Archive for the ‘Living abroad’ Tag

a late afternoon stroll around kawaguchiko   17 comments

Saturday, June 3:  After returning to Kawaguchiko Station from Fujiyoshida, I inquire about the Sightseeing Bus.  There are three lines, the Red Line, which goes around Kawaguchiko; the Green Line, which goes to Lake Saiko; and the Blue Line to Lake Shojiko.  I can buy a combination Red and Green Line ticket for 1,300 yen, or a ticket for all three lines for 1,500 yen.  I buy the 1,300 ticket for the Red and Green Lines because I don’t see how I’ll have time to travel around on all three lines as it’s already late Saturday afternoon and I have to return home on Sunday afternoon.  I should have done my research better, however, because there are no views of Fuji from Lake Saiko on the Green Line, while there are supposedly wonderful views from Lake Shojiko.

No matter.  It turns out I will not get my money’s worth out of the ticket I buy, as I barely use the bus.  I use it from the station to get to the Mt. Kachi Kachi Ropeway, and after that, I don’t use it for the rest of the day.

When I arrive at the Mt. Kachi Kachi Ropeway 1t 4:15, there is no queue; I walk right up to the cable car and get in.  It’s packed, but at least the ride is short.  As we go up, I get a fabulous view of Lake Kawaguchi.

Kawaguchiko from the Mt. Kachi Kachi Ropeway

The bridge over the middle of the lake, the Kawaguchiko Ohashi bridge, is called by some the “upside-down bridge,” because on a clear day when the lake is smooth, one can see an upside down reflection of Mt. Fuji.  I won’t be lucky enough to have either one of those conditions when I walk over the bridge later this afternoon.

Kawaguchiko from the Mt. Kachi Kachi Ropeway

At the top of Mt. Kachi Kachi, I have another view of Mt. Fuji, but it pales in comparison to the view I had at Chureito Pagoda earlier today.

Mt. Fuji from Mt. Kachi Kachi viewpoint

view from Mt. Kachi Kachi viewpoint

view of Mt. Fuji from Mt. Kachi Kachi viewpoint

Right before I get back on the cable car, I enjoy a very brief glimpse of the lake before I’m hurried along by the ropeway operator.

Kawaguchi-ko from Mt. Kachi Kachi

Mt. Kachi Kachi ropeway

The Ropeway is a short diversion; I have bigger plans. I want to walk across the upside-down bridge to see if I can get the upside-down view of Fuji.   I walk from the Ropeway along the south side of the lake until I come to the touristy Kawaguchiko Herb Hall, an herb-themed tourist spot located near the Kwaguchikohan-Oike Park. The Hall offers craft classes with dried flowers and, at the Perfume-House annex, a chance to create scented aromas.  Herb goods are also on sale (Official Travel Guide Yamanashi: Kawaguchiko Herb Hall).

I was told by a Japanese friend that in the Hall, I could taste lavender soft ice cream.  I feel like I should try it out, but as I had that huge lunch of Houtou earlier, and I plan to have dinner at an Indian restaurant I saw while on the Sightseeing Bus, I decide to forego it.  Maybe I can try it tomorrow.

Kawaguchiko Herb Hall

My plan at this point is simply to walk across the bridge to check out the view.  I begin my walk at Kwaguchikohan-Oike Park.

Kawaguchiko

paddle boats at Kawaguchiko

Kawaguchiko

Before long, I’m on the bridge and the wind is blowing like crazy. I feel like it could pick me up and toss me into the lake.  The surface of the lake is full of wrinkles from the wind, and Fuji is half enveloped in clouds.  There is no upside-down view today.

Kawaguchiko and Mt. Fuji

Kawaguchiko and Mt. Fuji

Kawaguchiko

Kawaguchiko

Kawaguchiko

Kawaguchiko from the Kawaguchiko Ohashi bridge

I keep walking further and further across the bridge, hoping for that elusive view.  Before I know it, I’m on the other side of the lake.

