When we left off, K and Pandabonium were on the way back to the Fujiya hotel for dinner and a rest after a long day...
Fujiya French cuisineWe weren't actually going to have dinner at the hotel. They are famous for their French cuisine, but the dinners there cost ¥15000 per person (US$131.00) - oh, you want wine with that? A bottle of wine will run you anywhere from ¥4000 to ¥10000 ($35 to $87).
Fujiya Japanese dinner
They also have a Japanese restaurant which is quite beautiful and naturally offers exceptional food, but the prices likewise will slim down even a hefty wallet.
"Putting on airs" is fun, but actually paying for it isn't. Not quite what we had in mind anyway, so we walked around the little town of Miyanoshita to find more simple and affordable fare.
We wanted to try a tempura restaurant, but for some reason it was closed, so we settled for Italian. Our expectations for Italian food has been forever jaded by our favorite local restaurant - Wordsworth. The food this night was OK, but the seasonings and flavorings were too strong in each of our pasta dishes. We couldn't complain too much as the tab was a small fraction of the prices at the hotel.
During dinner we heard rumblings of thunder and on the way back to the hotel I happened to glance up a the sky just as a bolt of cloud-to-cloud lightning flashed over the entire length of the valley. Whoa.
K turned the TV on to get a weather report. We had read of cloudy weather being predicted for our trip, but tried to brush it off and hope the cold front would blow on by and leave us clear skies for viewing Fuji-san. For our first day, it had been nice, but we wouldn't be in a location to see the mountain until our second day. The gathering storm clouds seemed ominous, and the weather report was bad news. The cold front had run smack into a warm front coming up from the south creating a stationary front right over Hakone! As can happen under those conditions, the cold air acted like a wedge under the warm air, lifting it up and creating thunderstorms. It was unclear whether the ropeways (aerial trams) and lake boats we planned to take the next day would even be operating. It began to rain.
In the morning we borrowed a couple of umbrellas from the hotel and took a stroll through their beautiful and extensive Japanese gardens.
There are two sure ways to offend the rain gods. One is to wash your car. The other is to go on a trip without an umbrella. So when we visited the local convenience store to pick up a quick breakfast of rice balls and yogurt, we also picked up a couple of collapsible umbrellas in hopes the gods would be appeased. They were not so quick to forgive and the rain turned into a deluge as we trudged back to the hotel.
I was feeling the need for a coffee fix. We decided to enjoy a cup of espresso in the hotel - ¥700 a shot ($6.10). Ah well, it came with a lovely view of the garden. By then it was getting to be 9 o'clock and K, worried about weather, felt anxious to get going. We checked out and headed for the station. Now that we carried our own umbrellas the rain stopped. And of course, as you might guess, we never needed an umbrella again for the remainder of the trip.
We caught the Hakone-Tozan train and took it to the last stop at Gora. There we put the suitcase in a locker, but I made the mistake of not doing the same with the backpack. That decision would weigh upon me (heh, heh) the rest of the day. At Gora (still using our free passes) we boarded the Sounzan cable car, which took us to, well, Sounzan, where we transfered to the Hakone Ropeway.
As the ropeway rose up the mountainside it offered a beautiful view of the valley behind us. Along this route one can see Fuji-san when the weather cooperates. Not today. Nearing the highest point, we entered IFR conditions, and the world turned white around us. The cars passing going the other direction were eerily empty and I told K that the "Crawling Eye" (aka "The Trollenberg Terror") must be waiting to eat us at the next station. She wasn't buying it. Not even pretending to. Sigh. (She doesn't believe in the Kitaura lake monster either.)
The next station was at the top of the ridge and we stayed on the same tram as it was moved to the next set of cables. The clouds broke at the ridge and we could see a bit more, but not the elusive Fuji-san.
At the next station we changed to a different set of trams entirely. Close to the station was a resort next to some sulfur fumaroles - not sure why one would want to spend their vacation smelling sulfur, but in Japan mineral spas all
We were soon dangling over a scene from Dante's Inferno. Indeed, this area used to be called Oojigoku ("hell") until a visit by Emperor Meiji. It was not good to have the Emperor visit a place called hell, so they changed the name to Oowakudani ("Grand Hell") just before his visit. Happily the odor of sulfide only briefly entered the tram.
A few minutes later we heard drums. As it grew louder we also heard shouts then band music. We were moving past a large gymnasium building where high school bands were rehearsing in some kind of music camp. What a great location for such an experience for the kids.
Lake Ashi (Ashinoko) was coming into view, one of its many cruise boats sailing along in the distance. The lake was formed in the caldera of Hakone some 400 thousand years ago. It isn't big - about 20 km (12.4 miles) in circumference, but quite beautiful because of the surrounding mountains with lush forests, and it is full of fish such as pond smelt, trout, and black bass.
