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Journeys in Japan : Karuizawa and Matsumoto

I am recently super late on my travel posts. The volume of photos is one of the reason. The other, I want my posts to be informational and useful to those who travel and that requires a lot of research which almost always throws me into a stalling mode. But with all the posts on fashion that I did these couple of months, I am on the verge of being labeled as “fashion blogger” so I decided to pivot my focus and get down to the posts about the trips I took this year. ^-^

In June, we took a trip to Karuizawa with another Russian family and rented a cottage together. It is not so expensive to rent a family-type cottage in Karuizawa but if you do it with another family, it is even better. ^-^ The one we chose (Highland resort, Kita Karuizawa) had two bedrooms with three beds in each room – absolutely perfect even for families of 4. ^-^ Plus, there is a big sofa in the living room.

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There is a designated space for barbeque in the area but if you have your own equipment, you can also do it on the porch of your cottage. All you need to bring is the grill or brazier, skewers and coal, the rest is provided within the cottage – pots, plates, glasses, cutlery along with the fridge, rice cooker and toaster. Bedlinen, towels and hairdryer are there too.

My friends were originally from Uzbekistan and of course knew a thing or two about how to make a perfect barbeque spread. They did lamb, pork and beef for us and chicken skewers for the little ones.

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After dinner, we went for a little walk around the forest. The sunset was breathtaking. They say that if the skies are pink, the next day is going to be wonderful and it really was. This trip to Karuizawa was one of the best ones and my son had so much fun, I am sure it will leave a positive print on him even if he won’t remember it.

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We played a little bowling. I am still amazed at how a 1.5 year old could lift heavy balls and throw them in the right direction. We give so little credit to babies, yet they prove us time and again how smart and creative they are.

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Although the rule of not stepping on the lane with your street shoes on (or not at all!) was beyond his comprehension. ^0^

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On the morning of the next day, we went to おもちゃの王国 (The kingdom of toys) – a magical place where children of all ages can enjoy not only various toys and attractions but also play sports, trek forest, swim and try different crafts.

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If it is too hot or cold outside, you can always hide in one of the indoor areas and play with wooden toys from different counties, roleplay with hundreds of various dolls or build your own city at the Prorail train wonderland. There is also a restaurant area with kids menu – not much variety there but you do have a choice between a bento with hamburger, sausage and potatoes and a bowl of udon (wheat noodles). There are also ramen, curry, fried chicken and I think pasta.

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After the amusement park, we headed to Hoshinoya – a beautiful contemporary resort from the famous chain of luxury hot springs. We couldn’t afford to stay there but the hot spring itself was quite affordable. For 1300yen (750yen for children) you can use any of the indoor or outdoor baths for the unlimited amount of time. I went there around 2PM with my son and there were only a couple more people. The bath was surrounded by trees with birds singing in them. It had a couple of small waterfalls and lots of sitting stones for sunbathing. My son loved it so much, he didn’t want to get out. We were sitting in water hugging each other, singing and watching dragonflies above our heads. That was the absolutely perfect moment I carefully stored in my memory to cherish for the rest of my life.

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From Karuizawa, our little family headed East to visit Matsumoto – a beautiful preserved city in Nagano prefecture.

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We decided to stay close to the center at a small but very stylish Matsumoto Marunouchi hotel.

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Upon checking in , we took a walk on Nawate street – an old-fashioned shopping district running along the river that hosts a lot of small antique galleries, eateries and my favorite of all – used book stores. The city is famous for its soba – buckwheat noodles, wasabi and raw horse meat – everything is of course produced locally with wasabi farm being the largest one in the world. Unfortunately, traveling with a 1 year old we couldn’t try any of these things. With soba shops, they almost always only sell soba in there and he never tried it before. The risk of an allergy reaction was something we didn’t want to deal with while traveling. So instead, we went to a good old family-type restaurant with an open salad bar where my son suddenly discovered his passion for free veggies and ate like three plates of mini tomatoes, cucumbers and baby corns. ^-^

By the time we got to Matsumoto-jo – the main attraction of the city and one of the biggest castles in Japan, it was already closed but we got to enjoy its exterior grandeur as well as beautiful sunset in its garden.

