The most iconic image of Japan is of course that of Mt. Fuji but I had never been fortunate enough to see the great mountain in person on any of my earlier trips. And with rain forecast for our entire time in the region, I had little hope of seeing her this time around.
But luck has truly smiled upon us and we have been incredibly fortunate to see the mountain in her more subdued glory, white snow crown standing out against a blue sky with grey storm clouds moving in. On our train from Tokyo we had an occasional glimpse of the white capped peak but it was not until we were on our circular trip around the area from Hakone-Yumato, via switchback train, cog rail way, and aerial tram with a final section by a Pirate Ship (yes, you read that correctly, a full-sailed pirate ship sailing across an enclosed lake) that we saw her full beauty. I have seen some splendid mountains around the world but a stand-alone volcanic peak with jagged snow cap takes your breath away. This is also perhaps because the images of Mt. Fuji from Japanese classical art formed a deep impression on me from my youth. So to suddenly see that well-known form appear in the distance, so unmistakable in her signature, is very powerful. However, some of us noted there seemed less snow than the known images and we wonder whether climate change is impacting her topping.
Our visit to the reconstructed Hakone Checkpoint from the Edo Era was also instructive. Built on the edge of the lake on the excavated remains of the original sentry station which was part of the great Tokkaido road, we had a chance to see what a slice of life might have looked like at that time. One of the main purposes of this guard system was to keep women from escaping Edo and they were thoroughly “inspected” (we wonder how and for what!!) before being allowed to pass through.
Our spa resort in the town of Hakone-Yumato, was an immersion into Japanese customs. It is a large hotel catering to the many Japanese who come to Hakone for vacations.
Built in a beautiful hillside setting about 60 years ago with exceptional gardens in the back, including 3 waterfalls, one of which was well-known to provide health benefits, we all enjoyed their natural hot baths. Men and women in separate areas, with a beautiful outdoor set of soaking pools, steam rising into the air, and a few pools covered for rain and snow, our group learned the etiquette of sitting on tiny stools and washing and rinsing well before immersing in the wonderful hot water. No bathing suits allowed and yukata (simple kimono) are provided in the rooms to use throughout the hotel, on the way to the baths and at meals as well.
Our food there was a tremendous buffet for dinner and breakfast and we finally had time the next morning to just relax and enjoy the setting as rain began to set in. Beautiful koi and ducks in the ponds. Trisha, Bill and I ate lunch on the property at a lovely wooden tea house/restaurant with really delicious noodles with tofu and a white yam topping.
We are totally enjoying each other as a group with much humor at our many faux pas and confusions in our excursions as very few signs are translated into English, even in the hotel. Everywhere, and I mean everywhere, has the cleanest toilet rooms anywhere in the world, usually with heated seats and the ubiquitous Toto washlet toilets, which take care of all your personal hygiene for you. Train stations, bus stops, restaurants. Japanese must be aghast when first arriving into the U.S. and step into our public restrooms. I would like one in my house!
On our way to our next adventure in Nagoya!