Kawaguchiko and Mt. Fuji from the Kawaguchiko Ohashi bridge

Kawaguchiko and Mt. Fuji from the Kawaguchiko Ohashi bridge

Now that I’ve walked this far, rather than backtracking across the bridge, I might as well continue all the way around the lake.  As I walk along the north shore, I can see Mt. Fuji the whole way.

the Kawaguchiko Ohashi bridge

view of Mt. Fuji from the northern shore of Kawaguchiko

the north shore of Kawaguchiko

view of Mt. Fuji from the north shore of Kawaguchiko

Mt. Fuji from the north shore of Kawaguchiko

Mt. Fuji from the north shore of Kawaguchiko

Mt. Fuji from the north shore of Kawaguchiko

Mt. Fuji and paddle boats

As I approach the east side of the lake, Mt. Fuji is eclipsed by Mt. Kachi Kachi. The walk is longer than it looked when I first got on the bridge, but I have no choice now but to keep going.

continuing around the lake and last view of Fuji

looking to the north at Kawaguchiko

lush beauty

After my hour and 15 minute walk around the lake, where I search unsuccessfully for a place to eat dinner, I head back to my hotel.  All I find around the entire lake are hotels; I can’t believe there are no restaurants.  There is the Indian restaurant I had seen earlier, but when I pop in there, I ask if they serve beer and they say no. I thank them and walk back out; after all, what’s a holiday without beer?

Outside my hotel, before going in, I see a fabulous view of Mt. Fuji.  The clouds have lifted slightly and I can see the snow-capped crown.  Granted, there is a commercial area between the hotel and the mountain, but it doesn’t detract too much from the view.

view of Mt. Fuji from outside my hotel

At my hotel, which serves no food, I ask the proprietors where I can eat.  The young man tells me there is a ramen place about a 20-minute walk up the road!  A twenty-minute walk??  This after I not only walked up to the Chureito Pagoda but also walked around the east end of Kawaguchiko!

I’m too exhausted to walk 20 minutes.  I try to explain that I just walked around the lake and I am tired, hoping he will offer to drive me to a restaurant.  Instead, he motions for me to wait and he disappears to the parking lot.  I think, Great!  He’s going to drive me.  Instead he brings me a bicycle.  He says it is his bicycle and he proudly hands it over. I take it, relieved I don’t have to walk another 40 minutes to and from the restaurant.

 

my hotel: Taiheikan

When I get on the bicycle, my happiness about my newfound transportation quickly evaporates.  Like most Asian bicycles I’ve encountered,  the seat is way too low and I can’t seem to adjust it. I start pedaling, but it is hard on my knees with that low seat.  Besides, the road is a steady uphill. I end up getting off the bicycle and walking to the restaurant, pushing the bicycle the whole way. 🙂

As I go up the road, I pass another branch of the Indian restaurant, but I figure they will not serve beer either, since the sister branch didn’t.  I arrive at the ramen restaurant, where the menu is all in Japanese and no one in the restaurant speaks any English.  Nor does the waiter seem to want to help me figure things out; after all, I’m the only foreigner in the place.  I end up ordering a small order of fries and a beer, thinking that after I enjoy my beer, I’ll return to the Indian restaurant for dinner.

Leaving the ramen restaurant, I now have a long downhill ahead of me.  I get on the bicycle, and coast down the road at high-speed, without having to use those pedals even once!

At the “Alladin Indo Resturent,” as soon as I look at the menu, I see they serve beer!  Great.  I could have just come here in the first place.  Since I ended up having two beers at the ramen restaurant, I don’t order one here.  However, I do enjoy a great Indian meal of vegetable curry with naan.

dinner at “Alladin Indo Resturent”

“Alladin Indo Resturent”

Back in my cozy Japanese room, I decide to go downstairs and check out the hotel onsen. The hotel provides a nice robe and towel, which I put on.

my Japanese-style room at Taiheikan

me preparing to go to the onsen at Taiheikan

In my robe, and with my towel, I go down to the onsen, which is nicer than the one at my hotel in Hakone.  I soak in the hot bath for a good long while, enjoying having it all to myself.  Back in my room, I feel wonderfully relaxed.  It’s a good thing I’m tired because the wi-fi in the room doesn’t work at all, even though the hotel’s Agoda listing promised “free wi-fi.”  Still, it is a much nicer hotel than the one I had in Hakone, and for the same price.

