Hakone ; Egg, Bath and BeyondMay 18, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C
Kamakura was to be a mere one-night stand. When morning arrived we rolled out of bed, took a quick shower together and ate breakfast before making our excuses and a hasty exit, promising to call despite having not taken their number.
Today's primary objective was to reach and generally see and do things around Lake Ashi ; a crater lake that lies beside Mount Hakone near the town of Hakone. Whether the town was named for the mountain or the mountain named for the town was an awkward enquiry to verbalise even in English so I was unsurprised Yukko neither knew the answer nor, I suspect, understood the question.
Reaching the lake necessitated, as standard, the usage of public transport. For this we were each given a brand new 2-day transport pass. This was similar to the JR pass we'd been using up till now, only it was for a set period rather than a set budget and it covered a different region and it was a different size and colour with different writing on it. They were otherwise identical.
Two trains and a bus later we arrived not at the lake but at a small building with stilted external canopies and a sloping thatched roof known in the local dialect as 'not-on-the-itinerary'. I think it was a restaurant or cafe or somewhere in between the two and appeared to be populated mainly by locals, but we weren't granted opportunity to examine the menu and were instead immediately shepherded into the beautifully-ornate, wood-pannelled, sliding-door-fitted 'tourist room' at the back. Here we were each brought a small stone mug containing sake; a traditional Japanese rice wine.
Now, note; I don't like sake. But, also note; my view on sake was entirely formed from a single taste way back when during a 'lads' holiday to Spain when Barnesy, who was seeing an Asian girl at the time, professed at an Asian restaurant that we should all try sake because sake was lovely and he knew what he was talking about because he was seeing an Asian girl and thus he returned from the bar having generously purchased us all shots of sake. It was sharp, strong and awful.
However that sake had been clear, cold, indistinguishable from white rum visually but a world away in terms of taste. This sake was warm, it had bits of fermented rice floating in it and had a delicate, soothing taste that left me eager for more. I now genuinely questioned whether what Barnesy bought us was truly sake, whether he knew what he was talking about, was the restaurant Asian, was the girl Barnesy was seeing actually Asian, did we ever really go on holiday and, if so, what on earth did we drink?
After comsuming this deliciously reconfigured definition of sake, we headed to Moto-Hakone; a small town on the shore of Lake Ashi, from which we'd be taking a 'pirate sightseeing cruise'. This meant sightseeing from a boat in the style of a pirate ship, not sightseeing pirates (which might have been more interesting).
However before the cruise we were again granted a portion of 'free time' to explore the locale and get some lunch. Once more Ruth and I joined up with Flo and Veronika, finding a place that served yet another dish on Flo's foods-to-try list, Okowa. This, I believe, was the glutinous rice substance served within some sort of large leaf alongside a bowl of noodle soup. It was fine; similar in concept to an onigiri, only served warm, though hardly memorable.
After we'd eaten we wandered the town for a little while, popping into a few souvenir and gift shops wherein Ruth found a satisfactory puzzle-box to purchase, thus concluding the perhaps over-egged B-story commenced in my last post.
Also rather over-egged was the novelty of the black eggs, which I haven't set-up in context yet but the segue was so pun-tastic I had to skip ahead. Taking the faux-pirate boat across the lake, upon which I naturally insisted on punctuating converse with pirate-esque "Y'arr" tones (translating as relentless positivity to the Germans), and ascending Owakudani, a technically-active but actively-inactive volcanic zone, we found a smoking crater, an overwhelming scent of sulphur and what appeared to be an entire miniature economy centred around the marketing of 'black stuff'. Quite contrary to the preparation of foodstuffs under any other conditions, the novelty here was to utilise the sulphuric output of the volcano to transform food you might want to eat to look as though you wouldn't.
I considered sampling the 'black ice-cream', but the climate was such that it was ideal for ice-cream longevity and therefore sub-par for its consumption. The primary draw, advertised from multiple small shops, were the 'black eggs', for which there was mixed opinion on the merits of tasting but Yukko went and bought one for everybody so individual views were rendered moot. They looked like standard chicken eggs with an irregularly blackened shell.
