Friday, April 27, 2012

The Japan Trip - Day 13

Delicious onigiri was had for breakfast that day. As I was hobbling with XM to the konbini, I was worried that my damaged leg wouldn't be compatible for the hike - it hurt slightly, but I decided that I could manage it.

It was a very scenic hobble, though.

After we packed up and left, carrying our huge backpacks, we caught a train to the start of our hiking destination, Odawara Station.

*giggle* *giggle* romance car *giggle* *giggle*
The hike was XM's idea - he really wanted to do something crazy in a foreign country, and short of starting a religious war, this was the next best thing. It was originally supposed to be twenty kilometres across the southeastern part of Japan, following the coastline with Mt Fuji on our left, but when he went to check out the route on Google Maps, it was along highways without any pavements. He was all for it though, but the rest of us were worried that it'd be dangerous and illegal, and as gaijin didn't want to spend weeks being interrogated in a foreign language. So it was cut to a short 8km hike between a couple of stations along the train line we would have taken anyway, across pavements and through the more suburban areas of Odawara through to Hakone. Bryan ambitiously took a Google Maps photograph every ten steps. It actually turned out pretty well, all things considered.

There was a slight drizzle in the morning, but that was all just water under the bridge.
Walking in tunnels always gives me that nice, warm, being-evacuated-due-to-a-zombie-outbreak kinda feeling.

Smatterings of suburbia.
We stopped for lunch at a quaint soba restaurant, where I had cold soba because it was so hot. Actually, it had drizzled earlier in the day, and the air was cool but humid, and trekking with a backpack with no space to store your sweaters meant that I was losing more water weight than what I could carry in my small 500ml thermos (which tasted of metal anyway). We were probably the youngest people there paying for their own bill. It was there that I learned that authentic soba restaurants will serve you the water that your soba was cooked in, at the end of your meal, still warm, and you're supposed to pour it into the soba sauce and drink it all. There were also a number of Chinese businesspeople sitting on the next table, and you could tell that they did not learn about native traditions, because they were putting their noodles into their spoons instead of slurping them. Their Japanese colleague or host was slurping heartily.

Soba water not pictured.

The walk was mostly uneventful, but surprisingly quick. We got about 60 percent of the way in the first hour. It seems that walking is a lot faster when you are walking through nice scenery and don't have to do it in time while singing a lot of stupid songs which are supposed to take your mind off it and build cameraderie but actually just tire you out more. We travelled through a lot of suburban neighbourhoods, and by train tracks, and past a lot of interesting flora, and another young backpacking couple going the other way.

Young backpacking couple who waved back at us not pictured.
Contrary to whatever I looked and sounded like at the end, I thoroughly enjoyed the walk. The view was, of course, beautiful, but that doesn't do justice to the entire experience. Seeing it in pictures is not enough; you have to actually walk through it to feel it. I loved the suburban feeling of the whole route; you have glorious countryside all around you but you don't get that isolated feeling because there are buildings and cars and people. I loved it a lot.

And trains. Quiet trains which trundle by without the freaky smiling faces on the front.
This is the kind of neighbourhood I would love to have grown up in.
(Because it's in Japan, is what I'm saying.)
I really wanted to know what carps have to do with earthquakes.

Canals are just so much more beautiful in Japan.

Eventually we reached Hakone Station, and took the train to Gora Station, at the foot of the mountain we were staying on, and then took the cable car up the mountain to Nakagora, somewhere about midway.

Oh, and Achievement Unlocked: Hike 8 km in a foreign country.
This was the first slanted cable car I had ever taken.

Our Hakone accommodation was a ryokan, a type of traditional Japanese inn, where you sleep in futons and yukatas, can take a dip in the onsen, and eat delicious multi-course dinners. On our way up, the cool mountain air was able to accommodate some of the sakura late bloomers, and the fallen petals covered the road like snow.

This is going to be the cover of our upcoming album.
It's so much easier to fall in love with nature when it's not trying to be muddy at you.

The ryokan. Like, snow, literally.

Obligatory artistic shot.
We tried to check in with the friendly lady at the counter, but failed, so she brought out her husband from the kitchen, who could speak more English, and were shown our room. We were served an introductory dessert, sort of like mochi with sweet honey and peanut dust.

The peanut dust could, you know, hypothetically, make one choke, if one accidentally inhales it like an idiot. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

The interlude to dinner was spent watching hilarious Japanese commercials again. It's very ironic that we were flipping channels trying to hunt down the ads instead of avoiding them.

How else would you enjoy this wonderfully luxurious room?
Dinner was held in the main dining hall with a few of the other guests, but at individual tables. I already had an impression of ryokan dinners from Japan hour, but the spread we were served just blew it all away. The 20k yen we were spending each night seemed totally worth it. There was sukiyaki, the main dish; with tempura and wasabi fish porridge and sashimi and a cold platter of assorted unidentifiable things and miso soup and vanilla ice cream with strawberry sauce. And that was only the things I could remember.

My taste buds thought they had died and gone to heaven.

We were determined to try the onsen - hot spring - that night, so we got all our bath stuff and waited. It was a communal bath, so each "group" can only go in for an hour or so, and you have to put up the "occupied" sign outside the door. After the quick shower to get clean, I tried dipping my legs into the water. And here's the thing: all my life, I expected hot springs to be mildly warm, like 40 or 50 degrees Celsius, so it would be relaxing like a warm shower. This one was insanely hot, probably around 70 or 80 degrees, hot enough to boil eggs. The feeling, when you leave your legs in for a while, is that it is so hot that it feels biting cold, like all your nerve endings are just committing suicide from he heat. Bryan said the trick was to immerse yourself into it slowly, bit by bit, so I was sitting there broiling my feet for a couple minutes. Another thing: ripples and water currents make it exponentially worse, so when XM was done with his bath and stuck his legs in, the water movement scraped across my roasted nerve endings and made them commit suicide again. In the end, though, I managed to immerse my whole body - up to my neck - into the natural cooking pot. For about five minutes. Then I couldn't take it, and climbed out.

Two things I learned: Bryan said that the intense heat could swell the blood vessels and make you feel light-headed, and that his friend had fainted when they had tried it the week before he met us. I think that would be the natural response to being cooked alive. The second thing I learned: the convenient steam censorship you see in anime has very strong basis, but it doesn't work well enough in real life. After the scalding, I drank a can of cold coffee, just like how I was taught in To Aru no Majutsu no Index.

Oh, and Achievement Unlocked: Cook yourself.

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