well as beaches such as Enoshima. The name comes from romance seats, two-person seats without separating armrests.

I asked several of my co-workers about whether I needed to reserve seats in advance for the Romancecar, but they told me they’ve always just bought the tickets at the station right before traveling.  I don’t know why, but I decide to check online early this morning, and I find, much to my surprise, that the two departures closest to 9:00 are already sold out.  I book my ticket for the 10:17 departure, which is later than I hoped to get started.  I guess next time, I’ll book in advance.

At the Machida station, I buy the recommended Hakone Free Pass, which provides unlimited use of Odakyu-affiliated buses, trains, boats, cablecars and ropeways in the Hakone area, as well as discounted admission to selected tourist attractions on two or three consecutive days.  As I only have the weekend, I buy the two-day pass from Machida, which is about 4,800 yen or around $44.

The train ride to Hakone on the Romancecar is very pleasant, and I decide that if I have to travel in this direction again, I will certainly use the Romancecar.

Transportation in Hakone runs in a circuit, with most people beginning on the Hakone Tozan Railway, the only mountain railway in Japan. Halfway up the line are switchbacks, where the driver and the conductor change shifts and the train reverses to switch direction.

Because my hotel is about halfway around the circuit, I avail myself of the fabulous Hakone Baggage Service, which delivers my bag directly to my hotel for about 800 yen, or $7.25.  This is super convenient as it allows me to travel hands-free until I reach my hotel.

Then I head to the Romancecar Ticket Window and buy a ticket on the Romancecar for Sunday at 3:20.

After taking care of all this minutiae, it’s nearly 12:10 and I’m on the Hakone Tozan Railway heading for the Chokoku-no-mori station, the stop nearest the Hakone Open-Air Museum.  Although I might not have picked this destination myself, one of my coworkers expressed a desire to travel all the way to Hakone just to see this museum; since she seemed so enthusiastic, I figure while I’m here I may as well see it.

This railway, which travels up the mountain in switchbacks, takes about 20 minutes.  It’s standing room only when I get on, but I can see two lively Japanese couples drinking beer at a small table and laughing up a storm (see the man in the hat below).  They are having a grand time.  It’s not so much fun for those of us standing and not having a drink!

Hakone Tozan Railway

Hakone Tozan Railway

As soon as I get off the train, it’s time to eat!  I’m starved.  I walk down the street and see this funky Cafe Bar Woody.

Cafe Bar Woody

The server is laid-back and friendly and speaks a bit of English.  After he takes my order for a margarita pizza, he stops to adjust the legs of Sheriff Woody, who is sitting on a shelf over my table.  Then I notice the other Toy Story characters sitting around the restaurant.  At first I think the Woody name is just about all the wood throughout the restaurant, but then I realize that it’s all about Toy Story and Sheriff Woody.  How quirky and cute. 🙂

After lunch, I head to the Hakone Open-Air Museum; it was founded in 1969 to serve as an outdoor art museum that would give people the opportunity to encounter great sculpture in a natural setting. The museum’s mission is “to promote sculpture as an environmental art and to bring new energy to Japan’s culture of art” (Hakone Open-Air Museum).

The Hakone Open-Air Museum

It takes me quite a long while to walk the grounds of this expansive museum.

Chimera con Ali (1963) – Marcello Mascherini (Italy)

I’m happy to find one of Taro Okamoto’s sculptures here, as I was unable to photograph any of his artwork when I visited the Taro Okamoto Museum of Art in Kawasaki.

L’Home Vegetal – Taro Okamoto (Japan)

I love this sculpture of a foliage-covered head in a pool; it is called La Pleureuse, which means mourner.

La Pleureuse (1986) – Francois-Xavier & Claude Lalanne (France)

Sound of Wind (1988) – Takao Tsuchida (Japan)

tall figures

an imposing character

entangled couple

Manteau (1968) – Churyo Sato (Japan)

field of dreams


Always a fan of Japanese ponds, I love this floating red sculpture.

floating water sculptures

floating in the pond

colorful carp

water sculpture

One part of the Hakone Open-Air Museum is the Picasso Collection.  As in most Japanese museums, no photography is allowed.

Picasso Collection

EGrande Figura Seduta N.2 (1969) – Emilio Greco (Italy)

sculpture in front of the Picasso collection

Le Grand Prophete – Pablo Gargallo (Spain)

PIcasso Collection

Fairy Chapel – Japan

Sphere-Trames (1962-63) – Francois Morellet (France)

Utsurohi – A Moment of Movement (1981/2015) – Aiko Miyawaki (Japan)

lounging in the grass

I climb the steps inside the Symphonic Sculpture, with its walls of stained glass.  At the top, I have a great view of the museum and the mountains of Hakone.

Symphonic Sculpture – Produced by Nobutaka Skikanai

inside the Symphonic Sculpture – Sculptured glass by Gabriel Loire

inside the Symphonic Sculpture – Sculptured glass by Gabriel Loire

inside the Symphonic Sculpture – Sculptured glass by Gabriel Loire

inside the Symphonic Sculpture – Sculptured glass by Gabriel Loire

View from the Symphonic Sculpture

View from the Symphonic Sculpture

View from the Symphonic Sculpture

walking down the Symphonic Sculpture

Reclining Figure (1969-70) – Henry Moore (UK)

The Symphonic Sculpture provides an interesting anchor to the leisurely sculptures scattered across the green lawn.

Symphonic Sculpture

Family Group (1948-49) – Henry Moore (UK)

Symphonic Sculpture

all dressed up and no place to go

Ferns in the garden

La Victoire de Villetaneuse – Cesar (French)

Garden of Stars

stone sculpture

It’s fun to watch Spatiodynamique No. 22 whirl about in the breeze.

Spatiodynamique No. 22 (1954-80) – Nicolas Schoffer (Hungarian-French)

green fields

iron sculpture

more reclining figures?

hooded stone figure

Balzac (1891-98) – Auguste Rodin (French)

After wandering for an hour and half through this outdoor museum, a rather quirky place, I leave, heading for the Hakone Museum of Art. At this museum, I’m most interested in seeing the moss garden and the Sekiraku-en Garden.  By this time it’s nearly 3:00, and I’m in search of the Sounzan Cable Car.

Time sure flies when traveling!



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