Hi guys! It’s been awhile since we’ve updated our blog, although we had been up to a few things in the past 4 months since Christmas. We’ve decided to break down those experiences / adventures into individual entries to catch up, so we’re going to start with our January vacation and work our way from there.
So — let’s set the clocks back a few months. New Years has come and gone. If you’d seen our Facebook pages, you’ll know that we had a pretty fun New Years even thanks to the event thrown in our town for the midnight count down. It’s quite a bit nippy outside, but still, we’re restless to get out and enjoy one of our upcoming holiday long weekends. I made a plan for us take a hike along another old Japanese foot highway. Except, Libby doesn’t fully know this 🙂
“Oh hey Libby, you wanna go somewhere with delicious food, some nice onsens, and good views across central Japan?” “Ok sure.” “Also there’s this neat cobble road that is one of the last remains of the old Japanese foot highway…” “Ok sure.”
“… and we’re going to climb up the steep mountain pass by foot ourselves!”
“Huh?” “Nothing, nothing.”
And so we were off to Hakone (箱根) !
For our first night, we ended up staying in a rather cheap, simple little hotel in a very beautiful Onsen village at the base of the mountain. I’m not sure that we were able to capture many good pictures of it, because we were caught up in the awe, but it’s basically a sleep village of inns in very traditional style, set along a river coming down the mountain, with the warm glow of lanterns filling the streets. So like Spirited Away, but in real life lol.
So although there were many nice Onsen hotels nearby, they were a bit expensive for us to actually stay in; we ended up a bit more “budget” hostel style hotel. Still, it was quite comfortable, just lacking in the nice bath department. Actually, the best part of that evening was our television entertainment. After flipping through some channels, we found a special program dedicated to the world food eating championship that we being held in NYC at the time! It featured it seemed like 4 countries; the US, Britain, Australia, and Japan. Not much for an international contest right? Lol. It seemed really hoky but me and Libby REALLY got into it, because the Japanese broadcast was SO dramatic. They were really playing up the USA vs Japan rivalry (it seemed like all the other countries were complete push overs by comparison). The Japanese team consisted of two short skinny emo looking pretty boys and a cutesy “tee-hee” Japanese girl in her early 20’s. Uhhh… right. The American team featured over enthusiastic burely dudes and a woman with bicep muscles and a death stare. Though actually, everyone seemed to be in good humor and not taking it too seriously, there was definitely a manufactured drama element that reminded me alot of watching American wrestling lol.
The competition was really close! Some rounds were all about sheer volume, like eating never ending supply of steaks, where the Americans just edged out the Japanese team, but other competitions involved not just volume but finese of speed, including the macaroni and the fried shrimp rounds (you’re fighting the constant chewing and “fullness” of your mouth) where the Japanese team employed “rabbit” style quick, small bites to blow away the sheer stomaches of the American team.
The last round was final death, and the drama couldn’t have been built up more intensely! Unfortunately, however, the Japanese girl who was supposed to be pitted against her American ended up bowing out mid challenge due to almost choking from stress! 😦 It was really kinda sad and we felt really bad for her, she seemed very distraught. Her whole team was counting on her to win it all, and it seemed the manufactured drama had become a little too real for her. Yikes guys! Don’t ever say this is a sport you can’t get injured in.
After that, we got our rest and prepared for the next day — ascent! As I mentioned before… Libby hadn’t been, uh, fully briefed on the extent of my intent to “climb” the old highway path up the mountain. But when we disembarked our bus early, leaving a group of starry eyed tourists comfortably seated for their gas powered drive up the mountain, it all donned on her. Fortunately, it was too late to return to the bus lol.
The short story for this old stone path highway is that during the Edo and previous periods, travelers going from East to Western Japan had to cross the rather rigid mountain lines along the coast by largely walking a network of connected stone paths maintained by their local communities. This included merchants, vacationeers, the rich, and the military all alike. This path was not always strictly safe either; earthquakes, snow, and harsh rains would strand travelers along the path. There’s even a small memorial to the mules and cows that died carrying their burdens across the mountain passes. Naturally, communities and small businesses sprouted up along the path to make the journey less perilous, but these tended to exist at the base of the mountain passes themselves, which meant that you had short but rather intense lengths of pass that you had no choice but to travel at once before you could catch a respite. That, rather intense length of pass over the mountain, was exactly what stood before us.
The good news is that the remaining road is kept in good condition due to preservation efforts and modern construction. The bad new is that the path is still uneven pebble and stone along a steep incline. The views were incredible, but so was the work. It was funny too because we kept having to cross the highway the curved up the mountain along our way. Each time, we’d see another bus pass us by with another full set of passengers comfortably being carted to the summit that seemed still all to impossible for us to reach. lol.
