Monday, 17 September 2012

JAPAN, Summer 2011 [part 4/8] - Hakone 箱根

Hey guys, I'm back with Part 4/8 of my travels in Japan last year!

Sorry for the late follow up from the Kamakura post. In fact I got myself a PR internship for one week and it's literally just in time for fashion week. Don't be jealous haha, most of the stuff I do is in the office (with the occasional on site visits, but it depends on the designers we are PR-ing for), sending and printing invites, mountains of paperwork, sourcing from sponsors blah blah. I'm worked to DEATH everyday, but it's okay because it's LFW and my seniors wake up even earlier than me on a daily basis... Still I kinda wish I was a photographer/journalist or something so I get to mingle/see all the street fashion!

Anyways, I'm off to work now but enjoy this post!

Hakone was probably the place that I have the most memories from. It's been more than a year, but I remember everything I did in exact chronological order as if it only happened yesterday. The things I saw and experienced, everything seems so vivid in my memory. On the way here I remember sitting in the bus listening to Kiyoshi Hikawa's 'Hakone Hachiro No Hanjiro', the perfect Enka song to accompany the tiny bus bobbling up and down the mountain roads. I thought to myself, I can't believe I'm actually listening to this song... IN Hakone!

This may look like a den of some sort.. 
but it's actually the entrance to my ryokan! I have no idea why I don't have any pictures of the house itself.. but it's a pretty and well maintained family home with 2 onsens
Road outside ryokan

Lawson, aka life saver peeping in there

After dropping all my bags off and being introduced to the house, I paid my respects to the owners and set off to explore the local area.

Now that I think back, I must have been pretty brave when I was there.. In the countryside the smaller roads aren't marked so it's unclear whether people are allowed to walk on them. Sometimes it was pretty dangerous because I would be walking but a car would come swiveling past around a bend.

Also I don't know why I chose that darker, more dangerous looking pathway :S

Ventured in there for quite a long way, and started to turn back when I felt like I was in the heart of Aokigahara or something..
That evening after a heartfelt meal at a home run restaurant closeby, I came back sweaty, sticky and dying for a long shower and soak in the onsen. At that time I've never been in a traditional onsen before, so without researching first I boldy stepped in and dived my naked leg into the water. I'm surprised that it didn't cook itself because the water was literally boiling. Hitting the 70 deg mark for sure! It was painful process having to slowly ease my way into the boiling water without slipping in like dumplings, but after my whole body was in there, trust me it felt like absolute. HEAVEN.

The beauty of the onsen is that you'll never have the danger of sitting in there for too long and coming out with wrinkled skin. When you've had a decent soak, the hot air basically chokes your and burns your skin, especially around the tummy area, so you'll just have to get out. But my skins was so gorrrrgeous afterwards I didn't even had to rub lotion on myself OR wear makeup the next day.

I remember the ryokan so well I've drawn a little picture of it, since I don't know why I have no pictures again. But then I guess I couldn't possibly have taken a picture of everything I did.

This was the downstairs/dorm/lounge place. I slept in Rm 1. There were more rooms upstairs.
I slept early because the next day was results day and I would rather not think at all than to worry about whether I would get into my first choice uni..

The next day I woke up extremely early because my adventure was ahead. The previous night I had saved many maps of the region onto my iPad (thank goodness for the free wifi) but I had no idea what I was going to do. All I could see outside was countryside and I had no idea what I was doing, but somehow I felt extremely brave and daring to try things out. I haven't told anyone this, but I originally planned on visiting Aokigahara Jukai (Japan's Suicide Forest, known for it's extreme serenity) and Lake Shoki where there would be a spectacular view of Mt Fuji which was especially beautiful at sunset. Thank whatever common sense I had left in me that I didn't execute that plan. If I had taken a bus to Aokigahara, it would be dusk when I arrive and there would be no bus to take me back on the day. I would just get lost in the forest if I dared step in and ironically die inside presumably.

I was luckily saved by the owners of the ryokan, who suggested I take a safer, more touristy route that most foreigners who came to Hakone would embark on. It turned out pretty awesome in fact. But at that time, I had absolutely no idea how the hell I was going to get there, let alone cross a mountain and a lake, by myself.

