10 July 2002

Greetings from Hakone, Japan.

(Larger versions of the pictures will appear if you click on the ones embedded in the text.)

Well, the flight was uneventful and the express train into Tokyo was equally efficient.  However getting off the train and emerging into Shinjuku, in western Tokyo, was an assault.  On us.  Hot, muggy, congested, loud.  Exciting, intense.  Including out our hotel room.

I did not use to react to Tokyo that viscerally.  I guess the last few years of reduced travel and sedate suburbia have altered my chemistry, like adjusting to living in a cold or hot climate. 

Jackie was struck by notable scenes of squalor. They go against the usual image we have of Japan. She contributed her own set of Tokyo photos, as well as a set she delicately refers to as artsyfartsy.


Jackie was in good shape our first full day, but I was pretty spaced out  And it rained enough to be distracting.  We walked around near the Shinjuku hotel and train station for a few hours. I wanted to see about getting Jackie a digital camera and Shinjuku is both the train gateway west and the camera capital of Tokyo.  The prices were too high, though.  So she wandered through a department store and I found a coffee shop.  I sat in a corner, nursing my coffee, and watching the cook for a half-hour.  He was a study in fluidity and efficiency.  All motions precise, with a measured fast/slow speed, like watching a good martial artist go through an exercise form.  The coffee there was twice as expensive as some places, but the entertainment he provided was easily worth it.

As we were checking out, I watched this girl patiently waiting for her parents. So, she became the pro forma "cute kid" photo op. IMGP0405.JPG

Mid-afternoon, we caught a direct train to Hakone.  I managed to neglect planning the segment from the train to the hotel in Hakone, thinking it was a short drive.  It wasn't, though the taxi bill was not as bad as I began to fear it would be.  The hotel is on the water of Lake Ashi.  The taxi went uphill for a long time.  I kept noticing that we were still going uphill.  The meter got more and more impressive and we still had the downhill leg.  Turned out to be much shorter than the uphill.

The Hotel de Yama has turned out to be an interesting compromise.  Our choice of Hakone was because Jackie wanted her annual fix of camping and I don't do camping.  So the goal was 'nature'.  In its purist form, the experience should be done at a real ryokan, a Japanese inn specializing in marked self-indulgence.  Private multi-function in which big kaiseki (multi-dish set meal) feasts are served.  Natural hot springs. Normally one night.

Alas, I wanted more western amenities, so we are staying 4 nights at a real hotel, but its tone is pretty subdued.  Jackie is enjoying its Japanese version of 'french'.  Overall it is turning out to be a treat.  Not lavish, but quite appealing.  Spectacular views from our hotel room.  Enough English spoken to ensure survival.  Not enough to make things easy.


The view out our room in Hakone was a bit different from the one in Shinjuku.

We woke up around 5am and wandered around the water front.  Every photo was a cliche.  Around 7 the fog set in, so we were lucky to have the wonderful window of time with the quiet lake sunrise.

We had some pretty intense rain and later discovered it was the tail of a typhoon. During our walk, Jackie noticed that the runoff from the rain had used part of the walkway as a conduit, creating a pretty interesting effect on the "flow" of the grass growing between the stones.  

And of course, soaking in the hot springs ain't too bad.


And this will take you to the next segment of notes about Hakone.