They tasted like standard chicken eggs with an irregularly blackened shell. And since you don't eat the shell (at least, I don't; PM me if I've been doing it wrong) we were essentially peeling away and discarding the main selling point. It would be like visiting Hué in Vietnam and ordering the Royal Rice Cakes then immediately chucking them in the bin without tasting them. An approach I wholeheartedly endorse.
If you were to eat them with your eyes closed, you'd likely make some mess but ultimately wouldn't be able to tell any difference from a standard egg. Come to think about it, the whole experience is blatantly discriminatory against blind people. And the chronically unimpressed.
We ate and moderately enjoyed our boiled eggs for what they were, some salt would have been nice, and hung around for a while at the top before descending, as we'd ascended, via cable-car. We then clambered upon a bus to take us to our final destination of the day, Sengokuhara, where we'd be spending the night. En route, we managed to catch a momentary glimpse of the snowy peak of Mount Fuji through the bus window, satisfactorily checking-off a key box on our Japan bucket-list.
After around an hour we arrived at the Fuji-Hakone Guest House. The novelty here was, and a Booking.com check confirms still is, that this is a 'traditional Japanese Guesthouse'. Not so traditional that there were Japanese people staying there, with a deep-dive into the Booking.com reviews suggesting the majority of its clientele are foreign visitors, but it very much presented as simply a large 'house' as opposed to a hotel/hostel (our group would be filling all the rooms, giving us exclusive run of the property). It was traditionally furnished with futon mattresses in the rooms in place of beds, which were comfortable once on them but the added rigmarole of getting down to / up from them rendered the decision to lie down and relax a weightier consideration than normal.
We didn't have time to relax anyway, as we were told there was no evening food available on-site (a breakfast could and had to be pre-booked, which the now-fairly-defined 'four of us' chose to do so) and so if we wanted to eat that night, which habit dictated I did, we'd have to wander down to the nearby convenience store before it closed. It wasn't far and I once again bought some standard Japanese fare and a whole tray of gyoza dumplings on the side. It was here that Yuko bought 'reward' drinks for those of us that had achieved her 'challenge' of locating the 'hidden shrine' in 'Akihabara' a 'few' 'days' 'earlier'. I opted for a beer which I drank later in the evening and Ruth went for a non-alcoholic option which she didn't drink later in the evening and instead mis-placed and then spent the rest of the trip trying to find again in other convenience stores ; a quest I'd chronicle if it didn't have the unfulfilling ending that she never found it.
Returning to the Guest House, we all had the opportunity to sign-up to experience the on-site Onsen (Hot Spring) wherein we could soak in the warm, sulphuric, volcanic waters of Owakudani. This would be, as was becoming standard, another nude affair and once again we were discriminatory restricted to separate gender groupings. There being only one Onsen, however, our experiences would be sequential and since we are gentleman, and they got to the sign-up sheet first, we allowed the ladies to go first. Hannah, Ruth and Veronika were before us as we (myself, Craig & Will) patiently waited for our allotted time and then past our allotted time because women always take ages getting dressed (#EdgyAF). On their departure from the Onsen enclosure there was some sort of commotion about there being a massive spider near the dual-function entrance/exit door that they were all a mite nervous to walk past. I'm not really a fan of spiders (seriously, what maniacs are) but I portrayed the tough, steely attitude of nonchalance I felt would resonate best with the crowd ; my motivation to suppress heightened since said crowd contained a particularly-pretty German. I didn't see the spider upon entering, probably because I actively didn't look for it, and our time in the water was pleasant; much like taking a warm bath at home only outdoors, ostensibly more acidic and with 200% more visible cock.
Our evening plans had already been dictated by the formal itinerary; "Change into your kimono after a long hot bath ready to learn about the art of
Japanese rice wine during a Sake tasting session!". Now, this initially struck me as either an unintentional gender-exclusive translation or an invitation to cross-dress, as to my knowledge a 'kimono' was an item of female garb somewhat akin to a formal, dressing-gown-style wrap-around. Indeed, supporting my presumption, you have to scroll several pages in Google Image Search before finding a 'kimono' result that isn't adorning a female body and even then, in this progressive modern-day era, the mere fact non-females are wearing them doesn't enable definite conclusions to be drawn as to the intended market from any cultural or manufacturer perspective.
