February 21, 2009: “Day #4: Expedition to Hakone”; February 22, 2009 “Day #5: Snow-Capped Fuji and Hakone”

Torii of the shrine in Hakone, at Lake Ashi

Image via Wikipedia

We have been on the most amazing adventures the last two days. On Saturday we drove up the windy mountainous road into Hakone. The first day we settled in our ryokan. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese bed and breakfast. We removed our shoes at the door. Your shoes are always expected to face outward toward the door (you slip them off as you step backwards). The hostess greeted us and showed us our traditional Japanese room with a tatami mat. No surippa (slippers) are permitted to be worn or placed on the tatami mat, but they are expected to be removed prior to entering the room. Our beds were on the floor. They consisted of two separate small, thick pads each with a down comforter and down pillow. In one corner of the room was a small, low table with two tea cups and a canister of hot water. Inside a small tea tin were powdered green tea packets. We poured the tea packets into the cups and added hot water. There were two floor “pillows” to sit on while we enjoyed our steaming hot beverages. We were even given a tukata (a cotton kimono) and himo (string sash) for our showers the next morning.

After settling into our rooms we ventured down into the heart of Hakone which is located on beautiful Lake Ashi. We walked around several shops as Hakone is known for their famous inlaid wood. We later went to dinner at an onsen. We ate at a traditional restaurant and the food was beyond bizarre. My hubby was smart; he ordered the pork. Unfortunately, I decided to be more adventurous. I ordered tempura but little did I realize what adventure awaited me until my food arrived. My food consisted of miso soup (which is disgusting and is made of niboshi (dried baby sardines), kombu (dried kelp), katsuobushi (thin shavings of dried and smoked bonito, aka skipjack tuna), and hoshi-shiitake (dried shittake mushrooms)), a cold cucumber flavored type of soup that literally looked and tasted like fish glue with the texture of slug slime … otherwise known in Japan as bukaki (and yes, you can use your imagination with the meaning of this word but I recommend not googling it at work), an entire fried fish, BBQ tofu coated with a disgusting sauce, and the best rice I’ve had in Japan. During the course of our meal the locals were laughing and staring at us which made the experience all that much more interesting. Lisa took a picture of me eating the whole fried fish with the tail sticking out of my mouth. Needless to say, I was determined to prove that I was capable of embarking on an Andrew Zimmern adventure and accomplish the feat of completing my meal. While I accomplished my goal, I was only able to do so while downing sake because it was the most disgusting, slimy, bizarre food I have ever eaten (and after being in Japan for three years, Lisa and Bill both agreed the meal was exceptionally odd). In case anyone was wondering – yes, the fish bones were crunchy. When I get back I will email a picture of my Andrew Zimmern Bizarre Foods meal.

Afterward we visited the onsen which are natural hot springs full of minerals. The onsens are NOT co-ed, as everyone is naked. It is required that you wash down prior to entering the baths and then afterward you wash down again and re-dress. My hubby and I were a little nervous about being naked in hot baths with so many people (thank goodness it wasn’t co-ed though!) but the experience was amazing and so incredibly relaxing. My skin was so incredibly soft and smooth afterward!

The next day we went downtown Hakone again. We took some beautiful, stunning photos of Mt. Fuji. Afterward we took a bus and then an older train to some sulfur/steam outlets at one of the local volcanoes. It was so incredibly windy. Bill estimated the winds were around 50 MPH! It was SO cold that I had on my North Face vest, fleece, jacket, gloves, scarf and hood and I was still freezing. This particular area is famous for its black hard boiled eggs. The Japanese believe if you eat one of their “black” eggs it will increase your life span by seven years. Later we took the bus ride back down to Hakone, took a short walk to the car, and drove back to Zama.

We ate dinner at Shin’s, where Lisa and I ate during my last trip. This time we partook of the following: toro (tuna belly – my favorite); aji (horse mackerel); ebi (cooked prawns); hotategai (scallop – absolutely delicious); tako (cooked octopus – which has the texture of a rubber band); uma (sashimi horse – absolutely shockingly delicious and it has a very similar taste and texture to salami); awabi (abalone – which tasted similar to hotategai but it had a cartilage type texture in the center that disturbed me slightly); and whale bacon (it tasted like fishy, nasty blubber). We were against eating the whale bacon but Shin, the owner, offered it to us as a gift so it would have been exceptionally rude for us to refuse his kindness.

My hubby and I leave at 8:45AM (it is currently Monday, 12:03AM) to catch the bullet train to Kyoto where we will be staying sans Lisa and Bill until Thursday afternoon when we meet up with them in Tokyo. We may or may not have access to email while in Kyoto but we will when we arrive in Tokyo on Thursday. I will document our travels along the way and send out emails when possible.

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