Sunday, May 30—Kyoto/Hakone
As Advertised: After breakfast this morning, you will be transferred to the Odawara Station, where you will board the world-famous bullet train to Hakone. Upon arrival, you will be met and transferred to lunch, following which you will check-in at your hotel.
The above was not quite the way it happened. The previous day, we received the following updated advisory (in all caps, which I have lowercased for your reading ease):
This whole business was somewhat unexpected, as we had not realized we would need an “overnight bag” on the trip (though of course it made perfectly good sense in this case). With some grumbling, we managed to sort out our things and stuff overnight essentials into a small duffle (Barney) and a backpack (me).
Our relatively late departure time permitted us to squeeze in one more independent tourist adventure after breakfast (again in the Corbeille restaurant). On our walks around Kyoto, especially to the laundry, we had several times passed a very large and impressive temple complex identified on our maps as Nishi Hongwanji. We were curious about it and seized the time Sunday morning to go explore it. As usual, we were pretty clueless at the time (though Barney did buy, for ¥840, a lavishly illustrated booklet about it at the gift shop), learning only later what we should have known while we were touring it.
We returned to our room about 10:30 to freshen up, then returned to the lobby to check out and wait for the bus, which conveyed us the few blocks to the JR station, where we caught a shinkansen to Mishima, where we were met by more buses to take us to Hakone. We were provided with box lunches (bentō), which we ate on the train. As usual, the food was a mixture of Japanese and Western, and there was more of it than we could eat. We saved the excess for “emergencies” later; needless to say, these did not arise.
As usual, Kyoko used our one-hour bus trip between Mishima and Hakone filling us in on what we were about to experience. As we left Mishima, she pointed out that it was one of the original stations of the old Tōkaidō (Eastern Sea Road) Highway, which connected Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto between the seventeenth century and 1867. After winning the famous battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, inaugurated what was known as the tenma-sei (post horse system) as one of the many administrative measures that he took to establish the feudal government system. The tenma system was designed to set up post towns along major highways in order to provide manpower and horses to facilitate the mobility of government officials as well as the physical flow of goods and the dissemination of information. Under this system, 53 post towns (shukuba) were created along the Tōkaidō Highway.
Kyoko told us that the highway took 17 days to travel on foot. Another source says it was a 13-day trip. Hakone is the most dangerous part of the route because it is mountainous, and the Hakone pass is still difficult to cross on foot. Hakone was also one of the post towns or checkpoints, and one Web site describes as follows the current tourist attraction:
Another Web site provides the following additional information:
According to Kyoko, sumo wrestlers and kabuki players were exempt from search but had to give a performance to demonstrate their credentials.
It was the noted woodblock (ukiyo-e) artist Hiroshige who popularized the Tōkaidō in the nineteenth century. In 1832 he set out along the highway on his first trip from Edo to Kyoto, commemorating his journey with 55 woodblock prints, one of each post town and one each of Nihonbashi (in Tokyo) and Kyoto. This series of pictures suddenly and firmly established the young Hiroshige’s fame as a landscape artist.
Today the highway is notably the scene of the Hakone Ekiden, a two-day relay race from Tokyo to Hakone held annually at the New Year. A portion of the highway, called Cedar Avenue because it is lined with 400 cedars (sugi) planted in 1618, stretches for a mile and a half along the shores of Lake Ashi and makes for a pleasant stroll.
Kyoko pointed out that, until 30 years ago, Hakone was a popular honeymoon resort. Now many Japanese and international corporations own summer vacation homes there that can be used by corporate executives and employees. The charge for use of these houses is equivalent to only about $40 a night, including breakfast, but visitors can stay only one or two nights.
A crater formed when the highest peak in Hakone erupted 3,000 years ago spouts and sputters to this day. Once known as Ojigoku or Great Hell, it was renamed Owakudan prior to the Meiji emperor’s visit in 1876, so as not to be offensive; 22,000 people live inside the crater, at the center of which is Lake Ashi. Hakone boasts more than 400 hot spring sources and is visited by 20,000 tourists a year. Kyoko also filled us in on etiquette for the Japanese-style baths, both at the hotel and at the spa across the street.
Along the way we stopped at two scenic overlooks on the shore of Lake Ashi. I took no pictures but might have taken some if I’d realized this would be our only view of the lake. Unfortunately, the weather was turning sour, with rain starting soon after we checked into the hotel. Grateful for some down time, we resisted the lure of the spa and stayed in the room, reading and napping, till time to dress for dinner.
Our tour included a sukiyaki dinner that night in a banquet room at the hotel. We had been instructed to wear (over our clothes) the yukata (cotton kimono) and slippers we would find in the closet. When we emerged into the corridor, we found everyone else wearing, in addition, a sort of vest-like tunic over the yukata, so we ducked back into the room and put those on.
We had been told to meet in the lobby at 6:50 for a group picture before going to dinner, but I suppose it became apparent that the group was too big for a picture in the lobby, and the hotel was not really thrilled about having a lot of people milling about in the lobby in yukata (which were supposed to be restricted to the guest rooms and the spa floor). So we proceeded outside and around a labyrinth of covered (but still wet) walkways to an adjacent building.
A casual head count had been taken of those who were game to sit on the floor and those who preferred chairs. I had, somewhat dubiously, opted for the floor, but it soon became apparent that this would not work, as I could not extend my legs under the table without touching someone else, and my balky hips and knees would not permit me to kneel or sit cross-legged for more than a very brief time. As luck would have it, all the places at the Japanese-style tables had been taken before Matthew was seated, and he was rather unhappily relegated to a chair, surrounded by the aged and infirm. He was, I think, more than grateful when I offered to change places. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to leave all my family (except Dad) behind and sit with people I didn’t know. I didn’t enjoy the meal much, perhaps because, unlike Barney and Matthew, I did not accompany it with any sake, feeling that the charge for beverages was exorbitant.
When the meal was over, we were herded onstage for the promised group picture. I had about given up hope of receiving a copy of this when, on June 28, I received an email from Allison Bokoff with a huge attachment. It was the picture. Well, it was a picture. A few people were cut off on each side, but that didn’t matter, really, since those who were included were unrecognizable; evidently the camera shook, and the photo is totally out of focus.