Owakudani and Hakone

Posted on Sunday, November 29, 2009 | 0 comments

   We took a day trip over to Owakudani and Hakone today, about a 2-hour drive from here if you take traffic into account.
 Owakudani (Great Boiling Valley), is a volcanic valley that has a ton of sulphur vents and natural hot springs. And let me tell you, for as beautiful as it is, it smells just as bad! Still, the stench doesn't deter the tons of tourists who visit it every year: the Hakone Ropeway up to Owakudani has the distinction of being the busiest gondola lift in the world, according to Guinness.
  We had originally planned on driving up to Owakudani, but the massive traffic jam starting 2 km from the top was enough to make us turn around and take the ropeway up from Hakone instead. I'm guessing that the lack of parking at the top (the cause of the traffic jam) is a contributing factor to the ropeway's world record!

  Besides being famous for its beauty and stench, Owakudani is also known for the black eggs that are hard-boiled in the sulpher hot springs. It's said that if you eat one, you increase your life span by 7 years. However, after dealing with the sulphuric smell of rotten hard-boiled eggs the whole time we were up there, nobody really wanted to bother actually eating one!

               The sign says: 'I rode the ropeway. It was fun!'

You're never too old to fight with your siblings in public....

Eggs being delivered to the top via a pulley system

Taking hard-boiled eggs out of the hot spring

  After taking the ropeway back down to Hakone, we drove around to the opposite side of the lake and spent a little time on the main street, watching the sunset over Ashi no ko (a beautiful lake) and browsing in a few stores.

 Hakone is famous for parquetry (I had to look up the term in English), which is a geometric mosaic of wooden pieces, used for decoration. These mosaics are inlaid on wooden boxes, chopsticks, tea sets, you name it. I unfortunately didn't get any pictures of these, but I'm sure there are images online if you're really that interested.

The guys taking a break with a new-found friend

Thanksgiving, Japanese-style

Posted on Thursday, November 26, 2009 | 0 comments

   This morning, Andrew and I hiked up to Nihondaira (日本平), which was about 4 km each way. At least, it was supposed to be 4 km each way, but since we got a little bit lost on the way up, it was probably a bit longer. The only map that we could find online for a Nihondaira hiking course wasn't very clear, and it was all in Japanese. We figured out that we had to go past the local Kusanagi shrine and then continue straight up to the hiking trail, not very difficult...in theory. In actuality, you go up to the shrine, follow the road that curves to the left (it goes past an elementary school that will be on your left) and THEN continue straight up that road to access the hiking trail. There are some signs marking the route, but they're in Japanese and we only found them after a bit of backtracking. Anyway, if you're planning on climbing it, feel free to contact me for better directions!
                                    The road up to the hiking trail

Andrew trespassing on a golf course

  Once we got off the road and onto the actual trail, it was pretty easy going and not really a difficult hike at all. The view from the top was really beautiful, even though Mt. Fuji was mostly obscured by clouds when we were up there.
                                           Can you find Mt. Fuji??

                                          View from the ropeway

 From the top, we rode a ropeway (1000 yen per person round-trip, 550 yen one-way) down to Kunozan Toshogu Shrine, which houses the grave of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of Japan. I didn't realize that this shrine housed his grave until looking at a pamphlet much later in the day, but it was a pretty impressive place even without knowing that fact.

                                            Entrance to the shrine

Tokugawa Ieyasu's grave (we didn't know what it was at the time but took pictures anyway since it was rather impressive)

Andrew relaxing on a chair we found in the middle of nowhere

  After touring the shrine, we took the ropeway back up to the top of Nihondaira again for a quick snack, then headed back home. I managed to rack up over 20,000 steps on my new pedometer today, a good thing, since....
Seeing as turkeys are incredibly hard to come by here, we opted to instead hit up a nearby organic buffet for our Thanksgiving dinner. They have great food, and Andrew was able to find plenty of meat-free dishes, so it worked out for everyone. They also offer a 600 yen all-you-can-drink shochu bar (Japanese liquor), so the guy were especially happy! We all ate until we were about to burst, thereby satisfying the main requirement of a Thanksgiving dinner in my mind.

                  The restaurant's name is Budo no Oka, or 'Grape Valley' if translated literally

All-you-can-drink shochu

A selection of their desserts...all bite-size

 We were not only celebrating Thanksgiving tonight, but 2 more events: Yuki's birthday was yesterday and we couldn't celebrate it properly, since he was preparing for his final interview exam this morning...which he PASSED! Yea!! Happy birthday and congratulations to my wonderful husband!!!
  Finally, Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete without dressing Wasabi up in a little Chinese dress that we bought in Yokohama Chinatown last weekend. The hat really completed the outfit, but, to put it mildly, she wasn't too thrilled to wear it!

                Wasabi is NOT thankful for her parents tonight

She's thinking 'I hate you all' in Chinese

'Take that, stupid hat!!!'

        Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Lunch in Kamakura

Posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2009 | 0 comments

  We went to Kamakura last Sunday, after giving Andrew a night to rest up from his journey here. There's a great restaurant there that's called Hatchi No Ki; one half of the resturant serves traditional-style Japanese food, while the other half serves 'shojin ryori', or monks' food. Since the food that monks eat is vegetarian, we went to that half of the restaurant (it's actually a separate building) so that Andrew wouldn't have to pick fish or other bits of meat out of his food. The food at this place is amazing but not exactly cheap. (Thank you again, お父さん)! Here's a sampling of photos from our lunch...

                    Note to self: Contact dermatologist about having odd growth removed from head

The first dish: eringi mushrooms, snap peas, and fu

Next up: more steamed mushrooms, a spinach and mushroom dish, eggs, and yuba with Japanese radish

Goma dofu (Sesame tofu)...the best goma dofu I've ever had!

Fall greens with (if I remember correctly) mushrooms

Another type of mushrooms in a Japanese radish sauce

Fried Yuba (yuba is the top layer that gets skimmed off when tofu is made)

Spinach and Japanese radish with a sesame-miso sauce

Mushrooms and smashed lotus root in a buckwheat-infused sauce

             Dessert was a traditional fall favorite: persimmon