Travis Smith: my resume, bio and photos back to the main blog page

Saturday, 12/6

In high school, Susie made friends with an older girl named Royanne, who was a volunteer leader of a high school honors club called Serteens.

Royanne and Susie hit it off, (tangent: Why? Because they both have a very serious, organized, in-control demeanor over a very silly, playful, young interior life), and have kept in touch over the years.  Royanne went on to become a lawyer in California, and then moved to Japan about 14 years ago. She now works for a big financial company doing crazy zany legal / finance things that I only know about because of recent news stories about things like the global international credit crisis.

Royanne thought we should take a day trip to Hakone, a little area outside of Tokyo that has a lot of wonderful things to do, the best being a wonderful view of Mt. Fuji.  So we met her at the Shibuya station at 8:30 a.m. after checking out of our hotel.

(We had to switch hotels because, since we waited too long to book, the place was full on the weekend. More on that later.)

We were a little late to catch the “RomanceCar” which was basically just a train with bigger windows and fewer stops, so it took 2 hours and a transfer in Odawara, instead of 1.5 hours direct to get to Hakone area. Tickets were about $50 each for a whole day pass, which seemed pricey until I found out it was there and back, and all the transit we could take while we were there, including the gondola and funicular.

The train goes up so steeply that it actually has to do several switchbacks. My mom would have *hated* it—heights, you know. We stopped for lunch in this little restaurant just off the train platform, which had Chinese food.  I ordered the chili shrimp, which was actually a little blander than I had hoped, but it came as part of a huge set of little dishes, including egg drop soup, salad with miso dressing, and an almond dessert fruit cup thing. Yum!  Susie ate ramen (yes, again—she’s ramen-crazy!)

We then headed up the funicular train, two separate trains connected by a single cable that was probably about 800 meters long, alternating up the side of this hill between the towns of Gora and Sounzan.  The trains were all really, really toasty warm, which was nice because it was about 10 degrees colder up here in the mountains.

I was really unprepared—I had a jacket on, of course, but back in my suitcase was the long underwear and gloves and neck warmer I should have brought along.  Other Japanese looked just as cold, though many of them were wearing fur hoods, so I think they were merely thinner skinned, not just un-prepared.

The funicular train exit led directly to the gondola, which Royanne said had recently been replaced and improved in honor of the 150th anniversary of some recent town event (like, not the founding, but maybe some restoration or rebellion or something?).  The gondola now ran on two parallel wires instead of one, and this made the cars swing much much less, which was both wonderful and disappointing.

The view, suspended from mid air, was absolutely superb.  Off in the not-so-distance was a strip-tease Mt. Fiji, poking coldly and tantalizingly through a wispy circle of clouds. You can’t really get the scale of it; it’s like the moon in that it seems impossibly close and yet out of reach all at the same time.

And directly below us, spread out on the slopes like a mining operation, were about 20 smoking chimneys and boilers, apparatuses built over active sulfur vents that puffed out bright white smoke in the cold air like school children waiting for the morning bus.  The sulfur from the vents was filtered and harvested from these gas holes, but the operation had the ramshackle look of Mad Max or Mordor, not the tight cleanliness that I was used to from riding Japanese trains and visiting their department stores.

* * *

Royanne keeps good notes on her tourist trips in the way that the Mormon Church keeps good notes on people’s family history.  So she had brochures and schedules and maps from her last ten years’ trips to this area with various friends and family members.

Unfortunately, she hadn’t looked at her notes until the morning of, so had neglected the underlined notation: “Leave by 7 a.m. or FORGET IT.”

We therefore had to rejigger the itinerary, which had originally called for us taking a pirate-themed galleon down the lake and adding yet another form of transportation to our day—all of which, I might point out, being part of the Japan Rail system.

Instead, we returned back the way we came, to rush to and through the Hakone Open-Air Museum, a statuary park that was incredibly cool, with some wonderful outside art that I’m just going to link to on my Flickr account instead of describing.

The museum also had a free hot water foot bath with oranges scenting it.  Because the hot water comes from the ground for free, they just built a long shallow concrete tub, they bought bulk oranges and throw a few in the water each day, offered towels for a dollar, and now, instead of having sore feet after a long stroll around the museum, you leave feeling warm, and relaxed and with feet of orange scent.  Truly remarkable.

Our time here was limited by two factors: a 5 p.m. closing time, and the 4:45 p.m. getting-dark-out time.  So we headed back to the train station, zipped back to Hakone-Yumoto, where we did this time buy tickets on the RomanceCar, with 180 seconds to spare.  One MAD DASH to the train later—they always leave on time, or someone somewhere feels great shame—and we were headed back to Tokyo.

Turns out, Royanne had been holding out on me all day—a stash of chocolate-covered pretzels, “chocolate” covered nuts (actually more of a tan caramel substance) and Choco-bits, which were like tic tacs made of raw chocolate and wax.

We also had a box train lunch which was so wonderful and wonderfully presented, it made me want to drive to Air Canada’s head office and wander the hallways whapping people on the back of the head until I found the person in charge of food procurement, and which point I could sniff at him and turn my back and storm out.

Seriously.  Japan Rail: you can get hot tea in a glass cup on a train, served to you by a train attendant hand-carrying a small wooden box in which she transports your tea, served with a smile.  Your sandwich is heated to the proper temperature, served with three kinds of pickles and a little hand towel for washing before you touch the bread with the crusts cut off.

Air Canada: charges you for a blanket, your specially ordered fruit-plate meal comes with a side salad of ... the same fruit. They make you watch 6 minutes of ads before every movie, and by the way, we left 15 minutes late.

Anyhoo.

Royanne convinced us to cancel our hotel reservation and stay in her guest room… so we rounded up our bags from storage at our old hotel and headed to the Ginza district and up to her tony pad.  It’s a forbidding but very secure place—two locks on the front door and lots of security camera before you even get to that.

But the inside was warm and welcoming, and she took us to her local French restaurant hideaway, where we had cassoulette, fresh pat?, escargot, a tiny tiny chicken and potatoes, and two glasses of lovely red wine—at a jaw dropping price, I was to find out later.  The three of us had shared two appies and two entrees and two glasses of wine: $40 / person, no dessert. Ouch! (Maybe it was the Evian they kept bringing…)

Her husband, Steve, was too late to join us so we headed back home and collapsed into her lovely flannel guest bed.

Overheard

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

...who said it?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

...who said it?

“I play with variables constantly.”

...who said it?

“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

...who said it?

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