These travelling blog posts have been moved here from my old blog – they were originally posted on the dates as shown, and could contain errors – years have passed since they were originally posted (and my memory was never that great) and I may not have got things right at the time as it was!
Day Nine – 7th January 2008
On this day we woke up by 6.45am or so, since it took a while to travel to Hakone.
We caught a train to Shinjuku on the Oedo line heading towards Ropppongi and Daimon and then we had the fun of finding the Odkuy line. We got lost, partly because I was looking for Okuy. That station is MASSIVE. We were directed the right way though, but then we were there before we knew it and swiped the wrong card through the check point – oops! To get there we’d had to kind of walk out of one exit from the station, and go back in. Which is a bit confusing if you come from a city that barely has a running bus service, let alone a fancy train system. Then we met with a guard for him to help us, and he simply pointed up. But we were apparently already there. We swiped our usual train passes instead of the special Hakone one we’d bought. Oops!
As a treat, the days before when we had pre-purchased our tickets, we had paid the extra $9 to travel in a luxury car rather than just an ordinary train. It was quite nice.
At this point our little group of four split up – the two who were travelling around Japan either had already done it or were planning to do it later (I forget), so it was just the guy’s younger brother and myself heading up that way.
The lady selling food came by so often that I eventually bought a tonkatsu sandwich I’d heard so much about. …I didn’t really like it. Something just tasted a little odd. It wasn’t bad, just…. a little weird. (Looking back, I think it was just in a slightly sweet bread.)
The train ride was an hour and a half long, I think. We got out at Hakone station, then stuffed around trying to find which bus we needed. I didn’t have it written in my book, it was on a separate piece of paper of which I had about seven, so I was all confused. Yet again, someone else helped us though.
We were finally on the bus and in my book it said something different as to where we actually got off. I think my book had the shortened version? The bus driver knew where we had to be though, so that was okay, I was just flustered that we were getting off at the wrong stop, but in the end it was the last one anyhow so we didn’t really have a choice, so that made it easy!
Hakone was beautiful. We were right on Lake Arashi which doesn’t ever freeze, not even in winter because it has spring water.
Everything was quiet and there was no one around, which was a little strange after so long in the middle of Tokyo. We made our way to the post office, since our ryokan was right next to it somewhere. I had a look down one street, and it looked right… but I still went back to the post office to ask and they were so handy! They gave me a map of Hakone and circled where we needed to go. We were staying here – Yugiriso – 138 Hakone, Hakone-machi Ashigarashimo-gun.
We headed on to the ryokan. We couldn’t check in for another three or so hours, but they took our bags and though they couldn’t speak any English at all and our Japanese was still limited, we lived mostly on hand gestures.
Travel buddy and I then split up. Practically babysitting someone else’s brother for the past week was apparently my limit, and I’d had it up to here with him and just needed a break to be alone for once. So I headed off to take photos of Hakone, and he went to do whatever it is he did – it was a pretty safe town, and he was just old enough not to get himself in any trouble (he was 15 or something? I forget…)
I walked around for a while, enjoying the cold and the scenery. Hakone is surrounded by mountains.
I sat for a while by the lake and ate the rest of my tonkatsu sandwich while playing my DS. I was perhaps a little homesick because out there we were so remote. No one really spoke English, there was no internet and no other friends. In Tokyo there’s always so much going on that you’re dazzled, and out on the mountain climb we’d had the exercise to keep us distracted… and now I was in beautiful scenery with nothing but my thoughts, and I was exhausted from such a jam-packed week.
I then got on the boat which travelled over Lake Arashi and that was simply lovely. They’re all very boring photos, but I like how calming they are. The boat trip took maybe an hour, or an hour and a half.
Once the boat docked again, it was raining. I spent a while chatting to some guy who had been on the boat. His English was as bad as my Japanese was, but we amused ourselves for about ten minutes or so, then we left slightly embarrassed over our lack of communication skills.
