Tokyo Blond Is Not Porn

Tokyo Blond is not a porn blog, about hair or even, as one pithy friend remarked, a micro beer or late 1980s glam metal band ("Dude, I just saw Skid Row and Tokyo Blond opened and played a killer set").

The purpose of this blog is to chronicle my experiences in Tokyo - poignantly, visually, irreverently - for fun.

Anybody can tag along...that is if I like you. This blog will endeavor to be entertaining and honest and frequent enough to keep those following interested including me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I'll Have Another Black Egg Please - Hakone Part 2

The next day in Hakone was glorious!  Russell and I had arrived Friday evening and we were delighted to awake to a crystal clear morning.   

Yeah, this will work.

Since our friends had done the Hakone thing before they opted to stay in the hotel, in their Yukatas, all day.  It was a 30 minute walk to Gora train station but only a 15 minute walk to our first destination: the Hakone Art Museum.  The route downhill may have been a little precarious due to ice, but you see so much more when you walk somewhere.

Along our walk.

Lovely entrance to what looked like a Shiseido retreat.
Well the sign said Shiseido.

We were amused by the city maps, positioned strategically every couple of blocks to ensure tourists can find their way around.  The pictures on the maps were especially entertaining.  

Since this map is in Japanese, it didn't help much, but it was amusing.
If it were in English, I imagine it would say things like:
Jack likes to fish.
Jane likes to soak in the onsen.
See Spot pee.

The reason I had any interest in the Hakone Art Museum was not for the pottery on display but for the moss garden.  There's one in Kyoto I'd seen a picture of and it reminded me of what I always thought a Japanese garden would look like.  Chances are it would be covered in snow but I thought the garden would still be worth seeing.  It was.  

The moss had been covered with bamboo mats to protect it from the elements.  The mats were covered in a blanket of new snow and it created a velvety palate of shadows and light.  It was lovely.

Pretty little wooden bridge.

Stone path through the drifts

So lovely in fact, we decided to take a respite and ordered a cup of matcha (green tea) served by a kimonoed attendant in their pretty tea house overlooking the park. The matcha was served with a wagashi - a traditional Japanese sweet.  The term "sweet" is an oxymoron as Japanese sweets are generally not very sweet at all.  This one was sakura (cherry) flavored, and the sweetest part was the actual sakura flower leaf on top.  It was subtle and refined, much like the Japanese in general.

Yeah, this don't suck.

Wagashi - traditional Japanese treat served with matcha (green tea).
That's not a giant toothpick - it's a cake pic.
You use it to pick up the wagashi.

Our kimonoed attendant.  
I think she was actually from South America.
But she spoke perfect Japanese!

The park even had a small bamboo forest 
which was dazzling against the snow.

After the garden we walked across the street to the cable car station.  The cable car was packed with Japanese tourists when it chugged to a halt at the platform.  We squeezed on and made faces at the darling Japanese kids as we chugged up the steep mountainside.

From the cable car we transfered to the Hakone Ropeway, basically a gondola.  

Have gondola will travel.
Hey, ya think they sell hot toddies?

Sitting backwards we could see clear to the ocean, over the mountain tops.  

Soon we ascended over a ridge and were suddenly looking down at a sulfur mine.  The entire area had once been a volcano so a lot of the landscape steamed from sulfuric fissures and ponds.  It reminded me of Yellowstone.

Looking down at the sulfer mine

The factory's running.
I can smell it.

We dangled over the Owakudani which means "Great Boiling Valley."  It was boiling all right.  And then we ascended another ridge, and to our amazement, was a breath-taking view of Mt. Fuji.  It was so spectacular, the entire car, which had been dead silent until then, all gasped in unison.  

Now if I can only get this guy's head out of the way.

This hill is not on fire - it's just steam from beneath the Earth's crust.
Welcome to the Discovery Channel.

We got off the gondola at Owakundani station.  The view of Mt. Fuji from here is amazing.  It's no wonder there were ten tour buses in the parking lot.  Hey, wait a minute!  How did those buses get here?
Apparently there's a mountain road that can get you here as well.  Good to know in case we miss the last gondola back down.

Postcard ready.

We decided to try the Owakundani Nature Trail.  After walking for ten minutes down an untrodden, pristine snow covered path, we realized we had taken the wrong trail.  No matter.  It had great views of Mt. Fuji, there was no one on it, and we could get close to the steam being emitted from fragrant fissures nearby.  It was like walking through a little slice of Yellowstone but without the New Jersey tourists.  Unfortunately, the trail was only about a minute longer.  It ended back at the parking lot.  So we traced our footsteps back in the snow to the origination point.  

