Tuesday, 3 July 2007


Hakone, approximately 2 hours from Tokyo, nominally achievable as a 'day-trip' was so hot and humid, cloudy and misty that visibility was at all-time low and atmospheric saturation was utterly pervasion. Despite the climatic inhibitors, the scenery of this region is distinctive ad picturesque, especially as it is made accessible by a well connected route of trains to funicular to cable car to boat forming a circuit that you can make on the Hakone Pass. Purportedly there are gorgeous views of Mt. Fuji from atop Sounzan but these were completely elusive, as was the ground or even neighbouring trees at times from the 'ropeway' - Japanese for gondola or suspended cable car (whereas cable car means funicular in this context). This ropeway transports you over sulphur-steaming grounds of Owakudani (Greater Boiling Valley) after a train ride through endless blue hydrangeas and eventually on to Lake Ashi. Part of this holiday episode was the goal to experiencesome traditional Japanese relaxations and indulgances such as the hot bath/spa on the hotel's rooftop, kaiseki dinner, ryokan floor-sleeping and dining experience and Japanese buffet breakfast. So, irrespective of meteorological co-operation, there were many aesthetic pleasure to be undertaken and the plants, gardens, lake and mountains, when they did decide to reveal themselves, were lush and beautiful. Our Tenseien hotel was nestled right into a steep embankment shrouded in a jungle myriad of dense foliage and a pathway climbing up to a shrine, waterfall with Shinto white ties and a duck pond with exceptionally spotless, clean ducks happily lounging around in the crystal clear spring water coming off the mountainside.

Tenseien hotel nestled into mountainside + adjacent to stream, gorge dropping away underneath the railway brdieg the train was crossing, Mum and the Hakone Musum of Art bamboo, Mum in front of hotel waterfall

The circuit rose through Gora Park, housing a craft museum, Hakone Art Museum with its elegant Japanese garden and ceramics built to the instructions of foresightful Okada Mokichi, whose vision was that "works of art should not be monopolised but made available to as many people as possible" (1882-1955). His energetic collection of the contained Oriental artworks, ceramics from Japan even dating back to the Jomon period (700s AD) established a preservation of these artefacts and his philosophy book writes about "making lifestyle a form of art", elucidated int eh calm moss garden, bamboo grove and teahouse of the Museum and an expansive azalea 'hedge' covering the entire slope leading up to the main building that would be erupt with colour in season.

Kaiseki (懐石?) was a light meal served at a Japanese tea ceremony but is now also used for a tasting menu or, in our case, a lengthy and elaborate de-gustation including a rich array of carefully displayed and prepared culinary exoticism, many exquisite and some forever unidentifiable! Pirate ship on Lake Ashi, our 3 futons set up on the tatami floor, moss garden at the Museum of Art, local fish (just like the ones served at breakfast, Owakudani sulphur mining, kaiseki, bandaged pipes, Shinto decoration in the sacred waterfall purification spot, ropeway to nowhere, sulphur steam rising from crevasses, rooftop bath-tub

The summit of the ropeway reaches around 1200m then drops into the basin of Lake Ashi at 725m. The lake has a circumference of 21km, abounding in black bass and trout. Kaiseki literally means 'stone in the bosom', and refers to a practice where Zen monks would ward off hunger by putting warm stones into the folds of their obi. The term came to mean a light vegetarian meal served after a tea ceremony, possibly referring to the simple meals that monks ate which staved off hunger as much as a warm stone did. Nowadays, Kaiseki-ryori is an artistic and gracious Japanese seasonal cuisine that uses the fresh ingredients of the season and are cooked in ways that enhance the original taste of the ingredients. We had a great deal of fun devouring our multi-course kaiseki degustation of creative cuisine and local specialities over a couple of hours, exploring many delicasies and carefully presented morsels, while pondering, speculating and never quite deciphering other more mysterious elements. Sometimes we at things we would not normally like a single giant octopus sucker filled with plum preserve or salted fish, jellyfish salad.

Mum and Dad in their yukata sitting down for the beginning (only) of our kaiseki feast