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Since we were already in the gate city to Japanese alps, we couldn’t help but visit the Azumino national park – beautiful area in the footsteps of mountains with a gorgeous view and a lot of entertainment for children including trampolines, stilt-walking, exploring woodland trails and making local crafts.

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Our last stop was the very stylish Chihiro art museum that displays hundreds of work of the famous Japanese illustrator Chihiro Iwasaki. There is a baby area with wooden toys, children’s books library with tables and chairs to sit and read away. There is a stylish restaurant with an outdoor area where you can also take any of the books and read during your lunch. There are swings and small toys available as well. At the museum shop, you can buy the works of Chihiro Iwasaki as well as many other books including some foreign titles. There are also candies and cookies with the famous illustrations that make wonderful gifts.

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As always thank you for reading and stay tuned for the absolutely wonderful hot springs trip we took at the end of the summer in Izu.

Journeys in Japan – Atami, Kai hot spring

This post as hundreds of others I am yet to post is very overdue but with the scarce amount of free time I have lately, I decided to close my eyes on time stamps and just write about events I want to write about regardless of when they took place. So, stay tuned for the continuation of my Patagonia story. ^-^ Seriously? 5 years have pasted…

Last summer, I took my 7 month old son to Atami to show him the Pacific ocean and enjoy some time under the sun. It was a very easy breezy trip as he was still sleeping beautifully in the moving car (unlike now!) and was satisfied with just happily observing the world from the coziness of the baby carrier instead of running every which way like he does now.

We arrived at Atami in the early afternoon, had lunch at a local diner and then spent some time on the beach, dipping baby’s bare feet in the water. He was scared of the “big bathtub” so didn’t insist on staying long.

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My mom, upon seeing this photo has asked why so many are dressed up in not just clothes but clothes with long sleeves. In Japan, a lot of people wear UV-protective clothing to the beach, especially women who don’t want to get tanned and children whose skin is too sensitive to sunshine. It is hot and uncomfortable but a great way to avoid sunburn.

As you can also see, the sand on Tokyo beaches as well as in every sandpit on every playground is dark grey, almost black in color. You have to go to Izu to find white sand beach but it will be even more crowded than this one. ^-^

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After the hot beach, we cooled down in my favorite MOA museum that held a very beautiful exhibition depicting mount Fuji through the works of Japan’s most famous artist Hokusai.

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This is the bandana I bought for my son at the exhibition. Isn’t it cute with the little clouds over mount Fuji?

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The museum has a gorgeous Japanese garden with a tea house inside but you have to book the seat in advance or be prepared to wait to be seated. The place is very popular.

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It was my second failed attempt to have tea at the museum’s tea house but fortunately I had my cup at the KAI ryokan upon arrival. It was very refreshing after a hot day out.

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The ryokan is very old but some of its parts have been rebuilt with modern standards in mind. The outdoor bath in particular was designed by Japan’s contemporary artist Kengo Kuma. It is really relaxing. I happened to go in the bath right in the midst of a pouring rain that enveloped the bath area in a soft flowing veil of water through which I peacefully gazed at the ocean. It was a beautiful tranquil moment that I often go back to in my mind when I need to relax.

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Ryokan had a drawing room with a small library and self-serving kitchen with herb teas and biscuits.

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The way from the main building to the hot springs terrace was very long and steep but amazingly beautiful especially at night.

At the very bottom of it, there is an open air adult-only bar that we unfortunately couldn’t check. It did look very romantic. You can also enjoy a special Geisha performance there on weekends or so the website says. ^-^

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This is a hot spring terrace with a gorgeous view to the ocean. You can chill there with a glass of free beer or milk after steaming it off in the hot springs.

