Friday, June 10, 2011

Come visit, stay awhile...

Nick and I always joke that I live in Japan and he just visits. With 7 "deployments" under his belt in less than a year, it's no wonder we think this way.

Though he is gone a lot, Nick is getting to see other parts of Asia. Checking one country after another off his "must see" list, he's not exactly complaining! (However I'm a bit jealous...ha!) Currently Nick is on an IA (Individual Assignment) in Australia! He promised to take lots of photos of the Land Down Under! (That is if he has the time...the military keeps him pretty busy)

When he's home (and can get away from the squadron) we try to get out and see least locally if nothing else. We were able to squeeze one mini trip in before he left. We spent a couple of days in the area of Hakone.

Hakone is a couple hours away by train, easily a day trip, but we booked a hotel and made a gettaway of it!
Nick and I stayed at the Fujiya Hotel. This famous resort is the oldest in Japan. Constructed in 1891, the historical hotel has been stayed in by many famous people; John Lennon, President Franklin Roosevelt and Helen Keller to name a few.
It was raining the entire time we were in Hakone, therefore we didn't get as many pictures as we would have liked...but, all the more reason to go back another time.

The lush greenery surrounding the Fujiya Hotel was amazing. Gardens, ponds, natural springs, heavy trees and bright bright green was all one would see when looking out any window of the hotel! Love it! So peaceful and relaxing.
There was a wedding being held at the hotel while we were there; which isn't uncommon, given the hotel's stature. (but poor bride...with all the rain) Nick of course wanted to take a photo, even though the bride was wearing what they call "Western-style" wedding attire, and not a traditional Japanese wedding dress. Her attendants however were wearing kimonos so it wasn't completely untraditional (for Japan).
The area of Hakone is known for it's many onsen (hot springs). Onsen were traditionally used as public bathing places, but are still very much a part of the Japanese culture and can be found in most cities. Most onsen don't allow you to wear a swimsuit (again, these are public facilities), which I find highly uncomfortable (of course I do, I am not Asian and wasn't raised that way...not knocking the Japanese, I am just admitting - we are the way we are because of the way we grew up!). Some onsen however are private, and therefore you can go into them by yourselves (or with whomever you choose, the key is there aren't strangers in the room with you). The picture below is of the "private hot spring bath" at our paying for an hour in a hot tub! Ha! ...called the "Mermaid Bath"
The thing to do while in Hakone is to take the cable cars up the mountain/volcano, make a pit stop at Owakundai and eat the famous black eggs, then take a boat ride across Lake Ashi.

The rain really put a damper on our sightseeing, and thus while in the cable car, this was our view:
From this spot, one is supposed to get "one of the best views of Fuji"...clearly we didn't, but it was still fun to go up the mountain anyway! Nick and I just enjoyed getting a weekend away together.

Hakone Volcano is still active, but there has not been an eruption for over 3,000 years. However, the steam still rises from the land surrounding it, and the water under the ground is very warm (hence the many hot springs).
Owakudani is the area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mt. Hakone. It's an active volcanic zone where sulfurous fumes, hot springs and hot rivers can be seen.

Taking the short walking trail (about 10 minutes) away from the cable cars, we were led into the volcanic zone where even through the rain we could see the steam vents and bubbling pools!
On this trail we were able to purchase the legendary black eggs! These unique eggs are cooked in the naturally hot water, where their shells are blackened by the sulfur. The eggs are said to prolong one's life by 7 years, so eat them we did! Ha!
Verdict...a black boiled egg, is still a boiled egg...tastes exactly the same! Luckily for us, they even give you salt when you purchase the eggs to sprinkle on for a bit of flavor.
Didn't see Fuji, did eat the eggs, and made it to the boat...but, we were 5 minutes too late and therefore didn't get to ride across Lake Ashi...again, another reason to go back!

Nick and I arrived via cable car at the boat stop and literally watched the last boat of the day take off! Just our luck...haha! Note to others: the last bus leaves at 5pm, not 5:05!
We did miss the boat ride, but we didn't let it stop us from enjoying Hakone. We took a bus ride through the winding roads that lead back to our hotel, where we enjoyed the scenery locally.

Next time we will make sure it isn't raining so we can fully see and enjoy the area of Hakone, but we were glad we finally experienced one of Japan's gems. Now we know how to get there and get around....come visit us and we will take you there as well!

(Nick you too! I'd love you to visit, maybe stay awhile!)

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