A day in the clouds..
01.07.2007 - 01.07.2007 20 °C
The clouds last Sunday morning could not deter us - armed with our "Hakone Free Pass" and 3 friends (Kim, Bel and Anita) we headed West towards Hakone to enjoy mountains, beautiful green forests and amazing views. In theory these views include Mt Fuji - or Fuji-san as it's called here, which translates to Mr/Ms Fuji - but unfortunately the clouds reduced visibility to next to nothing! Initially this upset me a little as we have still yet to see this iconic mountain at all- but the clouds were so low and mist-like that they really added to the experience and made the whole place even more atmospheric.
We started our exploration of Hakone by taking a pituresque but slightly packed train which wound its way up a mountain. About halfway we hoped off to take a look at the "Hakone Open-Air Museum."This ended up being one the highlights of the day for me and Matt, in fact maybe even one of our favourite things in Japan so far. The museum is a breezy sculpture park with views on misty mountains and forests, and which houses works by the likes of Rodin, Moore and Picasso. It also has indoor art galleries, a beautiful tower/work of art whose walls are a glass mosiac, and a foot-bathing area! We highly recommend taking the time to have a wander around this beautiful and refreshing museum if you are in the area.
Next, we continued on the pituresque train-ride (after some confusion that lead to us going back a stop by mistake), then took a "cable car" which was actually a funicular train and then a "ropeway" which to my great relief turned out to be cable car. What a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon: floating over misty forested mountains.. until the mist got so think that we could hardly see the cable our car was attached to! And then, just as we cleared the clouds, we looked down to see what appeared to be a mining wasteland on the side of the mountain with steam spewing out of it. This and the slight rotten-egg smell of sulphur told us we were our next destination: an area of volcanic hot springs.
We had a quick wander around the barren hillside - just long enough to take in the bubblihg hot pools of sulphuric water fed by hot springs, but not so long that the sulphuric fumes got the better of us - signs everywhere warned tourists of the potential deadly nature of the steam! All we suffered from was slight nausea beacuse of the smell, and we even survived long enough to buy and eat some black-shelled eggs. These eggs are boiled in the bubbling volcanic water which turns their shells black and also endows them with life-lengthening properties - each black egg that you eat apparently extends your lifespan by 7 years!
Content that our lifes would now be 7 years longer (except for Matt whose egg-allergies mean that eating one of the black eggs could actually shorten his life with immediate effect, or at least make it uncomfortable for a few hours!) we continued our cable car ride down the other side of the mountain. We alighted at a town on the shores of Lake Ashi - a scenic lake set amoung mountains from which you can usually see Fuji-san but the clouds thwarted us again!
Still, we got to cross the lake on a pirate ship!! Kistchy perhaps, but the 45 minute boat trip appealed to the child within! We attempted to spot some red tori in the water (gate -ike Shinto structures) and saw 2, but neither were as impressive as we'd hoped!
Once we got off our pirate ship (complete with a distorted map of the UK with Scotland bigger than England which delighted Matt) we took a short walk down an old "Cedar Grove" and imagined ourselves Samurai back in the day!
I had wanted to try out an onsen (naked hot spring experience - single sex mind) but it was getting late and the others wanted to head home so we hoped back on a funky train - funky because the front is all window - and chatted about how succesful the day had been for the hour-long train ride home!