We were immediately blown away by the simple beauty of the room. Wonderful tatami floors, accompanied by a traditional kneeling table and chairs, and adorned with a beautiful tea set. We were given a quick tour before we had a moment alone to admire our room. A set of chairs looked out onto the outdoor patio, right next to the stocked bar. Outside our glass sliding doors was an outdoor shower, and an open air hot springs bath. Our own, private hot spring! Lucky for us, there was a tall fence and walls surrounding the private patio, but still a noticeable view of the mountains and trees. Soon enough, the attendant returned and asked us to sit down. She served us green tea and gave us a delicious mochi snack. She left us alone and we delighted in our situation.
I finally removed my shoes and slipped on the provided ones, where we were then ushered into a little dining area with a fantastic, panoramic view. A woman, obviously proficient in English, asked when we would like to schedule dinner, and breakfast in our room before whisking us away down the hall. She gave us a little tour of the facilities, pointing out the bathrooms and accompanying segregated male, and female hot spring baths. There were delightful copper sinks in the hall, which gleamed invitingly. I squealed with delight at every turn in the corridor. Every inch of this place felt authentic, and warm. Soon she showed us to the elevator and informed us which floor the room was located. My partner and I squeezed into the little elevator, while the woman in her tabi and sandals, took the stairs and met us on the same floor. Again, the customer service and enthusiasm impressed me to no end. She quickly escorted us to our room and as soon as we entered the little foyer and genkan, I removed the slippers and stepped up onto raised platform. She thanked me, almost profusely, making it obvious that many foreigners didn’t recognize the faux pas.
When we finally reached the Hakone-Yumoto station, we were starting to get really excited. We found the bus heading in the right direction by asking at information – and felt really fortunate when they spoke English – then prepared for our final leg of the journey. Our stop was approximately 20 minutes away, but it took a little longer since there were delays. The road to the ryokan was a long, twisty road up a mountain. The further we travelled, the more we wondered where we were headed. I started to panic a little (as I do) and hoped that we actually caught the right bus. I wanted to make sure we made our check-in time. I would hate to be late. It would be absolutely unseemly.
We crossed the road and as we were admiring the brilliant visage ahead of us, a man in traditional work garb was bouncing down the stairs with a clipboard. My partner and I looked at one another before the man eagerly greeted us, then said the name the reservation was under. We nodded, impressed with the immediate and enthusiastic service. We hadn’t even gotten to the bottom of the stairs leading to the impressive ryokan. We followed him as he led us through the antique sliding doors, and were instantly set upon by a whole team of women in kimonos. They smiled warmly and encouraged us to remove our shoes in the genkan and replace them with slippers. When they saw the size of my partner’s feet, they quickly and quietly switched them out with larger ones. I was struggling to remove my shoes and was leveraging myself on my partner’s shoulder, when one of the women scurried away to bring me a special bamboo stand especially designed for that purpose. I couldn’t believe the already outstanding service.
During my Christmas break, I had the luck and fortune to visit a few great places in the Kanto region. I visited Hakone (world renown for their hot springs), Tokyo, and Nikko (home of many famous temples and shrines). In Tokyo, I had the opportunity to see a few of the major tourist attractions, including: Shibuya, Shinjuku, Asakusa, Roppongi Hills, the Tokyo Skytree, and just outside of Tokyo – Mitaka, where the Studio Ghibli Museum is located. In order to see all of Tokyo, you would honestly need at least a full week. There is so much to see and do. Many things require reservations in advance and can only be done with enough forethought. My significant other and I had been thinking about what sort of things we’d like to do together, since he was going to visiting me during my break. We came up with ideas and made the appropriate arrangements.
The first place we visited was Hakone! We reserved our room weeks in advance (although it would be better to do it even earlier if you want more time). I spent a long time researching different ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) in the area and found out a number of them offer rooms with a private, outdoor hot spring bath. This really appealed to both of us – and it wasn’t long after that we sorted through our top choices and settled on one. A place called, “Mikawaya Ryokan”. It was established in 1883 and is one of the most popular ryokans in Hakone. After our visit, I completely understand why.