Between the two beers, the Indian curry and naan, my exhaustion from a day of travel, climbing and walking, and the hot soak, I feel very relaxed indeed.

Total steps today: 19,490 (8.26 miles). 🙂

 

 

 

a weekend at fuji five lakes: fujiyoshida & the chureito pagoda   8 comments

Saturday, June 3:  On Friday morning, when I saw a perfectly sunny and cloudless weather forecast for Saturday, I immediately booked a hotel to go to Fuji-Goko, a collective term for the five lakes along the northern foot of Mt.Fuji.  The five lakes are Yamada Lake, Kawaguchi Lake, Saiko Lake, Shoji Lake, and Motosu Lake.  Kawaguchiko Lake is the easiest to get to from Tokyo and is the core of sightseeing in the Fuji-Goko area.  Thus I booked a hotel, Taiheikan, at Kawaguchiko.

On Saturday morning, I do my usual Google Maps search and find I can get to Kawaguchiko by train.  I see there are many more options by bus, but most buses seem to leave from Central Tokyo. That would mean I’d have to go northeast when my ultimate destination is to the southwest.  As this doesn’t seem logical, I opt for the trains.

I’m supposed to go seven stops west from Fuchinobe to Hachioji, but right away I make a mistake.  I accidentally get on a line that terminates at Hashimoto, meaning I have to wait a good long time for another train to Hachioji.  When I finally make it to Hachioji, I get off at the station and immediately see a train whiz past the platform; on it, people are sitting comfortably in reserved seating.  It looks like the Romancecar, but the Romancecar doesn’t run in this direction. I go up to the ticket window and ask if it’s possible to get a ticket on THAT train, but the man tells me that sometimes on holidays they run a special express train, but all the tickets are sold. Bummer!  It’s so disappointing sometimes to be foreigner and not to know these things.

I get on another line that stops short of my destination at Takao.  Thus I have to disembark and wait again.  The trip to Fuji Five Lakes is supposed to take just over 2 hours, but already, with these two mistakes, I’ve lost a half hour.

When I finally get on the Chuo Line at Takao, the train sits in the station for what seems an eternity.  After it finally takes off, it then makes a very extended stop at the first stop, Sagamiko.  I can tell this is a local line in a more rural area; it’s further removed from both the city and all semblance of order. After sitting at the station for such a long time that I have time to do another Google map search, I find that I can catch a bus to Kawaguchiko from this station.  I hop off the train and ask the man at the ticket booth about a bus to Kawaguchiko.  He can’t speak much English but he immediately hands me the hand-drawn map shown below.  He indicates that I have 10 minutes to catch the highway bus and waves me in the right direction.

the map from the train station to the bus stop

The train station on the map is in the bottom left corner.  The “freewey,” beside which the bus stop sits, doesn’t look that far on the map, but it seems like a long and frantic hike as I try to find my way, stopping and asking several farmers along the way.  Finally, I see the highway above me, and I climb the steps to the top, finding a decrepit bus stop whose weathered timetable shows the bus should arrive in 2 minutes. However, there is a traffic jam on the highway and the traffic is inching south to the Fuji area.  Oh dear.  One of my colleagues told me a nightmare story about taking a highway bus to Fuji and having it delayed an hour or more.  I wonder if I made the right decision to get off the train.

The bus doesn’t arrive anywhere close to when the timetable says it will, so I’m worried.  I wonder if a bus will stop here at all.  Finally, belatedly, a bus arrives, and I climb onboard, only to be told the bus is full.  However, the kindly bus driver indicates I should wait a second.  After placing a phone call, he tells me the next bus has a seat. I step off the bus, disheartened, but then I see the promised bus is directly behind the first bus. I get on, pay the fare, and take the last seat on the bus. 🙂

Oh my gosh!  I should have taken the bus earlier.  Soon, the traffic clears and we enjoy a smooth ride, arriving at Kawaguchiko only an hour later than I planned.