Everywhere in Tokyo there’s vending machines of badges, which meant I had sorta started a sort of badge collection. Hakone had the same vending machines so I had to get some of them, of course. I then browsed through the small cafes before getting called over by this old guy who ran a small store. They wanted to know where I was from and such, and this is where I had an actually good conversation in English and Japanese! Turns out the other guy who worked there had a daughter who was currently in Canada and they’d thought me to be American or something. They liked my being Australian just well enough though, because they had a plush boxing kangaroo and the main guy, who’d called me over, had been to Australia. They were very accommodating with helping me speak mainly Japanese to them and expanding my library of words, and they wanted to mostly speak English back and then be corrected on less-formal ways of saying what they’d said, and how they were pronouncing everything (pretty flawlessly), and it was a lovely hour.
They gave me a friendship bracelet for chatting to them, apparently most tourists don’t, and they applauded my attempt at Japanese, and they were simply lovely.
I then went into a small cafe because it was still storming down with really lovely rain, and the woman there, once she asked where I was from, asked if I would mind if she made me a spider. Free drink? Heck yes! Also, the best spider I’ve had in my life. If you don’t know what the drink is, it’s soft drink with a scoop of ice cream in it, and it goes a bit foamy and very creamy.
By then it was 3pm and time to check in – travel buddy and I met up again. A lady dressed in the full kimono showed us to our room, and she spoke in very rapid Japanese without miming actions for what we had to do and how we had to act and how things were run – we missed a lot of it, and while she wasn’t rude, I think she was aware that we missed bits and she ignored our attempts to double check on purpose. Ah well. I mean, we’re the foreigners in their country of course – it was just the first time in the trip we hadn’t had overly helpful locals.
The room was beautiful. Paper screen doors and low seats on the floor and everything. The table was maybe 30cms off the floor, or something. The proper flooring also – tatami, so we had to take off our shoes.
She poured us tea and then got out a selection of yukatas (which is a type of cotton kimono) for me to choose from.
I was looking forward to the hot springs, but felt too nervous to head straight down without better instructions, so I returned to the reception lady who knew a tiny bit of English and who was happy to mime things and she told me everything important. Red curtain for girls – I probably would have chosen the purple and walked in on all the men.
So, dressed in my yukata I headed to the hot springs. There are so many rules. You have to remain dressed until a certain part of the rooms, then just strip off. You’re supposed to tie your hair tightly up in a bun, but not everyone follows that. At this stage you only take a hand towel in with you. You then sit on a little bench and completely wash yourself from a little bucket. COMPLETELY. Your hair also. Tattoos must be covered. The little hand towel isn’t supposed to go into the actual water with you as you’ve used it to clean yourself, so most fold it up and put it on top of their head, or on their forehead if they’re going to sit back and doze.
Then you may move onto the hot springs. Which are hotter than any bath or shower at home could ever possibly be. I went to the outdoors one even though I have no idea how cold it was and it was so beautiful, I wish I could have taken photos…
Actually, the website has photos!
There’s no especially good shot of the garden you gaze out into from the hot springs, but that’s the best I can do… Also I was there in a different season where it was practically snowing. But you get the general idea.
I had the entire female hot springs, indoors and out, all to myself. It was bliss.
You’re only supposed to spend 15 minutes at a time in one, but I think I spent longer by accident… once I realised I got out… I was so so so red. So so so hot. They have a larrrge bathroom with every type of skin care product and girly things by the basins, but I’m fairly unaware of most things so I just cooled down only to jump back into the hot springs for another go. Which is a good thing, considering I didn’t make it back ever again. It was such bliss. The hot springs are made of flat rocks which were comfy to sit on, and the perfect height to rest back on and lay out. Sigh. Heaven. By the time I eventually left, I had just dressed and was leaving when two others arrived so it worked out perfectly for me.
I returned to the room to find travel buddy asleep against the heater. I fell asleep also, all sleepy warm from the hot springs in the corner of the small sitting room off to the side, and wasn’t woken until the woman in the kimono returned with our meal. Even though on the booking you could specify your allergies and could select ‘No Seafood’… which I did… my entire meal was seafood. It was lovely, and probably tasted fantastic, and it was a feast and beautifully arranged and presented… but unfortunately I had to pass on everything.