Still, I enjoyed it. After a 3 hour hike, we had reached the peak and begun our descent into the main Hakone village / lake valley. Along the way, we did have an “incident”. There’s a moment where we cross a small bridge across from an underpass where a creak flows along. As we approached, I instantly recognized a fresh pile of poop right on top the bridge. Cautious, but not wanting to scare Libby yet, I approached the bridge and looked around for additional signs. The area is known for 2 primary dangers; wild boars (common in Japan) and, of course, bears. As I looked towards the underpass to my right, I saw… it. I still don’t clearly know WHAT it was, except that it was sleeping, big, and hairy. Again, bear or boar, I didn’t want to know, so I quietly hurried Libby along and we made our way up the path a bit before I alerted her to what I had seen. I don’t think she liked that lol.
Anyways, Hakone itself was featured a famous foot race and so was a bit busy when we arrived. That said, we grabbed some food and enjoyed the views of the beautiful lake for which the valley was known for. I had some fried Wakasaki, the small fish local to the area, and Libby had some delicious mountain vegetable stew. This is kind of weird, but… if you ever see a 山菜 (mountain vegetable) dish in rural Japan, GET IT! Even though it’s mostly just pickled mushrooms, small leafy greens, and roots, it’s absolutely DELICIOUS! The earthiness of these simple flavors plus the strong pickling process they use combines in a very pungent but still satisfying taste. Recently, Libby even made us a dish at home imitating the flavor and it was great. Never thought I’d be such a fan of a simple vegetable dish.
After lunch, we explored the lake valley by boat. One of the stops we visited featured, like most places in Japan, an inexplicable, tiny, and clearly failing amusement park lol. But we weren’t there to pet goats and ride awkward rollercoasters, we were there to take the lift up the large mountain overlooking the lake. At the top were some absolutely gorgeous views of which we collected a few snaps, and a small temple. Cool.
Before we were done with the mountain however, we took a trip to visit a famous museum in a nearby town. Except, due to some confusion around getting a bus, we uh… ended up getting to the museum right at closing time. Which is unfortunate because the museum was literally 5 floors of very beautiful ancient pieces from China and Japan. There was a security guard who came to let us know the place was closing down, but as it turned out, he was a huge museum geek and thus decided to show us quickly around his favorite pieces before leading us out as the museum closed. Next time, I”d like to spend more time looking over the collection.
Anyways, that’s really about it — just a short little two day adventure. Libby has some details to fill the gap, so I’ll leave the rest to her.
Ah, yes, we are quite long overdue for a fresh blog post.
What Zach has left out is that it was I that planned the Hakone trip. And here’s a secret that Zach would never tell you in person: he doesn’t like Mt. Fuji! And what can you easily see in Hakone? MT. FUJI! Ho ho ho ho!
But yeah, he did get me on hiking the Tokaido Road part. I’ve come to realize that hiking is the worst when it’s unplanned hiking. I remember we were at the base of the mountain really early, the noodle shops still closed. I saw a vending machine. I asked Zach, “Should I get a water bottle?”. He said “Nah”, that it would be only an hour or so away to the next shop. I unfortunately believed him and I thought, oh this should be kind of easy. NOT.
We’re going through these steep mountain passes, with slippery mossy rocks. I’m in my huge giant snow jacket and I am already drenched 30 minutes in sweat in cold winter weather. We also had all of our backpack stuff since we were going to go back home at the end of the day. The views were quite nice though, except that turd on the bridge and the possible boar.
At the peak was a really cozy teahouse where we had sesame mochi and amazake, a sweet fermenty drink with a texture of egg whites. Zach ordered our stuff from the worker and she said to Zach, “Oh! You speak Japanese but she (that’s me) doesn’t! That’s really interesting!” Finally, someone has said what everybody has been thinking when they run into the two of us! I get outwitted by the staircase and fresh out of comebacks, so I just giggle it off.
After our tea break we get back to hiking and maybe 30-45 minutes later, we are in downtown Hakone where this huge lake is (and the view of Mt. Fuji). We went to Hakone Shrine, which was really popular today since everybody wants to do their New Years prayers. We didn’t stay too long since the lines were long anyway and we were looking for lunch. I did get a weird paper fortune with a derpy dragon on it that made no sense (Unlucky but sometimes lucky??). I just ended up tying it with the other bad fortunes.
After lunch, we were looking for a boat that goes on the lake, with the view of Mt. Fuji! We had a Hakone bus pass where you could get on a pirate ship boat. We ended up on the wrong boat, and that they set off at different locations! But no matter, as long as we saw Mt. Fuji ❤ ❤ ❤
Also we had ate some nice egg pudding and french fries from a vending machine.
Onto the next post!