My hotel has a pick-up service from the train station, so I ask Tourist Information to call them.  When I check in,  the lady at the hotel is very kind; she reads some things about the hotel from a piece of paper, including: “Blessed with weather, hope that the Mt.Fuji is visible from guest room.”  I do have a view of Mt. Fuji from my room, but it is a city view, with a busy commercial road, power lines, businesses, and houses between me and the sacred mountain.

I ask the woman at the hotel if I can get a ride back to Kawaguchiko Station because I want to take the Fujikyuko Line to Shimo-yoshida Station to visit Chureito Pagoda. She kindly drops me at the station, but as it’s lunch time, I opt to try the signature dish of Yamanashi Prefecture: Houtou.  It consists of thick white chewy noodles and vegetables: pumpkin, mushrooms, potatoes, and onion in a thickened miso broth.  It’s served in a big cast iron pot with a ladle and chopsticks.  It’s delicious. 🙂

Hoto Fudo

Hoto Fudo

Hoto

After eating that fine lunch, I return to the station, and get back on the Fujikyuko Line.  Out the window, I get my first glimpse of Mt. Fuji, though its crown is engulfed in clouds.

the train to Shimo-Yoshido

the train

Four stops later, I’m at Shimo-Yoshida, where I get off and follow the signs through a rural neighborhood about 10 minutes to the steps leading to Chureito Pagoda.

the walk through Fujiyoshida to Chureito Pagoda

crossroads

The Chureito Pagoda is a five storied pagoda on the mountainside overlooking Fujiyoshida City, with Mount Fuji in the distance. The pagoda is part of the Arakura Sengen Shrine and was built as a peace memorial in 1963.  The pagoda sits nearly 400 steps up the mountain from the shrine’s main buildings (japan-guide.com: Chureito Pagoda).

torii gate to the shrine

As soon as I start walking up the steps, I can see Mt. Fuji.

view of Mt. Fuji from the steps up

Mt. Fuji through the trees

a little shrine on the mountain

It’s a long climb to the top, with many views along the way.

the steps up

views of Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji

At the top, I’m rewarded with a view of the fabulous Chureito Pagoda.

Chureito Pagoda

the view from the trial to Chureito Pagoda

Even better are the views above the pagoda, with Mt. Fuji in the distance.  The light isn’t favorable, but I am able to adjust the photos a little.

Mt. Fuji and Chureito Pagoda

Mt. Fuji and Chureito Pagoda

Because of the challenging light, I take one photo on my iPhone with HDR Fusion.  This is my favorite one.

Mt. Fuji and Chureito Pagoda

Mt. Fuji and Chureito Pagoda

Chureito Pagoda

Chureito Pagoda

Mt. Fuji

the little shrine on the way down

I stop in at the Arakura Sengen Shrine before continuing down the mountain.

Arakura Sengen Shrine

sake barrels at Arakura Sengen Shrine

I end up buying one of the Chureito Pagoda/Mt. Fuji ema shown below (bottom left); usually you’re supposed to write a wish on an ema and leave it at the shrine, but I ask if I can buy one to take with me. I’m told I can, so I do.

ema at Arakura Sengen Shrine

ema at Arakura Sengen Shrine

ema at Arakura Sengen Shrine

“temizuya” water pavilion

I continue down the mountain, following the path through the neighborhoods until I’m back at Fujiyoshida Station.

passing through the torii gates on the way down

maples and torii

pruned trees in the neighborhood

personal rice paddy

rice paddy, house and Mt. Fuji

lupines

lupines

back at the train station

the train back

I take the train back to Kawaguchiko, where I’m now ready to explore the lake and the attractions around it. 🙂

 

hakone: lake ashi & hakone shrine   6 comments

Sunday, May 28:  After taking the T bus from the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands, I’m dropped at Togendai, the northwestern tip of Lake Ashinoko. I’m just in time to catch the pirate ship run by Hakone Sightseeing Cruise.  I run along with a few stragglers to board the ship.

