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So my moribund campaign of touristic activity recently got a much-needed boost when my cousin Hanna materialized in Tokyo and consequently in my apartment, instantaneously doubling the number of the young long-haired blond(e) blue-eyed Finns in Tokyo. And since Hanna happens to have an extra X chromosome to replace my Y, and looks the part, I finally found myself relegated to a second-rate attraction in the eyes of passing Tokyoites. I can only wonder how many cases of whiplash were caused by her ten-day stay...
At any rate, equipped with this excellent excuse for not sitting in the lab writing my thesis, it was finally time to head off to what was in fact probably the last major Tokyo-area attraction I hadn't visited, Hakone National Park. As it happened, I had recently "won" a "2nd prize" awarding me a night in an ryokan for the low, low price of Y10,000 per head; careful reading of the small print revealed that a) the price goes up by Y2000 for groups of less than 4, b) the price is not applicable on Saturdays or before holidays and c) most hotels listed actually have lower rates without the magical coupon. Then again, this was about what I expected for the 2nd prize of a free raffle at a 100 yen shop.
So instead I ended up booking a room for two at Kappa-tengoku (¤«¤Ã¤ÑÅ·¹ñ, "Kappa Heaven") for Y6600 per head, two meals included. On a Thursday evening we bought our Odakyu Hakone Weekday Passes, an additional Y4100 that included the fare to Hakone and back and use of practically all forms of transport in the Hakone area for two days (not mere hyperbole, as you will soon find out). After 90 minutes of staring at concrete, with trees and mountains starting to show up only during the last stretch past Odawara, we got off the train at Hakone-Yumoto and started looking for our minshuku.
- It was supposed to be pretty close to the station...
- According to that sign, it's right outside.
Out the station entrance, a few steps forward.
- Hey! It's up there... or at least the sign says Kappa-tengoku... Oh dear. Maybe that's just the bath and the hotel is somewhere else...?
I wasn't terribly convinced, and neither was she. Kappa-tengoku was up the hill, right next to the station, and the sign was on a small, dilapidated-looking concrete building painted blood red. We looked at each other, shrugged, and headed up the hill. But the red house wasn't the minshuku, in fact, it didn't seem to be in use at all. A stairway led up past it, turned into a lantern-lit hillside path, and then another little stairway that ended at another somewhat more decent-looking concrete building.
More eggy things were yet to come. In the morning, we took a little train recycled from Switzerland (the carriages still had "St. Moritz" tags on them) up to Gora, the train negotiating its way through 3 Y-shaped switchbacks to manage to task. From Gora to Sounzan the means of transport was a funicular (rope-pulled train), called a "cable car" in Japanese, and from Sounzan to Owakudani the trip was in a suspended cable car, called a "ropeway" in Japanese. Confused yet?
Having decided not to sample egg-flavored ice cream (!) and to head to less stinky climes for lunch, we took the ropeway onward and down to Tougendai, on the northern shore of Lake Ashinoko. Traffic across this crescent-shaped body of water is handled by nothing less than a fleet of pirate ships, encrusted with detail and complete with beer-bellied pirate captain figures standing on deck. Alas, the sails are just props masking the motors that actually run the ship, and even murder and pillage is kept to minimum (the prices in the on-board gift shop, that is).
I'm currently attending the IEEE Virtual Reality 2001 conference and its delightfully named companion, the 2nd Int'l Symposium on Mixed Reality, both in Yokohama -- closer to my apartment than the university lab, as it turns out. Attendance may be free for us student volunteers, but proximity to the culinary pleasures of Chinatown is a severe drain on the wallet...