But, in a surprise and scarcely-occuring twist, I was mistaken. Each of our rooms had sufficient, beautifully patterned kimonos for us each to wear and so, fulfilling our contractual obligations, we all put them on and congregated in the common room for the scheduled 'sake tasting session'. I'm not sure why I'd supposed 'kimono' was an exclusively feminine dress-up choice. I think perhaps 'kimono' sounds superficially ladylike. Like, if I was introduced to a woman called 'Kimono' I'd think little of it; say hello, maybe shake her hand should such contact feel appropriate and proceed with whatever concourse was either expected or necessitated by virtue of our being introduced. But if a man told me their name was 'Kimono' I'd definitely double-take; enquire as to whether I'd heard correctly and, presuming I had, gently suggest he depart my company till such time as he'd gotten himself a more befitting name. Something like 'Jim', or 'Derek', or even 'Peter' would be far more acceptable. I couldn't consent to 'Nick' without getting to know him a little better, but the mere fact he's clearly considered 'Kimono' suitable up until I'd advised him otherwise infers an intelligence and self-awareness seemingly sub-par for such a hallowed moniker. 'Alan' would also be fine.
Veronika further negated any issues I had about wearing a kimono by pointing out that they looked like Jedi robes. No, better, she said I looked like a Jedi(!), in one statement confirming I looked like a space-faring lightsaber-weilding bad-ass AND referencing and therefore displaying knowledge of and presumed appreciation for a franchise I adore, further heightening her in my estimations. I explained how this mightn't be coincidental as George Lucas was famously influenced by the output of Akira Kurosawa, most particularly 'The Hidden Fortress' from which the narrative perspective of the first film was entirely lifted, immediately undoing any cool-cred my Jedi-look had mustered.
The sake-tasting entailed passing round a few bottles of different varieties of sake and having a quick taste from provided plastic cups. Confounding my earlier revelations, it turns out I don't really like sake; which is to say, I like some sake and not other sake. Some, much like seasons 1 through 6 of Game of Thrones, were slick, satisfying and left you eagerly anticipating your next sip. Others, like Thrones seasons 7 and 8, were still technically sake, but somehow lacking, reminding you of something you liked but ultimately leaving you with an unpleasant, 'we wasted eight years watching this for THAT?' aftertaste.
Whether it was the social lubricant effects of the sake, the inherent intimacy of our surroundings, our matching casual clothing or just the fact that we were all, after six days, getting used to one another, this evening felt like the first where the whole group genuinely relaxed and legitimately enjoyed each others' company. An almost-week of shared experiences offered ripe material for short-term reminiscence, whilst a Jenga set offered opportunity for collective focus and friendly competition that further heightened our associative acclimation. No longer mere strangers thrust together, we were becoming something far greater; a booked-and-paid-for tour group.
At one point I said something really funny. Like, really funny. I don't remember quite what it was, but it was a comedic extrapolation of a phrase uttered by Florian by which he expressed he'd been 'brought up on' something, inferring said something had been a prominent fixture in his early life, which I'd twisted into a suggestion that he'd been solely brought up by the something without any parents. You had to be there. And probably tipsy.
I'm not exaggerating to say it sent those in earshot into absolute hysterics. This generated a genuine ruckus, necessitating explanation to those who hadn't heard me say it. The back-and-forth was repeated, which obviously reduced the funny but it remained pretty damn funny, validating the very high hilarity base from which it began. Somebody even uttered 'joke of the trip', which was an impossible standard to assess given we weren't even halfway through the submission period.
I don't know if it was what I said, I can't recall the precise formulation, or how I said it or the precise timing I selected, but regardless I'd perfectly strummed a funny-chord. This was odd experience for me since, whilst I'd never posit I'm bereft of humour, my approach to witticisms is ordinarily more subtle and wry; conveyed and received humour deriving from overly-analytical observations, detailing ludicrous logicality or, most prominently, the juxtaposition of complicated prose explaining relatively mundane concepts with conclusionary statements punctuated by base or sometimes vulgar words and shit. Yet, here I was, the progenitor of a pithy, witty and concise 'joke' with mass appeal, generating true and sincere gut-busting, belly-shaking laughs from all those that heard it.
I didn't like it and I won't be doing it again.Read more