Hakone Sightseeing Cruise at Togendai

Hakone Sightseeing Cruise

The door closes behind me as I embark, and the boat is underway.  It takes about 30 minutes for the boat to cruise to the southeast end of the lake at Hakone Machi.  I have on walking sandals, capris and a short sleeve shirt, but no jacket to keep me warm against the cold wind.  I’m not dissuaded though; I have to take pictures, so I must stand outside on the deck.  The warm seats inside are for sissies! 🙂

Lake Ashi

It’s a rather dark and cloudy day today, and cooler than yesterday.  It seems I made a poor decision yesterday to make the circuit around Hakone in a counterclockwise direction.  Yesterday was a perfect day, warm and sunny with blue skies.  If I had traveled in the clockwise direction, I would have been on Lake Ashi yesterday, and I might have seen views of Mt. Fuji.  Oh well, it’s simply not meant to be. I have missed views of Mt. Fuji because of cloudy skies when I’ve been at Mt. Takao, Odawara, and now Hakone.  I will soon travel to the Five Lakes area of Fuji, but only when the weather forecast is perfect.  I’m determined to see that iconic mountain before I leave Japan.

Hakone Sightseeing Cruise on Lake Ashi

A few rays of sunshine are making their way to the mountains around Lake Ashi, making them glow.

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi, also referred to as Lake Ashinoko, is a crater lake that lies along the southwest wall of the caldera of Mount Hakone, a complex volcano that last erupted in 1170.  The lake is known for its views of Mt. Fuji, its numerous hot springs, historical sites, and ryokan.

Lake Ashi

There are even a few hardy souls zipping across the lake in their boats.

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

We cross paths with another Hakone Sightseeing Cruise pirate ship on the lake.  The other boat is going in the Togendai direction, while we continue to Hakone-machi.

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

As we get to the southeast end of the lake, I’m on the lookout for the Hakone Shrine’s torii gate in Lake Ashi.  I see it, but it’s awfully far away.

the torii of Hakone Shrine on Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

pulling into Hakonemachi-ko

Lake Ashi at Hankonemachi-ko

We come into to dock at Hakonemachi-ko, where, in order to get to Motohakone, I have to jump ship, right onto another pirate boat.  I cross the dock immediately upon disembarking, and hop on the adjacent boat, which leaves immediately for Motohakone.

a change of ship

heading to Motohakone

heading to Motohakone

On this leg of the cruise, I get a slightly better view of the torii gate, but it’s still a little too far for my taste.

Hakone Shrine’s torii in the lake

Hakone Shrine’s torii in Ashi Lake

Hakone Shrine’s torii in Ashi Lake

pulling in to Motohakone

Motohakone

At Motohakone, I disembark again, and when I ask about getting to Hakone Shrine, I’m told I need to walk along the shore for about 15 minutes. I do so, and soon I’m at the first torii gate of the Shinto shrine.

first torii at Hakone Shrine

At the second torii gate, I walk uphill to the shrine.

Second torii at Hakone Shrine

small shrine at Hakone Shrine

I find the light is always challenging when taking pictures of these red shrines.  It’s so frustrating trying to get a decent photo.  Not only that, but every place is so crowded with tourists or worshippers that there is never a view without people.

Hakone Shrine

I’m now in the habit of taking pictures of the ema at every shrine I visit.  I love them; each shrine has its own distinct ema.  I wish I could buy one at every shrine, but they can be quite expensive, and I don’t want to be loaded down with a bunch of ema when I return home in August.

ema at Hakone Shrine

ema at Hakone Shrine

ema at Hakone Shrine

Hakone Shrine

Finally, I walk back down the hill, hoping against all hope that the torii in the water won’t be packed with people.

a small shrine

Sadly, a herd of people are all taking turns being photographed in front of the torii.  I don’t know why everyone has to have a photo of themselves in front of every tourist attraction!

the crowds at the torii gate in Lake Ashi

I have to be creative and try to get some shots from the shoreline on either side of the torii gate.  The people in the little swan paddle boats have the right idea.  I think I will have to come back to Hakone just to rent a paddle boat for a close up view of the torii from the lake side.

the torii in the lake

Hakone Shrine’s torii in the lake

the torii in Lake Ashi

Hakone Shrine’s torii in Lake Ashi

After trying every angle I can, and deciding I will have to be satisfied with whatever photos I get, I head back on the path to the Motohakone bus station.