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The dinner was amazing. We often take the traditional full course onsen dinner because it is served in the room and you can go about your evening at your own pace. With a baby, this sort of arrangement comes particularly in handy. ^-^ The food is always fresh, it highlights the best of local cuisine using the best of local ingredients. After a full Japanese meal, you will never feel full and uncomfortable as for example after a Russian “sour cream on top of everything” meal. After this sort of traditional “kaiseki” meal you feel nothing but satisfaction. It also pleases not only your stomach but your eyes as well.

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The next day, we went to the beach again just to give our little boy another chance to get acquainted with the ocean. I would very much love for him to be passionate about watet and to follow in the steps of the generations of men in my family.

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Stay tuned for other overdue posts on my trips to Ikaho and Karuizawa. ^-^

 

Journeys in Japan – Nasu, Tochigi

This was my first trip after giving birth to my son. In May, we took him to a hotspring in Nasu, Tochigi prefecture.

Before arriving at a ryokan, we stopped at Ashino stone museum – the Stone plaza that was constructed from an old warehouse by a famous contemporary designer Kuma Kengo. Japan is very unique in this way: in the middle of an utterly rural area with nothing but rice fields and muddy roads there is a true gem, astonishing piece of art that should belong in a big city. I was really impressed with the museum’s architecture and curated collection of light and shadow.

Cider by the window

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Journeys in Japan – Karuizawa, Kusatsu onsen

Karuizawa is the place I have always wanted to visit ever since I learned about it from a cheesy Japanese TV drama that I used to watch to study the language. It is the famous retreat area for Tokyoites with lush greens and mild climate although when we got there, there was nothing mild about the scorching sun and humidity in the air. However, once you hide in the shadows of the forest, you can at last taste the delicious coolness Karuizawa is so famous for in summer.

The main street of the city was lined with various cafes, boutiques, bakeries and souvenir shops mostly selling tasty produce like jam and honey and the art works of local craftsmen. None of the stuff was cheap. The average lunch price at a restaurant or cafe was around 1500 yen.. More, if a restaurant was visited by someone famous like John Lennon. ^-^ Although if you don’t need to sit at a terrace or inside an air-conditioned room, there are plenty of choices of street food like German sausages, Russian piroshki, ice cream and amazing french bread.

There was a huge Ghibli animation souvenir shop on the main street. I spent half an hour browsing through different toys and character goods and ended up buying absolutely nothing… Always happens to me when I am given too much choice – I get lost!

On the way from Karuizawa to Kusatsu onsen, we visited beautiful Shiraito waterfalls (White thread waterfalls). The water was so cold I couldn’t bear to keep my feet in it for more than a minute. Such contrast in temperatures is really astonishing!

The smell of wet forest is really something special. I love it so much because it brings back so many memories from my childhood. It was just so peaceful to sit on a fallen tree, watch the dance of water falling down, enjoy the coolness of the air and smell the incredible aroma of wet soil and leaves…. I want to go back to that place so badly..

When we arrived to Kusatsu onsen it was already getting dark so we took a quick tour around the area visiting a small Kusatsu shrine at the top of the hill and trying delicious rice cakes with hot green tea at various “omiyage” shops along the way.

The main street of Kusatsu village had a huge reservoir of volcanic onsen water. The smell was excruciating – something in between a rotten egg and cat’s pee. But knowing that this horrible smell was just minerals that are so good for the body, it was kind of OK to bear it at least for a while.

People around were walking in their yukata which really gave a whimsical feel to the whole scene. I could easily imagine myself in the last century watching a small town scene unravel in front of my eyes. If you are fluent in Japanese, you can also enjoy a “rakugo” performance – traditional Japanese stand-up comedy that takes place in onsen.