I currently reside in Utsunomiya, Tochigi and that’s where our journey first started. We took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Omiya, which is about a 30 minute ride, and then another 30 minute train ride to Shinjuku. From there we wandered around the station for a bit and enjoyed some time at a café while we waited for our Romancecar train to Hakone. We had booked the tickets in advance and discovered that the train name was slightly misleading. While it was a scenic route, I wouldn’t necessarily call it romantic since it carried passengers of every description between Shinjuku and Hakone. Although we did enjoy the 100 minute ride with a few drinks bought from the cart.
What happened next? Well, it didn’t take long to finish a cup of tea and run outside into the brisk air. One hot shower later, we braved the even hotter waters of the hot spring. We quickly discerned that we needed to turn on the cold water faucet positioned above the hot spring. We had been warned prior to using it that it would be necessary to use cold water – boy, she wasn’t kidding. I thought maybe she was just being cautious. No, that was a real hot spring with insanely hot, natural water pouring in to the bath. Thank goodness for the cold water as a method to temper the heat. When we finally reached the ideal temperature, we sat back and enjoyed the chill mountain air, and natural, Earthly heat.
After a brief hiccup paying for bus fare, since my partner had never experienced getting change from the machine up front nor recognized all of the currency – we were finally at our stop. The bus pulled away and across the road was our beautiful, Japanese inn. We looked around and saw gorgeous views of the valley below us, since we had climbed the mountain and we were now towering over the little town. We arrived just 5 minutes before check-in, and this made me a little anxious. I was eager to get settled in our room.
When morning finally came, we woke up a bit early to take our final dip in the hot springs. A startling wake-up call from the cold air, followed by an immediate hot shower (and a couple of traditional buckets of water), and we were in the bath enjoying the startling heat and rising steam. We had closed the paper doors between the main room, and the bar room so that if they came early with breakfast, we would be fine. Sure enough, they arrived earlier than anticipated. We could hear the rattling of dishes and movement as we sat in the glory of the morning light. I suddenly realized I wasn’t sure I could get out of the bath, so I sent my partner in to put on his robe and check. The attendant had left but in her absence, sat breakfast – ready and waiting. I scrambled for my yukata, and sat down, eager and hungry for another spectacular meal. I was not disappointed. Rice, miso soup, fried fish, and a couple of dishes I can’t name, but enjoyed.
Their timing was always perfect, it wasn’t long after we finished dessert and were contemplating another session in the hot spring when two men came in and quickly cleaned up the room in the most orderly and efficient fashion. They pushed the table aside and set up the futons as easily, and professionally as a pit crew. Night had finally spilled over the horizon, when we sat in the hot springs sharing sweet plum wine and admiring the night sky.
Hours slipped by, we eventually got out of the bath and put on our yukatas. They were comforting. My partner turned on some Japanese TV while we waited for dinner time. As per Japanese culture, dinner arrived early. Our attendant laid out a few dishes – sushi, sashimi, pickled vegetables, and two burners topped with a metallic bowl of sea inspired soup. We sat in awe of our bubbling soup, and made agreeable sounds when eating the sashimi. There was quite a bit of food, but it didn’t take long for more food to be brought out. Beautiful cuts of fish and steak, more interesting food atop the burner, and of course an assortment of unrecognizable Japanese cuisine. We ate up the delicious food, and was served with yet another dinner course. We continued to marvel at the wonderful dinner and did our best to finish. When she brought the final dinner course, she let us know to call the front desk and ask for dessert. They served a mixture of sweet and unusual dishes, before we finally felt absolutely full.
When we finally finished eating, we realized that we’d have to get ready to leave our dream destination. We prepared for our departure and finally said our goodbyes to the room. My loving and incredibly generous partner took care of the bill while he sent me to the gift shop to check it out. The staff called us a taxi back to the station, and we lamented our leaving. Our trip back down the mountain in the morning light was quiet and unwinding. The views were breathtaking and wondrous. We finally arrived back in town, and bought a few things in a little shop before buying another ticket back to Shinjuku.
Happy New Year!
I'm back! After a long break from the blog I'm finally back. As I'm sure most of you realized, I skipped the last three days of Christmas. First of all, I apologize. It seems that I overestimated how much free time I would have during the holiday season. So in order to make amends I'm going to make a list of resolutions for the website.
#1 - I resolve to fulfill any promises I make on the blog despite time constraints. (That should do it! Right?)
#2 - I will dedicate more time to adding content on the website. (If you ever have any suggestions, feel free to contact me.)
