Hakone and a bit of Mt. Fuji
Hakone Travel Blog› entry 6 of 15 › view all entries
The next day we managed to get up slightly earlier, but it was still late morning when we began navigating our way to Hakone. This was my mate's pick - he wanted to go to the Open Air modern art museum there and we hoped to catch a glimpse of Japan's tallest mountain, Mt. Fuji in the process. With my last experience of a mountain leading to nothing but pain, suffering and a lot of bouncing on the way down, I viewed this trip with some trepidation. I had a horrible vision of us turning up at the Aokigahara forest at the foot of the mountain, my friend handing me a three yen stick, slapping me on the back and watching the resulting nervous breakdown.
Navigating to Hakone turned out to be a dream - the Japanese are more than helpful with lots of English language signs, maps and guards. We jumped off the train in Hakone station and transferred to the Tozan railway which wound it's way up the heights in a series of bursts. The views were spectacular, as little stations to no where chugged by. The only problem was the heat - it was roasting and the train was packed. My friend and I had got separated when we squeezed on - but luckily a six foot four westerner with ginger hair is quite easy to spot among the more diminutive Japanese.
The train arrived at the final stop, and we all fell from the carriages and tumbled in the direction of the museum.
We paid our money and went in where we were treated to a display by three clowns, juggling, throwing things at each other and the audience and making pratfalls in the glorious sunshine. After that we meandered round the long looping pathways looking at the art. Occasionally we'd pause and try to understand the meaning of something; sometimes we'd pause and giggle like kids if it looked rude from a certain angle.
I was especially jealous of the Curved Space - a giant alien looking series of connecting cubes that kids could climb in, on and over. Art you can play with looked fun. Luckily, the Symphonic Sculpture, a giant, hollow tower of stained glass was open for adults to climb. Inside you're surrounded by a myriad of colours and the echo of your footsteps on the metal stairway create odd noises. At the top is a viewing platform, affording spectacular views over the Hakone area. We sweated our way to the top and looked around, while I lamented the lack of a breeze.
The view allowed us to spot the hot-spring foot bath, which was our next stop.
The Sounzan turned out to be a cable car - something I always enjoy. To my further delight this also turned out to be my chance to catch a glimpse of the elusive Mt. Fuji without having to climb or fall down anything. We shared a cable car with a couple of other tourists - young women who were giggling away at anything and everything. We looked round as the car climbed higher. The ground fell away beneath us, and the green turned to grey rock streaked with yellow sulphur. This turned out to be Ōwakudani, a volcanic valley famed for its active sulphur vents.
Then, suddenly, the giggling tourists stopped laughing and started making 'ooh' noises and craning their necks over my shoulder. I turned, and saw what they were gawking at as Mt. Fuju appeared from the mists. We were quite far away, the mountain still looked awesome (and like Mt. Kinablu I didn't have to worry about scaling it any time soon). We all pointed camera in unison, snapped and then made disappointed noises as the camera failed to capture the scene perfectly. As my mate commented, "Even at this distance it's bloody impressive.
Then the day went a bit odd. We arrived at the end of the cable car at the glittering blue of Lake Ashi-no-ko. Our ticket meant we were to cross the lake and then get a bus back down to Hakone ready for home. Luckily for us we just managed to make the last boat of the day.
The boat wasn't quite what I had imagined. A huge red pirate ship was waiting for us, complete with fake cannons and immobile plastic crew. I was expecting Japanese Captain Jack Sparrows to pop us any minute and start singing shanties, hoisting main braces, walking planks or whatever. Instead, there wasn't really a soul in sight. We filed on and the ship moved off, quietly and serenely. I sat down, glad to get off my feet in the punishing heat and we watched the world slip by.
The water glistened and the green slopes of the bank climbed away. In the distance Mt. Fuji was just visible. As the sun started to slip down the ship cruised across the lake. It was lovely. And there was finally a breeze! Art, mountain railways, cable cars and pirate ships... Not bad!