At the main village square, there was a big pool of scorching hot onsen water for feet. Kusatsu is really famous for the hotness of its onsen water. It was so funny to watch Japanese tourists sitting by the pool, trying to ease their feet into the water and screaming “Atsui! Atsui!” – Hot! Hot! every second or so. My husband tried some Zen techniques he learned earlier which helped him keep his feet in the water for several minutes. ^-^ I could only do several seconds. ^-^

This was our ryokan – a very nice place with amazing personnel and rooms overlooking the hills.

We rented a private rustic rotemburo but the water was too hot. I guess I would really appreciate it in winter. In summer, it was unbearable. So instead I just sprinkled the onsen water on me and enjoyed a good massage. ^-^

The dinner was of course amazing. I just love onsen food – all vegetables and fish and everything is so fresh and delicious.

I visited the public rotemburo after hours so there was noone inside – yay! I liked it more than the private rotemburo because it had different baths with different temperatures and minerals. Also it was bigger and in the night the air was cooler so I could finally enjoy a little soaking in the water.

The next day, we decided to drive towards Nagano and see the famous Yugana volcanic lake high in the Shirano mountains. The road to that place was tough – not only it was a mountain serpentine road, it also was poisonous at times. Here and there, there were danger signs that advised drivers to drive fast and close all windows because the smell from natural onsen reservoirs in the mountains had too much chemicals in it to make you dizzy and lose control of the steering wheel. Plus, the smell itself was just pure evil. I have no idea how people on mountain bikes were passing through that area..

The volcanic lake was beautiful, same color as the mountain lakes in Patagonia. I saw a couple of deers on the peaks of the mountains near the lake. It was amazing being there and watching all that grandeur beauty in its untouched form.

After volcanic lake, we drove to a little town called Obuse to check the works of famous Ukiyo-e artist Hokusai.

In the Edo era, Obuse was a center of local commerce with trade routes to the Kanto area and West part of Japan. In response to the growth of economic activities some influential literary men and artists came all the way from Kyoto and Edo bringing high culture to the little town. Katsushika Hokusai – famous master of Ukiyo-e was one of them.

The area is also famous for its kuri – chestnuts. We tried everything – chestnut cakes, chestnut ice cream, chestnut wine.. We also bought lots of chestnut souvenirs for our families. ^-^ The town itself was pretty. It reminded me a little of Kanazawa – old commercial buildings preserved in pristine condition and still operating. I really admire Japanese for cherishing their traditions and finding the perfect balance between old and new.

 

Amazing Italian restaurant on the main street where we enjoyed lunch before heading back to Tokyo. ^-^ I love the places that are touristy but not crowded. I can’t really imagine a nice restaurant in Tokyo with 20 empty seats on terrace. That would be pure miracle. ^-^

Journeys in Japan – Kanazawa, Ishikawa

This post is way overdue but as I always say better late than never. ^-^ On Christmas, me and my husband went to Ishikawa prefecture to visit the famous Yamashiro onsen and Kanazawa city which is something like Kyoto – old and traditional with lots of streets that look like movie sets.

At first, we went to see Tojinbo – cliffs on the rugged west coast of Japan that are to the present day haunted by various ghost legends. It also remains one of the popular places to commit suicide. According to wikipedia, as many as 25 people (mostly male and mostly unemployed)  a year commit suicide by jumping off these cliffs. I have seen people in uniforms patrolling the area when I was there. I’ve also been told that If you are traveling alone, you are likely to be asked questions by these guards.. So, Tojinbo are very sad cliffs but the view is breathtaking. The Japanese sea is much darker and on that day it was emerald green, quite different from the Pacific ocean that I am used to see.




After the cliffs, we drove to the Eiheiji – temple of eternal peace situated deep in the mountains. That’s when the weather started to change so by the time I pulled over in front of the gates, the area was wrapped in fog and the thunder was rolling every minute or so.

We had lunch at oroshisoba restaurant next door – we were the only customers there because the whole area was closing down for the day. I guess nobody visits old temples after 3PM.