The "free pass" is good on the boats too. The four boats are replicas of pirate boats. “Vasa” is (loosely) modeled after the ship Vasa built by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in the first half of the 17th century. “Royal” is modeled on the 17th-century French warship Soleil Royal. The “Victoria” is modeled on a British warship from the 17th century, HMS Sovereign of the Seas, and “Frontier,” is a replica Mississippi river boat. The boats each have a few life size statues of pirates on board. Like I've said - one big Disneyland. "Yo-ho yo-ho a pirate's life for me." Avast! Belay that bellowing, ye scurvy dogs, and get aloft.
We had lunch at a nice cafeteria overlooking the lake. I had fried lake smelt, which was pretty tasty. We then boarded the Vasa to cruise to the other (south) end of the lake. By this time, some clouds were drifting down to within a few meters of the lake's surface, and we realized that the chances of seeing Fuji-san this trip were between slim and none.
The trip to the other end of the lake takes 30 minutes or so. Along the way, one can enjoy the view of the west side of the lake with its wooded mountain slopes, and the east side, dotted with lakeside resorts and a ropeway that ascends Mt. Komagatake. There are two stops at the south end - Hakone and Motohakone. We got off at Hakone and walked to the Hakone Checkpoint Exhibition.
During the Edo period (1603 to 1868), the Shogunate ran the country though about 300 Daimyo (regional feudal rulers) with the Shogun in Edo (now Tokyo). To keep the Daimyo in line, their families were required to live in Edo. The Daimyo themselves would spend one year in Edo and the next in their local province. Traveling to or from Edo required
Lighting a fire in the kitchen.Originally built in 1619, today there is a complete reconstruction of the checkpoint buildings on the site. Completed earlier this year, it features period furnishings and life-sized clay figures of bureaucrats, soldiers and even horses, so one can see how they lived and went about their jobs.
They had some rather nasty looking specialized weapons for torture and punishment of "evil doers". I won't detail how they dealt with people caught trying to travel without permission. Suffice it to say, it wasn't with kindness or mercy. It was rather gruesome. (Alberto Gonzales would have felt right at home.)
Hakone Checkpoint from AboveTravelers were stopped at gates at each end of the checkpoint. The road between was flanked by the offices on one side and the soldier's barracks on the other.
From a hilltop where a lookout post stands, (up a lot of long tall stone steps with that bloody backpack on) one gets a beautiful view of the, huff, puff, area.
A little further on there is a museum with original artifacts (such as some of the tools used for their "enhanced interrogation" of prisoners) and actual travel documents of the period. Travel papers for women looked different from those of a Samurai which in turn were different from those for a monk. As we emerged from the museum, some people were talking excitedly and pointing in the direction of Mt. Fuji. Could it be? Peeking out from behind a veil of clouds, the reclusive mountain was at last visible to us - at least a part of it!
The mountain at the end of the lake is Mt. Marudake (I think). The top of Fuji-san is visible just to the right of Marudake's peak.
Fuji-san played peek-a-boo with us, and disappeared anytime we tried to put one of us in the picture.
We made it back to the dock just in time to board the next pirate ship - the Victoria this time, which would make the short trip to Motohakone and then back up to the north end of the lake. Most people do a circle route of Hakone and board a bus at the south end of the lake which takes them back to where they started the day, but K wanted every chance she could get to see Mt. Fuji.
K was unaware of the Motohakone stop and was convinced I had gotten us on the wrong boat and that we would have to wait a long time for another. She was ready to make me walk the plank or "kiss the gunner's daughter" and take 20 lashes from the cat o' nine tails, but lucky for me, I had been correct, and the boat only stopped at Motohakone long enough to disgorge a large tour group (of lily-livered land lubbers), and we were on our way again on a much less crowded boat. Raise the Jolly Roger!
From the bay of Motohakone, one gets a nice view of the torii of Hakone shrine. If you look closely in the picture below (much easier in the enlarged version), you can see Fuji-san sitting on the treetops above the torii.
Behind the shrine, Mt. Komagatake rises to an elevation of 1357 meters (4,452 feet). A ropeway can take you from the lake to its summit, where another shrine was established about 2,400 years ago. The site offers spectacular views in every direction. Another reason to return to Hakone.
We got a few more glimpses of Mr. Fuji while cruising back north. Considering how bad the weather had been in the morning, I think we were lucky. I've read many a blog post or travel article in which the writer never got to see anything of the mountain.
We retraced our route. While the weather had improved, we still did not get a view of Fuji-san from the ropeway. Then it was back to Gora to pick up the other (ugh) bag, take the Hakone-Tozan line all the way back down the mountain and catch another train toward Kamakura.
つづく (to be continued)....in Dîner Français and the First Kamakura Shogun