October 8, 2012

We're in Hot Water, Now.

October 7th, 2012

Taylor and I spent the afternoon in Shibuya and Harajuku, two districts known for their shopping, crowds, and woman who dress as all sorts of colorful characters. I've been learning some good things from him about traveling alone, for example: We found a great clothing store and the young man working took a liking to us. When we were leaving, Taylor asked him for some restaurant recommendations in the area, figuring we'd have similar interests. It seems obvious, but it would never have crossed my mind to have inquired. Apparently most of his adventures alone have been as a result of asking for guidance and then discovering helpful and friendly people. Lesson learned.

After an afternoon of walking and talking, we returned to Kelly's so we could all take a 90 minute train ride towards Mt. Fuji, to a town called Hakone (ha-ko-nay). The onsens in this are are consistently rated as the number in Japan. It is nice to be using public transportation again. The pace of life is different than in Los Angeles. The freeing up of mental space that comes with not driving allows you to be productive in so many ways or simply take in your surroundings. That and you don't have to worry about crashing and suffering a painful death. It's the little things...

Riding/Writing while traveling. Very hard to do while driving.

By the time we got to Hakone, the sun had set and the stars began to poke through the clouds. Our hotel, which resembles a traditional Ryokan, is also an onsen, so we immediately stripped down and enjoyed the hot springs (number 3 on my list). Luckily for you, there are no pictures of this, but I can share pictures of our room and the walk up to the hotel:

Kapa Tengoku Hotel & Onsen

The lamp-lit walk up to our hotel

One of many friendly faces during our travels.

Sleeping beauty waking up after a peaceful slumber.

When we returned from our dips, I flipped on the TV and to my delight, found
a Japanese Game Show. Not sure of the premise, but the segment we watched consisted of a young woman in her underwear, balancing on a ten foot tall column, which was balanced atop a ball. She had 4 minutes to put her clothes on without falling into the giant pit of styrofoam packing peanuts below. Every time she successfully put on an article of clothing, she earned money. But here's the thing, she got all but her pants fully on (was 3 seconds late buttoning them) and therefor only won 300 yen (about $4). All that work for $4! Gotta love Japanese TV.

After the excitement of the show, we walked through the town and discovered a 7-11. A note about Japanese 7-11s: they are popular spost to buy meals because the food is actually quite good; comparable to to the premade meals at a Gelson's or Trader Joes. We took our food and walked until we found a comfortable spot on the bridge connecting the two sides of the town. With the mountains towering above us on either side, stars providing light, the babbling of the river below (or is it only brooks and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu that can babble?) and a sight like this to our immediate right, the mood was set for a fantastic two hour conversation on life:

We've just now returned to the hotel, so although it will only take you a moment to move from this paragraph to the next, you should know that an entire day will have passed. I will be older, wiser, and more experienced. Scholars will analyze this paragraph and compare it with the next, only to discover slight yet significant changes in my writing. What was it that happened in that day that caused such a change? Keep reading to find out!

October 8th, 2012

Had a dope day. Saw all sorts of tight shit and like nature and stuff. Caught some hella good zzzz's and then started walking up some big ass hill! Saw this little detour and decided to venture:
Unsure where this path lead.
As it turned out, this less than picturesque entrance was the way up the mountain that loomed above us the night before. We were ill-equipt and without water or food in our bellies, so we only walked 20 minutes up the hill. Regardless, it was a beautiful adventure:

Cole Haan, not known as great hiking shoes.
Kelly & Taylor begin the ascent
Kelly leading the way while Taylor stops to...
Pick leaves for his bouquet. "The forest made this, I just arranged it."

Colors in the forest.

We turned back down the mountain in search of food. I was able to read a sign advertising "Udon". I'm well on my way to understanding an entire Japanese film (6) so long as most of the dialogue is about food and the only question asked is "Where's the bathroom." They go together I suppose. We shared our table with an elderly couple and their adult son and discovered that in Japan, it is acceptable and polite to slurp your noodles. These were some of the most polite people I've ever heard.

Once our bellies were filled with udon and local vegetables, we ventured back across the bridge from the night before and up the road that ran adjacent to the river, in search of a world class Onsen. We found it:
Crossing our bridge
Target spotted!
Checking in and receiving our towels. A must if you want to maintain a little privacy

180 degree views from the top of the hill

In addition to the baths, this Onsen provided a relaxation room. Taylor took full advantage of this.
I, however, joined the locals and napped. It's very odd to nap on the ground next to a bunch of strangers.
Smiles as we left this wonderful little town.

I also received a massage at the onsen. And by received, I mean paid for. Here's how you know it's not going to be a great massage:
      1. You're fully clothed.
      2. When they begin to massage your bum cheek and discover your wallet in your back pocket, they  
      just keep going without thinking to remove it. My wallet was massaged in more ways than one...

It was great to take a trip with these two as we won't have another opportunity to spend full days together. Kelly works all week and Taylor leaves Sunday, meaning this Saturday will be our only other opportunity to all take some adventure. I'm sure we will.

We returned to Kelly's and Taylor and I made dinner, but only after spending a solid hour in the supermarket trying to decipher what anything is. I realized it's nearly impossible to tell sauces apart when you can't read the label because all sauce is black or a dark brown. There was a lot of "What do you think this is?" "I don't know... get it!" I did manage to ask for firm tofu though.

Pineapple fried rice, steamed Bok Choy and what turned out to be vegetable fish cakes are now in my belly, making me very tired. Well, more accurately, a single bite of vegetable fish cakes is in my belly. Still a long way from goal (20): embracing Sushi.