Visiting a 12th century old temple in the middle of thunder with bunch of monks practicing zazen everywhere you go is something of a rare experience. I’ve never been to an active monastery before so seeing all those monks really fascinated me. In winter, they were living in a room with one wall missing, sleeping on tatami mats in their robes, without blankets or anything of the sort. You have to have a lot of willpower to stay in a place like that. I’ve read a lot about Russian monks and hermits living in caves and forests but it was a long time ago, when people were much stronger.. To actually see someone doing it in the time of central heating and video games? That’s really special. Although I am Christian, I felt a tremendous respect to all those young monks on their path to enlightenment.

The main hall had this beautiful ceiling with 250 paintings of birds and flowers. I wouldn’t mind joining the monks for a couple of hours of meditation if I was allowed to stare at it the whole time. ^-^




After Eiheiji, we drove to Yamashiro  – a little onsen town in the mountains.




We stayed at Shiroganeya – an old ryokan that once, probably in the 90ties during the bubble period hosted the royal family. It was recently renovated by some investment group so although it looks rustic from the outside, inside it is all modern and comfy.




The room had many amenities including organic cosmetics, facial masks and several types of Ippodo – high quality brand tea from Kyoto. We could also have a private tea ceremony performed in the main hall by a chatty old woman in a very beautiful kimono. ^-^




The dinner, as always in such places was great – all fish and veggies intricately prepared and beautifully served.



Onsen itself was left untouched by the renovation so it is very old and very tiny. I had to open terrace windows to let all the steam out to be able to see inside. It was raining by then and thunder kept rumbling. I had never enjoyed my bath quite like at that moment. When I was a child, I experienced a couple of very exciting incidents that happened during thunder so I always have these butterflies in my stomach every time I hear it. There was no one else but me so I just sat in a steamy hot water and listened to the rain and thunder till my skin turned bright red. ^-^

In a typical Japanese onsen, there are several types of baths that are usually shifted between men and women depending on time. In the morning, before breakfast I could use an outside bath – rotemburo that was available only to men the night before. Again, there was no one else so I had it all to myself – cold mountain air and hot bath in a beautiful Japanese garden.

For breakfast, we’ve been served a typical Japanese morning spread. This is what is expected of you if you are a Japanese stay at home wife. My husband’s mother cooked it for us when we were visiting and I remember, she had to get up at 6 just to make it ready by 9 – really ridiculous and there is just no way I am doing it! ^-^

After breakfast, we took off and arrived to Kanazawa. The peculiar thing with Japanese traditional towns is that the older it is the more futuristic it’s main train terminal looks. Kyoto station as well as Kanazawa station both look like they belong in Tokyo, 20 years from now. ^-^




The city was much colder and on the verge of snowing so it was a bit of a challenge to explore it on foot but we did it anyway with some occasional stops at coffee shops.

The old part of town is perfectly preserved – some streets and buildings are active to the present day, some became part of an open air museum. One of such places was an old samurai house we visited.




The former estate of Nomura family was used for 12 generations until the feudal system broke down and the building was sold to the industrialist. Now, it’s a part of the museum compound together with it’s artistically crafted Japanese garden – famous for it’s intricate water system and cherry granite bridges and lanterns.

After the samurai house, we visited “21st century museum of contemporary art” – one of the main attractions in Kanazawa city. It held an exhibit of Peter Fischli & David Weiss as well as many permanent exhibits by various artists from all around the world.

I really liked the colorful spectrum by Olafur Eliasson – three plastic screens in yellow, blue and magenta forming a circle maze. As you walk it, the color changes around you. I particularly like this picture my husband took inside the maze because you can see Santa Claus on scooter on the background – kinda adds Christmas spirit to it. ^-^

From there, we went to the Kenrokuen – an Edo period landscape garden with beautiful majestic pine trees. The suspended ropes around them are there for protection against wind and snow.

Then, we crossed Umenohashi bridge to the Higashi-chaya – an old tea house strip, north of the Asano river.

