Saturday, July 31, 2010


Today we did a day-trip out of Tokyo to Hakone. This is an area south of Tokyo that sits between the sea and Mt. Fuji. This area is interesting both because of its proximity to the famous mountain and also because of it became a center for arts and crafts.

We took the JR train from Tokyo to Odawara, the big town next to Hakone (I am now reading Shogun, and it is mentioned as an old capital of this region). And then we bought a multi-pass for transportation in Hakone. This  meant that we could ride the large number of transportation modes that run through the area.

We started by a train that climbed up a canyon to Hakone-Yumoto, the home base for the Hakone area. There we switched to another train that climbed higher into the mountain. This train consisted of two cabins. It went up the mountain by a series of switchbacks. In each switchback we went forward into a plane, and then the driver got off the train and went to the other side and started the train going the opposite direction. This maneuver saved turn radius while going up. The whole region was very green and humid with jungle like nature. The train we were on was crammed full, and so we stood barely able to breath.

We got of the train at a town know for its wood workmanship. The specialization here was in making trick boxes that require knowing the right order of moves in pushing faces to open the boxes. We walked along the single main street and looked into few stores, all with roughly the same selection of boxes.

It was extremely hot, and so we decided to move on. We waited for a bus for about 20 min, and then got on one without being sure if it is in the right direction. At some point we switched to another bus (since ours turned left where we needed a right). The second bus took us directly to the open air museum.

This museum is one of the most well known museums in Japan, and has a large open-air sculpture exhibition. We started going through the park. Although we were sweating, it was hard not to be moved by the display.

One of the things we noticed was that most of the grass area was warded off from the public. We felt that restricted us. We contrasted the experience with DeCordova Museum which is one our favorites in Boston area. Since we had to stay on trails we could not full interact with the scupltures which was a shame.

We reached a large tower that had an impressive glass windows inside and double-helix staircase. From above we could look all around.

Next to it was a pavilion with a small cafe. We escaped the heat and rested in the A/C for a while. It was weird to look outside and see people sitting with their feet in a hot water onsen. (I am sure that sitting in it in the winter time is a treat.)

From there we continued to the Picasso Pavilion. It mostly consisted on late-period ceramics that he made drawings on, and was a bit under-whelming. However, there were few pictures of a photographer, Edward Quinn, who documented Picasso during his last decades and his photographs I enjoyed immensely.

We continued to a children playhouse that was built of wooden blocks. Inside there were colorful nets that formed a complex 3D jungle in which kids (up to age 12) roamed freely.

In the region of the park the works were more accessible. Including a large maze where little kids were playing hide & seek.

We continued along the garden.

We reached a pond with a school of large Koi fish that children could feed.

We then climbed up to find few more children-oriented sculptures that you could play on.

And ending with bronze works next to the enterence.

When we finished the tour we went inside to cool off in the museum store (which was also amazing). We continued walking toward the train station, and found a small restaurant for a late lunch.

We took the switchback train one more station to a town called Gora. We then switched to a cable car that run up a steep slope toward a place called Sounzan.

When we reached the top we switched to a ropeway (like a ski-lift) that took us still farther up and over hills and valleys.

At the highest point we passed a valley full of volcanic vents that erupted sulfur and other gases.

This was supposed to be worth visiting, but since we were late, the ropeway was about to close and so they asked us to continue (so we don't get stranded there). The next leg of ropeway was supposed to give us good views of Mt. Fuji. We saw only fog and clouds.

We reached Lake Ashi. The original plan was to continue on a boat along the lake.

However, due to the late hour we missed the last boat. And so after a short hike along the lake shore, we took a bus back to Odawara, and from there a Shinkansen back to Tokyo.

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