Travel Blog #11: Hiking in Hakone/Making Memories

September 2: I arrived in Yugawara at about 1 p.m. The AirBnB’s host, Masato, picked me up from the train station and drove me up to the guest house. It was on this drive that I realize just how much hiking I would be doing in the coming days. A hint of dread washed over me; the route was along a very steep hill.

Upon arrival at the AirBnB Masato let me drop my things in my (then empty) room then showed me around. He showed me all the anemities including the rooftop terrace which boasted an incredible view. I soon found myself unable to keep my eyes open, so Masato brought in a small lounge chair of sorts that I could sleep on until the staff member returned to prepard my room.


I awoke fully rested, albeit slightly disoriented from the journey. A knock at the door soon after indicated the return of the aforementioned staff member, with whom I would become good friends during my stay.

For dinner I had my first home cooked meal in weeks. The three of us ate and spoke for about an hour before supper came to an end and I was informed that it was time for karaoke. Having never participated in karaoke (save for one near delirious rendition whilst in Beijing a number of years ago), I was terrified. An hour later I was loving it (a sentence I never thought I would say in reference to karaoke). This routine would continue for the following two nights.


September 3: I woke up bright and early and set out for the hot spring town of Hakone. Following the advice of my host and his staff, I purchased the two-day Hakone free pass for ¥4,000 (it may sound expensive, but trust me, it will save you a ton of money). The trip was longer than expected, mostly due to the slowest tram ever, so I arrived at around noon. 


A short bus ride from the station later I was walking along Old Tokaido Cedar Avenue (or at least something that looked just like it) – a forested area with a beautiful path through the trees. The path ended up leading me to the shore near Motohakone port, where many tourists were soaking up the sun.



Rather than join the multitude of tourists at a restaurant by the shore I chose to walk to Amazake Chaya tea house. After about 20 minutes of “hiking” along the road, I noticed on my map that I was adjacent to the route, not on it; I figured this explained the lack of other travellers despite the busy train ride over. I reoriented myself and soon joined up with the intended hiking path.

While much more sceneic, this route was almost entirely composed of large slippery cobblestones, occasionally covered in moss, that wound up and down hills.


Still, there was no one else so I wondered if I was indeed in the correct place… That is until I saw a sign pointing toward my destination and was passed by two old Japanese ladies who put my usually quick-paced walking to shame. Nearly an hour of hiking later I arrived at Amazake Chaya tea house. 

It was packed.


Turns out quite a few Japanese people (and a few foreigners) do know about this famous tea house and the route to it. However, due to the difficult path and the fact that it is hidden by woods, most choose to take the bus or drive right over.

Feeling rather accomplished, i strutted to the front of the line and claimed (bought) my reward. I ordered a perfectly reasonable and not unhealthy at all amount of freshly baked(?) mochi and amasake.

Oh, and of course I enjoyed some free tea… It was a tea house after all.


No longer famished nor willing to repeat the same journey as the way over, I took the bus to Motohakone port. Upon arrival I quickly boarded the pirate ship (yes you read that right). I initially tried to enter the first class lounge, not realizing you needed to pay extra, and was laughed at for my mistake by a wealthy family. Sulking, I walked up to the highest deck to begin my sightseeing tour of Lake Ashi.


The pirate ship let off at Togendai station, where I lined up for the ropeway. I’m told the ropeway was actually closed for a couple years due to the amount of volcanic ash. Had I known this beforehand, I probably would have been a bit nervous. Instead, the only negative thought on my mind was annoyance at the dirty windows, which made picture-taking and scenery-enjoying difficult.


Upon reaching the next pit stop, I pried myself away from the café boasting a scenic view (reminding myself of the perfectly healthy and not unreasonable at all amount of mochi I had eaten for lunch earlier). The cable car leaving from this area travelled the rest of the way up the mountain, passing the hot springs (not to be confused with their associated baths), and then finally descended to the tram station.

And of course, this was all followed by a home cooked meal and karaoke.

September 4: I woke up at 12 p.m. to an overcast sky and quickly ditched my plans for the day. Having already seen most of the major tourist spots in Hakone the previous day, I took the day to relax. I had some lunch with the AirBnB staff and then the three of us (myself and two staff) headed to the beach. When we arrived the tide had gone pretty high, so the “beach” was non-existent.
Instead, we walked around the area hoping to find another beach-y area, but to no avail. Before giving up, we watched a young Japanese guy fish for about 15 minutes (I imagine it was pretty creepy from his perspective). Then we headed to a field to show off our utter lack of volleyball skills to each other.


When the rain grew too heavy we began our long walk back to the AirBnB, stopping for ice cream along the way. We didn’t know this at the time, but apparently aside from having lots of cow decorations, this ice cream shop also has udders out front that you can milk for water. Anyway, the ice cream was fantastic; I had soda flavour because it was blue (I’m dead serious). Luckily, the steep hill back to the AirBnB wasn’t slippery when wet, so we got back with relatively little difficulty.