I played my DS for a while, and the woman returned with fruit for desert, then she saw we were tired and got a man to come and lay out our futons. Mmm, proper Japanese futons… They’re basically folded up beds that lay directly on the floor, which is why they have such good woven mats on the floor. I went to sleep straight away, I was so, so exhausted somehow. The hot springs had turned my puzzle ring a copper colour, travel buddy was still being annoying and I just wanted to escape. The beds were so, so soft and so, so comfortable and soon, I was gone.
Day Ten – 8th January 2008
We had to wake early the next morning too, because it would take ages to get back into Tokyo and we had a day planned once we got back, so we were waiting for the bus by 7am. We didn’t leave Hakone until 7:20am and it was there that we caught our one and only glimpse of Mount Fuji since the day before had been so hazy and filled with rain. It was for like, a split second and then we were gone, along these tiny windy parts down the sides of mountains. The bus also happened to collect school kids and they were so utterly adorable.
Before we knew it, we were back in Tokyo.
Getting back to mid-Hakone was easier, but we didn’t get special passes for the luxury carriage. We went too far and I couldn’t be bothered playing dumb foreigner so I said I’d travel back by normal train and travel buddy didn’t want to split up again. We thought got on an ‘express’ but it didn’t get us back to Shinjuku until 10:45 – taking half an hour longer than the train we’d taken to get there, so we must have misunderstood.
We didn’t get back to our friend’s flat until 11:30. Considering we’d got up at 6:45am and travelling from then onwards… we were a bit tired and grumpy already.
We then headed onto the inner part of Tokyo to the Imperial Palace which you’re not allowed into unless you arrange it prior to arriving by requesting a tour and get so many papers signed. You have to even get people to vouch for you and so we hadn’t bothered to do so. We just walked around outside and took photos.
We walked on. There’s a chocolate store which is apparently one of the best in the world – they have over 50 different flavours and their drinks are pure chocolate, and they make the best waffles, etc etc etc… So we decided we had to attend, even though none of us particularly loved chocolate. Their waffles are to die for and only 300 yen! Which is about $3 Australian. I could hardly finish my drink it was so strong. We also bought a handful of chocolates to try out, such as Spicy Vanilla, Rose, Jasmine, Madagasca, Hokkaido White… a whole range of different ones.
After that we caught the train to Roppongi Hills which is a complex of massive buildings – the main one is the North Tower. We tried to go to the Moriti Museum but it was closed… so we got a pass for the City View and the Ultraman special, which was an anime from 1960’s.
We took photos of Tokyo at night and then got our photo taken by this absolutely crazy guy. He set us up, and then gets out this puppet on a stick and promptly makes us crack up for our photo. He was amazing.
We then went and bought stuff, as all good tourists should and I got a plushie of the crazy puppet he made us crack up laughing with. Then we found the most awesome juice place in the world. I had wake-up juice type of thing… and it had alou vera in it or something.
We then went through the Ultraman special which was quite amusing. It was cute, interesting, worth the money… we once again bought stuff and then went out… to see a red carpet down down down stairs… and I joked ‘Oh, you know, it’s just Johnny Depp or something.’
We went down, and there were hyper girls. We all exchanged a worried look.
We went down to it and there were posters for Sweeny Todd. It was obvious it was the premiere of it… but surely that didn’t mean…
We tried asking a guard, who only explained it had been a signing but didn’t know who had attended.
We left, trying to assure ourselves that it would be been absolutely crazy there… etc etc… and headed home. Once there, we looked up on the net what had happened to discover tickets for the premiere had been sold out since November, and that Tim Burton had been there as well. So close!
We consoled ourselves with the chocolate samples – split it into four – they were in little 5cmx5cm squares, and acted as chocolate connoisseurs as we pronounced each dry, nutty, bitter aftertaste, quite strong aroma… etc etc The Spicy Vanilla one was HORRID, even worse than Chilli Chocolate which was actually quite nice. Rose, Lavender… all those were strange, but not BAD. Just… weird.
And that was our day!