After panicking for ages and finally stepping on to what turned out to be the right bus (with deepest thanks to the bus driver who helped me out), I found myself on a cable car going up a steep slope. There were lots of families with little kids so I figured I was safe. On the way I chatted to a woman who thought I was nuts doing this by myself. Her face when I told her was pretty funny.

When I got to the top, I was told that I was about to take 2 ropeway journeys across a mountain. I was super excited but my heart sank miles when I saw the fog outside that blocked all chance of any decent glimpse of Mt Fuji.

I still don't know what this was, but I'm super scared of heights so I was practically frozen like a vegetable at this stage, especially since the cubicle was see through on all sides. It may not seem like it, but we were very very VERY high up. Not a sign of movement down there. 

This bit was supposedly where Mt Fuji would be visible. Not a sign of it on the day though, not even an outline.

First stop was Owakudani, an active volcanic alley with sulphur vents littered across the mountainside. It's well known for hard boiled eggs that are cooked in the hot springs, and because of the sulphur the shell comes out black. Legend has it that every egg you eat will increase your life by 7 years. I didn't believe that but I still had 5. Yes. FIVE eggs in one sitting. But I was still hungry after that so I also ordered a massive red bean dessert on site.

After another ropeway, we reached Togendai to board a pirate ship across Lake Ashi.

Can you see those round platforms? Well one of them was okay for people to stand on to see the view. I bullied my way up there, taking away the opportunity of many other little kids. I felt so bad but I had to stay for the sake of photos.

The neighbouring ship. I reckoned it was a great view.

Along the way there were many of these Tori gates lining the border of the lake. 

The journey was far too short and I still couldn't see Mt Fuji... but I managed to at this stage successful cross a mountain and a lake, something I thought I wouldn't be able to do this morning! I still had time to do a bit more exploring before the last few buses back. And to catch the homemade curry waiting for me at the ryokan!

I must have been crazy that day but I decided to walk a quarter of the length of the entire lake to see one of those red Tori gates up close. I thought there had to be a shrine there. Along the way I passed this charming walk with straight as skyscrapers trees (can't remember which type..) Apparently it used to one of the main roads that linked the town centres, back in the day when horse carriages were still used.

Also went on the scariest bridge probably ever

Halfway I had to pause for a breather.. more so because I saw a 7/11 selling dango and Okonomiyaki bread. I bought my own body weight in food for less than a fiver and sat on the steps admiring the beautiful, though still so damned foggy, view of the shrine in the distance.

Adorable buildings


I had athlete legs by the time I got up there..

These were HUGE fish, all dying for food. They were practically swimming on top of each other, ON TOP of the water surface haha


That Tori gate was where I had my food

I had to walk allll the way back again to get the bus back to the ryokan. At this point I couldn't feel my feet anymore. Also I got off at the wrong stop and waited at this tiny valleyside bus stop, and panicked like hell when I found out I was 1 minute or so away from when the last bus would come. 

That night was AMAZING. I had that homemade curry, and in the food house I saw a Swedish couple who spoke English, so we chatted for ages. We loved the food and were practically licking our plates. I also fondly remember having the best sake ever.

That night we also had a goto player coming over to play and sing for us. We all sat around her like little kids in a nursery and it just felt like we were one big family, like the Von Trapps or something (haha). Afterwards she asked someone to come up and learn 'Sakura', which of course I volunteered. I knew the song before so it was pretty easy for me.

One of the workers there was a lovely girl called Maki (she always wore a little apron it was so cuute) and we played piano together for ages, both of us failing miserably until a tanned boy called Ryuji came downstairs and owned us all. Then the 3 of us plus Ryuji's friend chatted until the owner had to usher us back into our rooms. Me obviously taking twice as long to speak as they would since my Japanese is not brilliant. But it was so funnnnn we all planned to tell each other if we were coming back to that ryokan in the future. I wonder whether Maki still works there...

Also I got into my first choice uni! Maki said she wanted to come back to London with me (;A;)

Leaving the next day was so depressing. I had an urge to stay there forever because I felt so at home and welcomed, which is not always the case being in a foreign country. But I tried to stay positive because next up I was up for a massive culture shock...


Stay tuned! x