#3 - Top 10 lists will be updated biweekly instead of weekly. (I discovered that Top 10 lists are really hard to come up with and even more difficult to edit.)
I think the key to New Year's resolutions is to make them attainable. Too often we make goals for ourselves that are nearly impossible which prevents us from achieving them. You can't go from one end of the spectrum to the other. That's why I think it's important to know your limits. I'm not advocating incredibly easy goals either. The point of a resolution is to acknowledge an area that needs work and set in motion the attitude to change it.
I'll also be writing resolutions for my day-to-day life. Would you like to hear one?
#1 - I resolve to have a completed manuscript by the end of the year a.k.a. to finish writing my book.
I know it's going to be difficult but I also know I'm up to the task. The first thing I'll do is set up a schedule to write. Last year (2012) I attempted to write everyday but often found myself spending most of my time thinking about my blog. This year I want to dedicate more time to my book.
I hope everyone takes a moment to consider goals they want to accomplish. I look forward to sharing the progress of my resolutions. Once again, happy new year!
On the Ninth Day of Christmas,
My blogger gave to me
Whenever I hear a train, I think about the exact same memory. I think about my time living in a very small town. Every night I would lie awake in bed thinking. The moonlight would shine in the window and the darkness would fill with the sounds of coyotes howling and yelping. Then I would hear it. The piercing, resonating sounds of a train. The loud and sudden blast followed by a continuous rumble. It sounds like a thunderstorm in a bottle.
On the Eighth Day of Christmas,
My blogger gave to me
Artemis, the hunter is always on the prowl. Be it rodent, insect or fowl. Even in his dreams he's chasing something fast. Stalking and catching any animal to cross his path. Maybe Dasher, Donner, Dancer, Prancer, Comet, Cupid, Vixen or Blitzen. Agile and clever, cute and shy, he's exactly my kind of guy. He'll nap on my bed, the couch or my lap. I love Artemis, he's the best.
On the Seventh Day of Christmas,
My blogger gave to me
In the murky darkness of space there are ships designed to fold the corners of time. They slip through the milky stars with precision, piloted by the very best. In this galaxy far, far away space is shared by smugglers, bounty hunters and the ever watchful Empire. There are small pockets of resistance, struggling to survive under the iron fist but their resources are limited. Despite their limitations they work tirelessly to achieve their dreams of freedom.
On the Sixth Day of Christmas,
My blogger gave to me
Six trees aligned.
My feet trudged through the fresh snow as I stared off into the distance, searching for the right angle. Picture after picture, my finger clicked the little silver button again and again. Finally, I found the perfect distance. Across the field of snow and the trees of yonder, there sat the place I called my home. A rush of gratitude fulfilled me as I gazed at the untouched beauty. I never guessed I would be so lucky.
On the Fifth Day of Christmas,
My blogger gave to me
Five bridge piers.
The misty mountains rolled by as we sped down the highway. I kept my camera on, ready in my eager hands to take the next great photo. Everything was just right, the frosted trees, the gentle fog and hidden peaks. I had never seen the mountains quite like this before. Then we came around the bend and I saw a feat of mankind unlike any other. Carved through mountain and rising over the gorge like a cloud serpent, the bridge looked down on the river like a parent to a child. Somehow it seemed natural in it's surroundings with it's gentle curve and slim piers. It sent a rush of excitement through me like I was witness to a spectacular wonder of the modern world.
On the Fourth Day of Christmas,
My blogger gave to me
My feet led me around the corner with eager anticipation before I was stopped short on a precipice. I held my breath and leaned forward with my body to squint into the distance. There, just there were four little ducks swimming together. With grace and ease they swam in their tight group, synchronized and natural.
On the Third Day of Christmas,
My blogger gave to me
Three tall towers.
As I stared in awe at my surroundings I came upon yet another interesting perspective. Without hesitation I took a photo to capture the juxtaposing lines and angles. The curved against the straight, the perpendicular against the obtuse. It made my heart flutter as though I captured lightning in a bottle. What joy in finding something different.
On the Second Day of Christmas,
My blogger gave to me
Two ice rabbits.
In this quiet and serene winter wonderland I stumbled upon two mysterious creatures. With an inquisitive eye I watched them, mindful of the untouched snow. My heart slowed as I dared to capture their magical essence. In that moment they froze just as I did and time stood still. An eternity slipped by in a blink before I breathed again.
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