a well-worn bridge

a bride on the path

a roundabout path

mossy steps

a stone path

view of Lake Ashi at Motohakone

Motohakone

At the bus stop, where I must take a bus back to Hakone Yumoto, two buses are due to arrive, a local and an express.  The queue is quite long and I worry that I won’t make it back in time to catch my 3:20 Romancecar train. When the local bus, which takes one hour to get to Hakone Yumoto, arrives, it is packed, meaning I will have to stand on a crowded bus for an hour.  The express bus takes a half hour to get to Hakone Yumoto, but I have to wait another 20 minutes for that one. I decide to move to the line for the express bus and just wait.  At least I’m at the front of that line, so I hope it means I’ll get a seat.

It turns out I’m one of the first people on the bus, so I get a good seat by the window.  A young lady sits down beside me; her name is Whitney and she is an American working in Tokyo for PricewaterhouseCoopers, doing business as PwC in Japan.  She and I talk about how we go out and explore every weekend, mainly just walking around taking pictures, which we both enjoy doing.  She stayed on a whim overnight in Hakone; she wasn’t sure when she came down if she would do a day trip or an overnighter, but she decided because it was such a struggle to get around that she would stay the night. We both agree that Hakone is best as a weekend trip.  She admits that she was able to stay at a very expensive hotel, while I sadly have to confess that my hotel was on the cheap end at $107, and nothing special at that.

It’s a very nice conversation, and it makes the half-hour bus ride speed by.

When I arrive in Hakone Yumoto, I have about an hour to kill.  I originally intended to visit a fancy onsen but it would be too much of a rush to do that in an hour.  Instead I go in search of a restaurant where I can eat some lunch.

Hakone Yumoto

Hakone Yumoto

I find a restaurant that serves shrimp tempura, one of my standbys in Japan, and I enjoy my meal at leisure.

restaurant in Hakone Yumoto

shrimp tempura

I go to the station, where I pick up my bag at Hakone Baggage Service and pay them another 800 yen for the delivery service.  Then I wait patiently for the 3:20 Romancecar.  It turns out I have plenty of time and I probably could have easily squeezed in either the onsen or the Narukawa Museum of Art, which was near the bus stop in Motohakone and is supposed to have great views of Mt. Fuji.  Of course there would have been no views today, and that’s why I didn’t bother.  Oh well, I’ve already decided that I must come back to visit that museum, rent a paddle boat near the torii, and visit the fancy onsen.  As the Romancecar is so easy and fast, I can easily do those three things as a day trip.

Steps today: 14, 613 or 6.19 miles. 🙂

 

the hakone botanical garden of wetlands   2 comments

Sunday, May 28:  After getting the run-around from several bus drivers about which bus can take me from Choanji Temple to the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands, I finally decide to walk.  I remember that the tourist information lady near the Hakone-Yumoto Station told me yesterday, when she gave me a map of this area, that I could walk from Choanji to the Botanical Garden in about 15 minutes.  In the end, that’s exactly what I do.  It’s easy enough and before long I’m paying the 700 yen admission fee.

The Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands, 2,200 feet above sea level, was founded in 1976, and now contains some 1700 plant varieties, including about 200 types of woody and herbaceous wetland plants from Japan, as well as 1300 varieties (120 species) of alpine plants.

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

The garden, which was formerly a flat area containing rice paddies, is now a specially designed ecosystem consisting of man-made hills, rockeries, ponds, streams and several types of moors. It consists of eight divisions: 4 moors, a swamp forest, an upland forest, a meadow and an alpine garden.

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

The garden has four different kinds of wetlands: marsh, fen, bog and swamp.  The marsh, fen and bog are grass-dominated, with different root systems.  A swamp differs form a marsh only in that woody plants are dominant.

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

Swamp forest

swamp forest

swamp forest

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

swamp forest

swamp forest

swamp forest

swamp forest

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

Sengokuhara Marsh

Three different areas — an upland forest, a meadow and an alpine garden — surround the wetland vegetation.  The upland forest consists of deciduous trees, such as oaks, maples, and dogwoods — all common to the Hakone mountain area.

plants of the cliff

plants of the cliff

plants of the cliff

plants of the cliff

Sengokuhara Marsh

The garden offers a network of boardwalk paths through the different types of marshland. I always love a boardwalk path!

