It’s a short train ride away from Hakone Yumoto station. The plan for today was to do what’s called the “circular route.” It involves a train ride to Gora Station, a cablecar to Sounzan Station, the ropeway to Togendai, a boat cruise to Hakone Machi, and then a bus back to Hakone Yumoto Station.
First stop was Gora Station by train.
Now I love me a good museum, but you know what the problem is with museums? They’re indoors. So you have to miss out on all the natural beauty of a place.
Enter the Hakone Open Air Museum.
JUST LOOK AT THIS PLACE!
As we were leaving the museum, I heard a familiar song coming from the building right next door. It was “You’ve Got A Friend in Me” from the Toy Story movies. I hadn’t even noticed the place on my way in, but it was a restaurant called Cafe Bar Woody. They played only Disney songs inside.
Then it was off to Craft House. This was a bit of a bust. You can make pottery, which I’ve done several times in the past, or buy various locally made crafts. Aside from the Craft House itself, there are gardens, fountains, green houses, and other things that aren’t that great to look at in the middle of Winter.
On to the cablecar ride to Sounzan.
We stopped at Owakudani to try some hard-boiled eggs dipped in sulphur and take in the view of Mount Fuji.
On to the Ropeway to Togendai, where we’d catch a tacky pirate ship to Hakone Machi.
Shout out to David and his blog, Random Wire. I stumbled upon the blog that morning. He had written this post about a five kilometre hike along the 400 year old Old Tokaido Highway from Moto-Hakone to Hatajuku.
When the pirate ship had docked in Togendai, I had asked two separate people where the start of the hike was, and they both urged me not to tackle the hike on account of the slippery conditions.
I was a bit worried because I was feeling pretty worn out even before the hike. I was in need of a day off. And there were a few parts in the hike that were admittedly pretty slippery
Thankfully, I got all the assurance I needed right at the start of the hike, where the most slippery parts were found. I stopped dead in my tracks and felt compelled for some reason to put on my headphones–something I rarely do when hiking.
I pushed play, and “Thin Blue Flame” by Josh Ritter just happened to come on. No disrespect to the Metallica boys, but that just happens to be my favourite song in the world.
The song opens with the lines:
“I became a thin blue flame
Polished on a mountain range
And over hills and fields I flew
Wrapped up in a royal blue.”
With those words, all of the exhaustion melted away, and I suddenly had all of the energy in the world. I opened my eyes, took this picture to commemmorate the start of the hike, and started on my way.
Though I don’t admit to know what exactly the song is about, it definitely has themes connected to losing and re-discovering faith, politics, war, human suffering, and the Divine. The song is a 9-minute saga in many acts that quite honestly leaves me feeling reborn every time I listen to it.
In his post on Random Wire, David mentions a restaurant along the way called Amazake Chaya. I had to stop by on my way. It sat about halfway through the hike, so it was a nice little break.
The waitress’ accent caught me offguard. She had definitely studied abroad at some point. Sure enough, when she asked me where I was from, I took the opportunity to ask her if she’d ever studied abroad, and she said she’d studied in Seattle for five years back in ’86. The accent was still there.
I ordered amasake and chikara-mochi. The former is a non-alcoholic, non-sugar, sweetened drink made from fermented rice. The latter is made from glutinous rice that is steamed, pounded into a paste with a wooden pestle, and toasted by charcoal. It came in three flavours: isobe (soy sauce), uguisu (sweet soy bean powder), and kurogoma (uguisu mixed with black sesame).
The second half of the hike isn’t anything special. Once we reached Hatajuku, we hopped on the bus back to Hakone-Yumoto. On the way, I checked my e-mail, and discovered an e-mail from the hostel that I had booked for the night. Apparently, there had been an error on Hostel World. The price for my room was not $40 as the sitehad claimed, but rather $110.
I quickly cancelled my reservation and found another hostel that was near Owadara Station, which was in the direction we had to go the next morning anyway on our way to Kyoto. It did cost $40.
As tired as I was, I gathered up my bags from the ryokan we’d stayed at the night before, and headed for Owadara. I slowly trudged towards the hostel, excited to shower, eat, and pass out.
Once we arrived, I asked the guy at the desk if he could recommend a good restaurant nearby. He said that some restaurant that started with the letter R nearby served some awesome sashimi. He also said that the place had a blue sign and that it was just down the road.
By the time I had showered and gone out the door, though, I’d already forgotten the name. I was to tired to walk back up the stairs to ask for the name again, so naturally, I stopped at the first blue restaurant that I saw.
This innocent looking restaurant would be the best accidental discovery of my time in Japan, because it turns out this wasn’t the restaurant I was supposed to visit. It might even be my highlight from my time in Japan.
I walked in the door and was surprised to find the place completely empty. The woman working there seemed completely surprised and excited to see me. She ran to the counter from the table where she had been sitting and tried to explain in Japanese that the menu was only in Japanese.
I asked, “Sashimi?” and she smiled and nodded her understanding. She went into the back and got to work.
Then she came back and gestured to the giant bottles behind her to ask if I wanted anything to drink. She pointed to one as a suggestion and I said okay. She gave me a glass of shochu. It tasted a lot like soju.
While we waited for my food, she played with something on her phone. It turned out she was trying to work the translator app on her phone so that we could communicate with each other. Soon, we were speaking with each other without any problems thanks to her brilliant speech-to-text translator app, and we quickly became amazing friends. I loved this lady. She was the epitome of sweetness. We talked about her restaurant, our respective countries, our respective travel plans, our families–everything! I was so grateful that it was just her and I in the restaurant.
It turns out the reason Hiroko was so excited to see me was because in the year and a half that she and her friend had opened their restaurant, I was her first foreign customer. My guess is the lack of English might deter tourists. I was honoured!
Then I found out that I had indeed walked into the wrong restaurant. Hiroko asked me my name, and I said “Uri.” Her jaw dropped to the floor. She pointed downwards towards the bar and said, “Uri,” as if to say that this place was called Uri. Then she took me outside and pointed at the name. It’s called Kitchen Uri and is named after her friend. (In Japan, Uri is a woman’s name.)
After a while, a couple of other customers eventually started to trickle in, but the hour or so that I had Hiroko all to myself will forever be one of my highlights of this magnificent country known as Japan.
Sadly, I don’t know if I’ll ever hear from Hiroko ever again. She sent me an e-mail at the end of the night so that we could keep in touch, but for some reason when I tried to respond the following morning, I got an e-mail saying that address didn’t exist.
Hopefully I can figure something out, because I told her that if her son chooses to study English in Canada in two years time, I’d offer to host him.
So if you’re ever in Owadara, please stop by Kitchen Uri and tell Hiroko that Uri says hi.