Not the right trail. Anyone can see that.
It's not paved and it's empty.

Views of Mt. Fuji from our private trail.

Private tree tunnel.

After a few minutes of wandering around and asking for directions, we found our way to the actual Owakundani Nature Trail.   It was paved in concrete and the only thing "nature" about it was "human nature".  There were about two hundred people going up and down it.  We were suddenly very thankful we had found the wrong trail first.  

Neat cistern adjacent to the trailhead shrine.
Why don't they have these in Yellowstone?

We followed the trail up to the boiling pools where they actually boil eggs.  They sell them and they're black.  Yes, black.  They're supposed to be lucky.  500 yen, about $6 USD, gets you five black eggs and a tiny packet of salt.  Just what I always wanted!  But the reality's really cold up there and the trek up the "trail"had made us really hungry since we hadn't eaten breakfast, so those eggs were damn good.  Plus the ones we didn't eat made excellent pocket warmers.

There was a huge crowd assembled eating black eggs.  There were even a couple of feral cats, hanging around the warm steaming pools, bartering meows for eggs.

Russell at the trail marker.
I think it says: "beware of the steaming black egg."

Black egg - black farts?

Can a brother get an egg?
I like it salted, thanks.

We thought, what could be better than black eggs and Mt Fuji, but the tour book, aka Frommer's, said we had to take the gondola to Lake Ashi to have the full Hakone experience.  So we boarded another gondola and descended into a valley with a dazzling, sparkling lake.  

As it was already 2pm and the eggs had only managed to provoke our appetites, and the next boat wasn't leaving for 30 minutes, we stopped at the station cafe, more like a cafeteria, and ate lunch.  I had ramen.  Russell had curry.  As usual, both were delicious.

We were excited because, in my opinion, we got to take the best boat across the lake.  It was a replica of a man-of-war tall ship.  It was really cool.  At any minute I expected pirates to descend upon us.  Instead a gallant looking Japanese man, walked around in a blue velvet coat and captain's hat, and solicited tourists for photos.

Prettiest boat on the lake.

The boat ride was 30 minutes and it was really cold but our hardship was rewarded by dazzling views of Mt. Fuji lakeside.  

Icicles hanging off the shoreline.
Yeah, that's how cold it was.

Another view of our ship.

From the boat dock, we walked to the Hakone Check Point, a reconstructed guard house depicting the original checkpoint along the Tokaido Highway.  The Tokaido Highway refers to the ancient road leading from Kyoto to Edo (now known as Tokyo), not a ten lane highway for speeding motorists.  Apparently if you were caught trying to sneak through the check point back in the 1600s the fine was stiff.  If you were a man they just cut your head off.  Nice.  If you were a woman, they shaved your head, and then gave you to any man who wanted you.  Who says chivalry is dead?

Edo checkpoint gate.
Her head isn't shaved so I guess she's OK to pass.

After the Checkpoint, with just minutes remaining until the next boat, we raced to the Hakone Detached Garden so we could get to the observation deck for one of the best views of Mt. Fuji in the country.
Frankly, the garden was just OK, but the view was spectacular.

View from the observation point in 
the Hakone Detached Garden.

We would have liked to stay longer but since somebody, (Russell), had insisted on buying roundtrip tickets, we had to make sure we got back to the gondola before it shut down.

We made it just in time to board the last gondola back.  We opted to skip the cable car and walk back to the Hyatt from Sounzan station.  It was only a 15 minute walk but it was freezing.  Thank goodness our friends already had our seats waiting and the champagne was flowing.

For dinner that night we ate at the Hyatt's French restaurant.  I was surprised they didn't have a pre fixe menu.  It seems all French restaurants in Japan have them.  It didn't matter, the menu had great choices for all, even Sally the serious meat eater.

Smoked salmon on top of beets.

Fois gras cooked two ways: sweet and savory.
Or as I like to call it: good and good.

My duck, sliced with hashed browns.
This would be good at breakfast.

Russell's lamb chops.
They even give you a bowl to clean your fingers.

The next day we arranged for a 1pm checkout and had a leisurely, Yukata clad breakfast in the dining room.  They have a nice breakfast buffet.  I went to the onsen for the third time that weekend and had it all to myself. Regular check out is at 11am and the Hyatt shuttle leaves for Gora station at 11:15am so the place is pretty much empty Sunday afternoon.  Next time we should stay till Monday, I decided, submerging beneath the curing, steamy water.  

For health reasons of course.

Somebody hand me another black egg.

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