Sunday, December 30, 2012


I haven't had two weeks of business-is-closed vacation time since college, so this two week winter break is extra exciting. I took a "weekend" trip, the 26th-28th, to Hakone with Emma and Marissa, which was incredibly relaxing. I have concluded that Hakone is a magical land of wonder and amazement; there's no other explanation for how happy and relaxed I felt.

When we got off the train, it was a brilliantly sunny day, though cold, and we decided to walk up the hill to our Ryokan instead of waiting for the shuttle.

Once we were ensconced in the hotel, we went to the onsen for our first dip. I obviously have no pictures of the onsen itself, but there were two different hot pool rooms, which switch back and forth between men and women in the morning and the evening. Both of them have a big indoor pool and a slightly smaller outdoor pool, with taps and shower heads around the indoor room for you to wash yourself before getting into the pool. The indoor room is very steamy, and since we went in the winter, the outdoor air is cold, which makes the water feel even hotter as you get in, even though you're only outside for a few seconds before getting back in the water.

Emma behind the paper screen.
The ryokan provided breakfast and dinner, and I hadn't really thought about it, sort of assuming that the dinner would be buffet style like the breakfast was, but it was served to us in our rooms. It was a huge, beautiful, artistic spread, but it was, of course, mostly fish. Not eating meat isn't actually as big a deal in my life as you might think if you're contemplating all the food you'd be cutting out to become vegetarian; mostly it only affects me inasmuch as there's usually only about three items on any given menu that I can order, not in that I wish I could eat all that other stuff but I can't. It also means I read ingredients for packaged food (but honestly, buying food without high fructose corn syrup is way more of a hassle than buying food without beef stock or gelatin or whatever), and since I CAN'T read ingredients for packaged food here, I just haven't bought any prepared foods at the grocery store. In general, I don't really tend to think about it much, to the point where I forget to ask for vegetarian meals on planes and such.

Fortunately I wasn't especially hungry, because we'd had a huge tempura lunch not too long before, so it wasn't especially a disaster. I tried tiny bites of some of the fish and of the beef in the hot pot, and I can confidently report that I'm not going to start eating meat while I'm here. Fish just tastes so ...fishy. And beef tastes really ...meaty. They just don't taste like food. That is my official report on meat to you, as a life-long vegetarian.

Since we all passed out at about 9:30, it was really easy to get up around 7 and go to the onsen before breakfast. It's a great way to start the day, I must say. After breakfast, we headed out to explore the area, and take the bus up the mountain to the lake and shrine up there. The area is beautiful- stone and hillside, winter trees and sky.
I don't know if these stairs actually went anywhere.
We walked up the hill above town to the shrine there, which looked over the valley.
It was cold enough on the hillside that the water was frozen.

Then we took the bus up the mountain, winding through switchbacks that were even steeper and sharper than the ones up the Blue Ridge Mountains, my previous reference for most-mountainous driving conditions. I'm not sure how much higher the elevation is, but it was definitely several degrees colder up there. The stores in the town up there were actually quite a bit cheaper than the stores selling the same regional products downhill, so I bought Februmas presents for folks, which I will mail home... someday. Took me three weeks to send the postcards, so we'll see. Then we decided to fortify ourselves with caffeine and food before walking around the lake to the shrine, so we stopped in the Italian Tratteria for warmth, pizza, coffee, and the most amazing tiramisu.

All prepared, we walked around the bend of the lake to the shrine, which is probably amazingly beautiful at dusk, since it was strung with lights. Through the gates, and up the stairs on the hill, is the shrine, looking over the lake.

Some people had decided that the stairs were too high for them to bother carrying all their bags, so had left their purses in a cluster by the path. They weren't still there when we came back down, but I can only presume that, this being Japan, the original owners are the ones who walked off with them. Once we walked up to the shrine, we walked back down to the gate overlooking the lake.
We headed back after that, to warm up in the onsen, and I successfully asked for a vegetarian dinner across the language barrier. They do a vegetarian dinner as impressively as a traditional dinner, and we had hotpots and soup and pickles and tempura and on and on. Then back into the onsen, and talking until we went to sleep.

Our final morning, we did the onsen again before breakfast, checked out but left our bags at the hotel, and went back up the mountain to the glass museum before catching the train back home.

All in all, it was really amazing to get outside the city, as wonderful and exciting as life in this city-of-cities is, and enjoy nature and warm water.

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