Taiwan and Japan - Day 11

The Culture of Hakone

We got to have a sleep in this morning because we were not required to get the Hakone before 3. We have been traveling hard for the past week and a half and had planned on having this break in the middle of the trip to relax and experience the culture of Japan in Hakone. All groups met downstairs at the hotel at about 10:30 and checked out of the hotel. Just to be different I had decided that we didn’t need to take our big heavy suitcases with us to Hakone, but instead get them shipped to Tokyo. We were told that they would arrive at our hotel the following day which worked perfectly for us because that is when we would be arriving. Bag-less and out happy to not be dragging suitcases down staircases we headed to Shin-Osaka station to catch the Nansen (bullet train) to Hakone.

Bullet trains are amazing here. We have found them easy to book, easy to board, super comfortable and they hurtle you across land so fast. We traveled 428km across Japan in a little bit over 2 hours. We all bought our own Bento boxes onto the train so the 2 hours passed quickly eating and playing games. Finally we arrived at Odawara where we had to disembark. We stopped by a shop at bought a pass for the next 2 days called the Hakone Free pass which would allow us free travel around the Hakone area for the next 2 days. With the pass in hand we swapped trains onto the Hakone-Tozan line which would take us to Hakone-Yutomo station which is where our Ryokan was situated.

We arrived and plodded along the beautiful little town of Hakone-Yutomo for 10 minutes until we arrived at our destination for tonight Hotel Senkei. The outside of this place was stunning which really got our hopes up for what was inside. We checked in and were taken to our rooms. Our first opinion was that this was amazing, our rooms had the tradition paper walls, the floor was made of the bamboo mats and everything was perfect. We quickly settled in and had a look around. It was then that we met Mama-San. A mama-san is the ryokan leader as she was as scary hell. She came in a saw us putting on robes “No” she screamed. She proceeded to the dress us appropriately exclaiming no at different times. Another lady tried to come in with Tea and she sent her away. Finally after much pulling and yanking we were deemed appropriate. Satisfied she left, and was not seen again for the night. Anthony and I laughed at each other because she reminded us of the Mama-San from How I survived a Japanese Game show. None of the others saw her and later we had another lady come in and redress Tim who was much nicer.

We sat down and had the tea and biscuits we had been given and then went to check out all the rooms. We all had slightly different rooms but they were all amazing. It was even cooler to see that we had all been dressed by the ryokan ladies. The rooms had this very cool table with a blanket over them that housed a heater under it. You can sit under the doona to warm your legs very nice feature. Dinner was at 6 and we were collected by our Ryokan lady and delivered to the Banquet hall downstairs. All removing our shoes we entered to see 12 tiny tables set up.This was the start of our 12 course Japanese feast. Over dinner we had a variety of fish and other Japanese delicatices which were interesting.We all gave most things a go and enjoyed the majority of them.

The strangest things about dinner was being served by these beautiful old Japanese women. We tried very hard to be respectful and to do the right thing by them. At 6:30 The geisha we had hired came. She was stunning and so graceful. She played us some songs on 2 different instruments and even played Amazing Grace on one of them which was very nice. She would stop an answer any questions we had. She also performed a dance for us. We then took the opportunity to ask many questions and hear stories from her which was amazing. She said we are a weird group to get a geisha. Most tourists have the wrong idea about them and are not interested and normally the people she entertains are business men over 60. I think it was a change for her too. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to talk to her and hear her stories and it was something I never thought I would get to do. It turns out that she also translated Memoirs of a geisha into the Kyoto Dialect.She then explained how many things the book and movie (movie in particular) got wrong. Sadly 90 minutes soon passed and she had to leave. We got a couple of pictures, thanked her and went back to our rooms.

I was also extremely overwhelmed as the group presented me with a card and presents as a thank you for organising the trip. Their generosity is amazing and they did not have to do that. The rest of the night was spent in the onsens and relaxing. When we returned to our rooms beds had been set up on the floor. It was an amazing experience and that I feel blessed to have.