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Tokyo Day 3: Hakone

JAPAN | Thursday, 14 August 2008 | Views [5047]

If it hasn’t been clear so far, I had an absolutely amazing time in Tokyo. It was fucking exhausting and my feet were BURNING with pain throughout all 7 days – in fact the sides of my soles are still aching today – but the trip was brilliant anyhow. Each day we saw something that wowed us. (Thus far, the Mori Tower, Kiddyland, the 7-storey Tower Records.) We tried to cram so many things into our short stay, which was why it was so tiring, but even then there was still a lot that we missed, despite skipping meals and scrimping on sleep!

And the absolute best part of the whole trip was Hakone, where we spent Days 3 and 4.

Hakone is 70 kilometres outside of Tokyo, and it took us about 2 hours from Shinjuku to get there. It’s where Tokyoites go to get out of the city, and it has hot springs, hiking trails and excellent parks and museums.

The day didn’t start so well. We planned to wake up at 7 a.m. but ended up waking up at 8 instead because we were so tired. And since we were late we had to skip breakfast. Then I screwed up at Shinjuku station by getting us to the wrong platform and so we missed our train and had to wait about 20 minutes for the next one. After a 90-minute ride we got off at Odawara, which houses the (rebuilt) Odawara Castle. I honestly thought it was a bore but Lianyi seemed to like it. It’s a long walk from Odawara Station to the castle, which is now a museum. I’m not really a fan of history museums, I much prefer art museums.

Plus it was seriously fucking hot.

After Lianyi was done with the castle, we had to walk back to the train station but this time we took a nicer route that led us through the shops and restaurants of the town. It was really a charming little town. There was even some cute music playing in the air as we walked through the place. We couldn’t even tell where it was coming from but it just felt so quaint.

Once at the station we hopped back on the subway to Hakone Yumoto. From there, we took a railway train to the Hakone Open Air Museum, which is BRILLIANT. Fucking unbelievably wonderful. It’s basically a park with hundreds of sculptures and other interactive installation art pieces, and at the end of the park is a huge building with the word PICASSO on the front which houses, well, what do you think.

It was the best park and museum I’ve ever been to in my life. Right at the entrance, before you even enter the museum, when you look up, you see a sculpture of a man suspended in the air just above the trees. It’s too cool. When you enter, it turns out to be the sculpture "Man and Pegasus" by Carl Milles.

Us, looking at the museum map: Ok we don’t have much time. Let’s just skip the kids area.

10 minutes later: Oh my god there’s a slide! Let’s go down together! WHEEEEEEEE!!!!! That was so fast! Let’s go again!!!

Of course, our camera died halfway through the park so I can’t even show you how amazing it was. You just have to believe me. Besides the outdoor sculptures by people like Joan Miro and Willem de Kooning, there were also a couple of small buildings housing collections by Henry Moore and Giacomo Manzu. Another small building had a giant net for kids to get trapped in.
Halfway through our exploration we stopped for some shaved ice and syrup. We pointed at the condensed milk, and the old man said, “Miruku?” Too cute.

After the break I walked into a maze and almost couldn’t find my way out. And then we walked to an 18-metre high tower called the Symphonic Sculpture, which is a cylindrical building whose walls are all stained glass. The building is hollow, with just two double helix staircases winding themselves up to the top. As you walk up the stairs your footsteps echo throughout the tower and each turn you make, the colours of the stained glass changes.

I got vertigo about a third of the way up (there are no levels or landings, the stairs just go on forever, so it gets pretty scary for people with a fear of heights, like me) so I went back down. The Russian went all the way up however and on the rooftop got a fantastic view of the whole park. I didn’t realise there was even a rooftop to stand on or I would have braved myself for the climb. Grrr.

Right next to the Symphonic Sculpture was a hot spring for people to rest their tired feet in. We just paid a dollar for a towel and walked around in the water. It was actually pretty effective. After we got out, my feet didn’t hurt for a while. Well, for ten whole minutes I felt no pain.

After that, it was the grand finalé – the Picasso building. There are over 300 Picasso works stored in the building, making it one of the largest Picasso collections in the world. Too bad we can’t fully understand art, but I walked away feeling awed just the same.

We had planned to spend not too long at the open air museum since we were pressed for time and there were a zillion things to do in Hakone, but we ended up spending something like 2 and a half hours there. It was worth every minute though – I would have hated to have missed out on any part of the place.

And since it was already about 4 pm when we were done with the open air museum, we had to quickly make our way directly to our guesthouse in Hakone, which stops checking in people after 6. To get there we had to first take a cablecar (which is a car on railway tracks, but attached to overhead cables) to Sounzan, and then transfer to a ropeway (which is what we call a cablecar over here) to Togendai. And from there, we had to take a bus to Senkyoro-Mae where our guesthouse was.

We reached the guesthouse around 5 pm. Note that we had not only skipped breakfast, we had skipped lunch too. I don’t think any of our trips to third world countries had been this hardcore. I think we would have made Soo Hian hate Tokyo if he had come along with us.

So, being broken and almost dead, we checked in and immediately went searching for dinner without taking a shower first. After getting lost, we came across a bunch of white guys sitting in the backyard of a cute little building and asked for help. Among them was a Japanese guy who, when we said we were from Singapore, said, “Oh, Singapore! Apa khabar?”

Thanks to his help we eventually ended up at the restaurant we were looking for, an adorable little place called Hanashi where you have to take off your shoes and sit cross-legged on tatami mats. We were so excited to get food. But when we got our food we were a bit disappointed: The portions were quite small. And when we looked over at the table next to ours, we realised that the Japanese customers were eating plates of food that weren’t even listed in the menu that we got! Mussels, prawns, calamari. The English menu we got was a piece of laminated paper with like, 10 items on it and the only seafood listed was fish!

So after dinner our next stop was Lawson, a 24-hour convenience store, where we bought ice cream, cakes and cup noodles in Milk Curry and Cheese Curry flavour. Yes, you read that right. Well, we were in Japan so why not?

We sat at a bus stop outside Lawson and ate our ice cream, and talked about what a lovely little charming town we were in. It really looks like a great place to grow old in. I wish we had had more time there just to chill and go to the village centre. But it was already dark as we finished our ice creams and we made our way back to our guesthouse.

We had booked the cheapest room we could find in Hakone, which was SGD130 a night. And for that hefty sum, we had to share a toilet and shower room with the other guests. (All other rooms in Hakone cost SGD300 to 600 a night.) But my fears about gross toilets were misplaced: everything about the guesthouse was spotless. It was quite amazing. Our stinking, sweaty bodies were pretty much the dirtiest things there.

Later that night we had our cakes and cup noodles. Milk curry and cheese curry are really not bad at all!

Tags: hakone, japan, odawara, tokyo

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