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

swamp forest

swamp forest

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

white fluffy flowers

Now, at 10:30 a.m., I’ve done all the things I intended to do yesterday.  However, my list for today is quite ambitious as well.  In the parking lot of the botanic garden, I board Bus T to Lake Ashi, where I’m told I can take a cruise across the lake on a pirate ship. Ahoy, matey!  🙂

a weekend in hakone: the magical choanji temple   2 comments

Sunday, May 28: My hotel, Hakone Onsen Sanso Nakamura, doesn’t have a restaurant or any breakfast offerings.  Luckily I thought of that as Lee and I stopped at the Family Mart during our walk back from dinner last night.  There I bought some milk tea, orange juice, and a doughnut for my breakfast. I have these this morning with some trepidation since I was unable to refrigerate the drinks overnight.

My room also has a shared bathroom and no shower; I must use the onsen downstairs to get ready for my day.  I’m happy this morning to have the onsen to myself; I shower thoroughly, as one is supposed to do before getting into an onsen, and soak in the small public bath for a bit.  The water in this onsen is really hot, so I can’t take too much of it.

Before long, I’m ready to go.  I have a lot of places on my list to visit today before I catch the Romancecar back to Machida at 3:20.  I intended to visit two places in my hotel’s neighborhood last night, but instead, I’ll try to squeeze them in this morning before continuing on the circuit around Hakone.  It may be too ambitious, but I’ll just have to cut things out if I feel too rushed.  I don’t want to lug my backpack with me all day, so I ask if I can have it sent back to the train station; the hotel owner, a woman with a smidgen of English, tells me my bag will be at the station after 1:00.  That works perfectly with my schedule. 🙂

My first stop is Choanji Temple. I have it almost entirely to myself!  This is highly unusual in Japan, where everything that remotely resembles a tourist attraction is packed on weekends.

the entry to Choanji Temple

Choanji is a temple of the Sōtō school of Zen Buddhism; it was established in 1356 in a quiet area at the base of a hill.  The Sōtō school emphasizes Shikantaza, (which means “nothing but precisely sitting”) –meditation with no objects, anchors, or content. The meditator strives to be aware of the stream of thoughts, allowing them to arise and pass away without interference (Wikipedia: Sōtō).

This atmospheric temple has a circuit of pleasant walking trails which wind through its wooded grounds and cemetery.

The “temizuya” water pavilion

The “temizuya” water pavilion

What makes Choanji particularly charming and quirky are its over two hundred statues of rakan (disciples of Buddha) scattered around the temple grounds. According to japan-guide.com, “the statues began appearing in the 1980s and have been accruing ever since. Each statue has a unique face and shape, some contemplative and serious, others casual and humorous, and many show a modern edge in their artistic style and expressiveness compared to other collections of rakan statues.”

statue of rakan, a disciple of Buddha

pond near the entrance to Choanji Temple

pond at Choanji Temple

I thoroughly enjoy walking through this magical place and discovering all the rakan characters with their telling expressions.  The setting is fabulous, with its abundance of green foliage, its setting on the hillside, its various shrines, its towering pines and moss-covered rocks, and its meandering steps and pathways.

rakan

rakan

rakan

rakan

at Choanji Temple

Choanji Temple

stone pagoda

rakan

pavilion

rakan at Choanji

rakan at Choanji

rakan at Choanji

rakan at Choanji

steps to the shrine

rakan at Choanji

steps to the shrine

shrine at Choanji

more steps

rakan

pathway through Choanji

rakan at Choanji

Choanji

rakan at Choanji

more rakan

rakan at Choanji

rakan at Choanji

more steps

rakan at Choanji

rakan at Choanji

rakan at Choanji

more rakan

glaring fellow

rakan at Choanji

I’m sad to leave this place behind, but I have a tight schedule.  I spend too much time trying to figure out how to get a bus to the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands, with several bus drivers telling me that I’m at the wrong stop and need to go elsewhere.  I finally give up and end up walking there, quite a long haul.  🙂

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

curvaceous

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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