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).

9 responses to “a weekend in hakone: delightful gardens at the hakone museum of art

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  1. What a beautiful place for a long walk. Don’t you love a set of moss covered steps!

  2. The moss garden is very pretty with all the trees and the light and shade but I love the Sekiraku-en Garden with its rocks and beautifully topiary. Glad you eventually found your hotel, it must be quite challenging trying to find your way around in a different language and different alphabet at that! I can get confused coming out of a tube station in London, not knowing which road I am on or which direction I should take, but at least I can understand the language!

    • I liked that Sekiraku-en garden too, Jude. I’m always challenged getting around in Japan, but it’s much easier than it was in China! At least the Tokyo area has the most fabulous metro system I’ve ever encountered. It makes everything not quite so daunting. 🙂

  3. Well, I’m not going to fault you for not liking tea! 😉 (I found a very strong Irish tea – Barry’s – I drink black in the morning; for the rest of the day it’s espresso – but iced green tea is great on a hot day). OK, more than you want to know.
    And while I’m on other topics, I love your travels, your writing and your photographs. I don’t know how you do it – it’s hard to find time to keep up with you! Sometimes I wish the entries were a bit shorter.
    I love the moss garden – it’s so beautiful with those trees coming straight out of it, the stone paths, etc. And the hotel – a good experience even at the bargain price, no? It looks beautiful in the traditional Japanese way. How serendipitous that you ran into Lee again – but I feel like you have serendipitous encounters pretty regularly. I think you have a natural feeling for it, so it happens! 🙂
    And the tempura – a whole leaf in there – shiso? I’m not sure what it is but I love the look of it, and the idea.
    Happy weekend to you!

    • Thanks for sharing about your love of tea, Lynn. I think many people love tea; I don’t know why, but for me, my stomach always feels nauseous after drinking tea, so I try to avoid it. I feel like I’m missing out on some fabulous ritual. 🙂

      I’m sure I should do shorter entries. They seem overwhelming to me sometimes. I’ll have to work on that, I guess. Sometimes it’s not easy to split them up into several entries.

      I loved that moss garden too. It was serendipitous that I ran into Lee again, and it was so nice to have dinner with her. I’m not sure what that leaf in the tempura was, but I ate it and it tasted good. Happy Sunday, Lynn. 🙂

  4. Gorgeous greens and soothing colours, Cathy. I like a bit of serenity. 🙂 🙂

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