Slideshow

Crossing the Country

Monday, June 19
Up and out early with our bags to head for the famed bullet train.
Tokyo station was mobbed (at 8:30), but everyone moved in an orderly fashion. The train pulled out exactly as scheduled at 8:56. They said it can get up to 180 mph; it was hard to tell if it did.  It was very smooth and quiet, and we made 2 stops and then got to our stop and the whole trip was 35 minutes.  We arrived at Odaware-Hakone Station and hopped on our tour bus to go to the Hakone Open Air Museum. A beautiful park on many different levels just filled with wonderful sculptures and statues by Picasso, Moore, et. al.  And the weather was absolutely perfect. Toshi-san told us that japan (or at least this area) gets about 35 sunny days a year and the rest are cloudy or rainy. We all thought we were so lucky, but he said today was still cloudy "in the mountains", so no view of
Fuji-yama. 

Next a short bus ride to lunch in the Il Miraggio restaurant in the Hakone Hotel. Again - fantastic! The restaurant sits right on Lake Ashi which is in the caldera of a volcano that last erupted 40,000 years ago. The view reminded us of our lunch overlooking lake Louise in Banff.  Lunch was a splendid buffet with a wide variety of Japanese and other foods.  Next we took a ferry boat ride across the lake (45 minutes).  Very smooth, with beautiful tree-covered holls all around. Then, the "rope-way" - which is their name for a cable-car / gondola (the Alps kind, not the S.F. kind). The station is right above a sulphur mine so clouds of noxious sulphur hydroxide were venting out of the ground!  The gondola held about 10 of us. No ventilation, very hot and sulphurous-smelling, but a tremendous view (alas, no Fiji-yama!). The whole ride (which went across a chasm and then straight down) took 8 minutes.  Then we got on a funicular to go down the rest of the mountain (can you believe this?).  THEN....we got on a little train (jammed with locals) for about a 2 minute ride to the next station. Then, following Toshi, we walked for about 5 minutes and were back.......at the Hakone Museum!!!! Whoa!

Finally, a 10 minute bus ride to the Fujiya Hotel.  This hotel was built in 1887 and looks it!  A classic old wooden Japanese building (modernized somewhat), but with the typical old hotel "wall of photos" of dignitaries from the 20's, 30's, yadda, yadda....   The hotel has lots of beautiful gardens so we walked around for a while. Then to dinner.  Everyone had pre-ordered but when our waitress came we wanted a bottle of wine. This really confused her so we were just sitting there (with 2 other couples) while everyone else was being served!  Eventually we got our dinner, but the food was really unmemorable.   Tomorrow, a long bus ride to Takayama (and, maybe....a glimpse of Mt. Fuji!).

>> Time out for a word about the toilets.  The hotels and even most public places have toilets with an electronic seat. Press one button and you have instant warmth for your buns!  Nice!!  Press another and it works like a bidet.  When you first sit down (or even lean forward and then back again) it swishes fresh water into the bowl.  Very civilized and functional.  On the other hand, some of the less fancy public restrooms (like in a park) feature those good old squatter things.  How in the world they expect anyone (male or female) to use that is completely beyond us.  Luckily, haven't been forced to use an "Eastern" style one yet.

Tuesday, June 20
Hakone to Takayama.
Off on an hour-long ride to the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum to see the fabulous tie-dyed kimonos.
These are not like psychedelic tie-dyed, but feature beautiful scenes of nature.  And, from the museum we actually had great views of Mt. Fuji!  Toshi said it is only clear enough to see from this spot about 65 days a year.  Then a short bus ride and it was time for lunch.  We went to a hotel and again had a great view of Fuji, but that was the best part as the food was really bad (note:  when you go to japan, DO NOT order chicken! They don't seem to know how to cook it).

Next, a 2 hour ride to Matsumoto Castle, a national treasure.
Note that this is not a castle like we think of them (thick, stone walls), but a tall (5-story) wooden structure (but still with the obligatory moat). It was pretty neat.  The stairs inside are intentionally steep to slow down invaders (too bad for the folks who lived there the other 99% of the time!).  Then, another 2 hour ride, but this time it was a beautiful ride up into the mountains as we followed a river past 3 dams, many switchbacks, and through long tunnels (some over 2 miles).  The temperature was posted by the side of the road every few miles and it went from 24F to 18F by the time we arrived at the Takayama Resort.

Wendy checked out the hot springs bath (in fact, all of the hot water in the hotel comes from the natural springs!). Then we had an amazing 11-course Japanese dinner. First, a rectangular wooden box with 3 little bowls inside.  One had pickled fish, one had mooshed tofu, and one had ???? (some sort of jellied stuff; we had no clue).  Then fish dumpling soup with a green soybean matzoh ball (which, surprisingly, had no taste).  Next, 3 little dishes of raw fishes (sounds like a children's book!)....shrimp (tiny ones), tuna, and ?????  Next the waitresses fixed up some little stone stoves at each place and put on a plate of radishes, pumpkins, eggplants, shrimp, green peppers, all with a miso-based sauce. It cooked for a few minutes and then we ate it.  next...a plate with a 6" whole fish (which did not appear to have been gutted) which had been grilled, accompanied by citrus, ginger, and pepper, and a small tomato filled with other veggies. Then!!! the stoves were relit and she brough us plates with thin slices of Hida beef (local - better than Kobe). We each grilled our own and ate that. Yum!  Then a bowl of rice with tiny dried baby sardines.  Then (of course) miso soup.  All was washed down with sake (Wendy) and 2 bottles of beer (Wayne). Next, a plate with 3 kinds of pickles. FINALLY, a slice of watermelon and soy milk tofu.  We were totally stuffed!

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