Monday, 21 July 2014

Taste of Japan: Hakone & Takayama

Second Bite:

We had an easy train trip to Hakone and on arrival were encouraged to buy a two day Hakone pass. We bought one each not thinking we would get great value from it, but it turned out to be worth it.

First use for our pass was the bus trip to our accommodation. We had booked a Ryokan, not top draw but it was OK. We were lucky to get directions as to where to get off. It seemed in the middle of nowhere but we soon found it just off the main road and conveniently located to the bus stop.

Mt.Fuji from Lake Ashi
We booked in then caught the bus to Moto Hakone town which is situated on the picturesque Lake Ashi, which from one location you can just see Mount Fuji peaking over the mountains in the distance.

We had lunch, then took returned boat trip across the lake (Hakone pass) then went to the delightful Narukawa Museum of Art. There was an exhibition modern Japanese painting as well the interesting kaleidoscope display. The coffee shop provides a wonderful view over the lake. After some refreshment we then walked along the cedar path.

It was getting late-ish and as we hadn’t ordered dinner at our accommodation we looked for a place to eat. All the eateries we saw around lunchtime were closed. We finally found a funny little place some sort of steak café. I was sure there was something else around but not knowing where to look we decided to eat there. Obviously it was a pretty ordinary meal. When we finished and left the placed closed.

Back to our ryokan and we had booked a private onsen, which proved to be very relaxing.

Jinja Shrine Hakone
Next day we set out again for Moto Hakone first we walked to the Jinja Shrine via a tree lined path around the lake. We walked up to the shrine Sametomo Minamoto prayed for victory here and he must have been successful as a statue to him has been erected. We walked down to the water’s edge where the shrine’s signature red torii rises from the lake.
Then back on the boat to cross the lake onto to ropeway (cable car) to Owakudani is a volcanic cauldron of steam, hot pools and strange smells. We walked along the various walkways, but the gaseous smells were quite overpowering, as well as being poisonous. A black egg was a must, actually you have to buy 5, they are normal chicken eggs cook in one of the hot pools and the chemicals in them turn the shells
black. They are just boiled eggs!

From here we took the cable car to Hakone Open Air Museum. This is a wonderful and surprising place with an impressive array of 19th and 20th century sculptures which include works by Henry Moore, Rodin and Miro. There is also an excellent Picasso Pavilion. It is certainly well worth the visit as there is much to see. It was getting late but we decided to go to Miyanoshita as they
Hakone Open air Museum
have a number of antique shops there. Unfortunately by the time we arrived they had all closed, in fact it is quite a small town and everything was closed, however Japan’s finest Western-heritage hotel, the Fujiya Hotel is there. It opened in 1878 and has played host to some famous people. It is very elegant but we were a bit late for afternoon tea so went to the bar for a drink. Lucky for us it was happy hour. After our drink we decided to look for a place to eat. Actually could see very little on offering in the main areas of the town so treated ourselves to dinner. We then caught the bus back to our accommodation.

We left early and caught the bus back to the station to catch the train to Takayama.

Our hotel was across the road from the station, which was great. Then we went to explore the town which has retained its traditional charm. Its present layout dates from the 17th century and there are a huge museums, galleries and temples, too many to do justice to in such a brief visit.

Our first stop was Hida Kokubun-ji was originally Takayama’s oldest temple which was constructed in the 8th century. This was later destroyed by fire and the oldest present building dates from the 16th century. In the courtyard there is a three-storey pagoda and a very impressive old gingko tree 1,200 years old. We wandered in and out of the interesting ‘old’ streets. There are quite a few sake breweries in the town.
Typical Takayama street

That night we decided to go to a Hida beef restaurant, the beef is like waygu as it marbled. On our way there I managed to trip over, and not only hurt my dignity but my hand. I had blood pouring from my finger. We were passing a pharmacy so popped in to get some band aids. Not only did I get those but the chemist bathed my hand, applied antiseptic cream and attached the band aids. I was most impressed.

The meal turned out to very enjoyable. There are many Hida beef restaurants to choose from and suspect they’re all much the same.

The next day we went the morning market a mixture of produce and crafts, markets like this are always interesting. We then wandered to the hill behind the town to what we thought was Teramachi & Shiroyama-koen where there is a marked walking path, unfortunately we lost our way, but found some interesting shrines behind which was the cemetery.

We returned to town and stopped to have a coffee at Tsutaya Café, a wonderful little coffee shop which had old vinyl records, reel to reel tapes and played wonderful old jazz. Coffee was served in quality china cups. It is run by a husband and wife and also sells leather goods made by the man. Altogether a really it is delightful place to relax and a drink coffee or tea.

After refreshments we went Takayama Museum of History and Art which has 14 themed exhibition rooms relating to local history, culture, literature and the arts. No all exhibits have English labels but overall it is very informative.
Hida Folk Village

Then out to the Hida Folk Village, I hoped they would have an eatery within the precincts but I was wrong. It is worth visiting as it features dozens of traditional houses and buildings as well the demonstration of traditional crafts. We left here very hungry and we decided to walk back to town, again I was sure we would find a place to eat. We eventually came to the Hida Takayama Museum of Art. We had a good lunch at the rather ritzy Mackintosh Café and then decided to view the absolutely amazing art deco collection housed there, wonderful glassware and furniture
One display in Art Deco Museum
which include a magnificent glass fountain designed by Lalique.

We continued our journey back to town and quite surprisingly offered a lift by an Indian who was involved in selling heavy machinery in Japan. Dinner that night was sushi in a wonderful little sushi bar not far from our hotel.

Next stop Kyoto.

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