Another home cooked dinner and two hours of karaoke marked my final night at Masato’s spectacular AirBnB in Yugawara.

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Travel Blog #10: Travelling Alone

The last few days have by far been the best of my trip.

A lot of people ask me how it is travelling alone. Is it fun? Lonely? Scary?

Yes to all.

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to find friends who will 1) want to travel to all the destinations on your list and 2) have all the same interests as you when it comes to those destinations. Travelling with people can be fun, but there’s often lots of compromise. This might be fine when you’re spending $200 on a trip to Montreal, but when it’s $2,000+ on a trip to the other side of the world, the compromises will add up fast.

With independence comes making your own decisions and having control over everything you do. That said, you also get lonely – even if, like me, you’re used to keeping in touch with friends every day through various social networking sites.

Guesthouses are a MUST. You need to make sure you’re staying in one that has common areas and is known for having lots of friendly people visit. English-friendliness always help too; sure, you’re visitng another country and want to immerse yourself, but when you just want to relax, it’s great to have that familiarity.

The guesthouse I stayed at in Osaka was secluded, dirty, and without a common room. It made me feel secluded and doubt my conviction, even causing me to be homesick(?) for Taipei.

On the other hand, the place I stayed in near Hakone (in a town called Yugawara) was spectacular. It had a very friendly host who treated me like family and made home cooked dinners (which I joined every night for ¥500), English-speaking staff (with whom I quickly became friends), the nearby availability of snacks and booze, and a gorgeous view. Here, I wished the trip would never end.

And finally yes, travelling alone can be absolutely terrifying at times. You can get lost and have to ask several locals for directions, you can get delayed for hours due to poor signage, you can be overcharged, scammed, and more. Even if you’re in a safe country like Japan, you need to be careful (i.e. no getting blackout drunk alone at a bar). In time you learn not to panic and how to work yourself out of different situations. Oh, and always buy a local SIM card with Internet (it can be a literal life saver).

Travel Blog #9: Storming the Castle

Following my day trip to Hiroshima I decided to take some time off for R&R. Contrary to what I had thought, Osaka wasn’t the best hub city. Since the AirBnB I picked for $21 a night didn’t have a great location, I was facing 40 minute trips to Osaka station every time I did a day trip. On evenings when I returned from a day trip, most of the city (save for arcades, bars, and hostess clubs) were closed by 8 p.m. In short, I was pretty ready to move on.

August 31: Once I regained my mental and emotional strength, I set out for Himeji to see the castle. Known for being one of the “finest surving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture” (Wikipedia), Himeji stands tall upon a hill.

I passed through a market street… 


…and arrived at Kokkoen garden. Here I purchased a combined garden and castle pass for ¥1,040. Since I have no idea what most (any) of the plants were, I’ll just leave the pictures below.




About midway through my journey in the garden I came upon a tea house. Here I took part in my own personal traditional Japanese tea ceremony. For ¥500 I got excellent tea and some type of sweet (tasted like marzapan with red bean).




From the garden you can either walk about 10 minutes one way and get right to the castle gate, or walk in a big spiral for about an hour to get to there. I decided on the latter. Seeing the castle after that walk was well worth it.



For dinner I went to a local all you can eat Japanese barbeque place. While the agreed upon price was ¥3,500 (and I asked multiple times to make sure I was ordering off the correct menu), the manager attempted to charge me for everyting – which amounted to about ¥8,600. After about ten minutes of him giving me a ton of attitude and us arguing back and forth (with help from Google Translate), he threw his arms up in the air in frustration and gave me the correct price. Did I mention this happened while the last train back to Osaka was leaving in less than 20 minutes? (Don’t worry, I just barely made it).


September 1: After the frustration of the previous evening I had another stressful day of travel to Kyoto. Due to a combination of terrible directions, an utter lack of English signs anywhere, and generally rude customer service, it took me an extra four hours to arrive. Fun fact: while the ATMs at convenience stores offer 20 different languages, those at BANKS (or at least the one I went to) only offer Japanese (and are only for Japanese people).

My luck seemed to turn up when I arrived at my AirBnB. It was absolutely gorgeous! A semi-modernized traditional Japanese home turned into a guest house. After a week of not-so-great conditions in Osaka I was so thankful. I took off my huge backpack, settled in, and then immediately set out for Nijo Castle.


While Nijo Castle is regarded as the most popular tourist destination in Kyoto, it closes its gates to new visitors at 4 p.m. – even in peak tourist season. Myself and a crowd of about 50 tourists from all over the world discovered this at about 4:05 p.m. They made no exceptions. (I also spent about 10 minutes considering scaling the wall of the castle)

Finally burnt out, I decided to take the rest of the day to relax. A quick Google search helped me find a great café for reading, where I spent the next five hours drinking tea and, well, reading.