That’s when it started to snow so I had to put down my Lumix and take pictures with waterproof Sony camera which was accidentally set to a low resolution so the following pics aren’t very good…

Higashi-chaya has around 80 old wooden 2 story Japanese style restaurants, tea houses and souvenir shops – not the kind that sell paper fans and refrigerator magnets but the original art studios where you can buy beautiful jewelry, pottery and organic cosmetics made by century old recipes.

There are several famous tea house areas spread around the old part of town but we could only see two because of bad weather. The second one, we went to was on the south side of Asano river and it was called Kazue-machi.

Where Higashi-chaya is the main sightseeing spot that accommodates a lot of tourists, Kazue-machi is more private and doesn’t accept first visit customers. Unless you receive a recommendation or an invitation from a patron, you are politely denied any service.

Our last stop, before going back to the station was Oumicho market that had lots of really great sushi restaurants. It also sold seafood – crabs in particular, herbs and vegetables – very similar to Kyoto market near San-chome. You could also get rare delicacies – typical for that particular part of Japan but not available anywhere else. Ever since I started living in Japan, I involuntarily adopted food freak culture looking for deli instead of souvenirs on my travels. Even coming back from my trips to Saint Petersburg I recently bring nothing but food – pickles, dairy, sweets etc. ^-^




Then, we had a coffee at Nikko Kanazawa hotel’s lounge. They had those big windows and little tables with cozy sofa chairs next to them so you could drink your coffee and watch snow outside falling down quietly. There was Christmas music on the background and a Christmas tree near fireplace – I just love places like that.  I finally had my white Christmas after years of snowless eves in Tokyo. ^-^

Journeys in Japan – Hakone

At the end of Golden week, me and my husband went to Hakone. I’ve been there a couple of times together with my company during our corporate “gasshuku” meetings but never just for leisure and it’s such a nice place. I mean, yes it’s touristy and the food is not that good in general but if you know places, Hakone can really surprise you.

The reason, we chose Hakone in the first place was Ichinoyu onsen. It’s one of the oldest hot springs in the area and it claims to serve the best seafood too. So, since my husband is a gourmet, we decided to take up on a challenge and give it a try. Of course, the Golden week rush on the highway was horrible and even worse in Hakone but we were fortunate enough to find our way out of traffic jam and into the safety of a parking lot just outside of the Rope way terminal. That’s where we started exploring the area.

We took a Rope car up to the Volcanic valley “Owakudani” where they make famous black eggs. Somehow, an egg, once placed inside the natural volcanic hot spring becomes black after some time and it is considered a delicacy. I spared myself the madness of waiting in a line of people to buy one so I can’t tell you what it tastes like but here are the pictures.

The valley is the main source of onsen water. I could see the clouds of white smoke here and there and the smell of chemicals was excruciating. At some point I was about to vomit – there was even a sign that warned visitors not to go up if they didn’t feel well.

Somehow I always thought that the myriads of onsens in the mountain areas are all natural meaning they all sit on top of volcanic wells and use the water directly from the bowels of the earth. Of course it makes no sense but I kinda liked the idea. In reality, water is being harvested and then transported to the onsens from the valley. It remains all the chemicals that are so good for the skin and that is why hot springs are so popular in Japan. Each area has a unique combination of chemicals which means that onsen in Hokkaido would be different from onsen in Kyoto. In Tokyo, you can buy “onsen no moto” – a bath salt from each of the famous areas and they would all show a different cocktail of elements.

After the valley, we took a boat ride in the lake Ashi. In a good day, it is very easy to spot Fujisan from the lake but it was cloudy that day. These funny little boats are called “hakucho” – swan boats and they’ve been here forever becoming a kind of a symbol for the area. I’ve always wanted to get into one.

I love this picture in particular. I don’t know – it just has this nostalgic feeling to it, of something once grandeur or at least exciting and full of life like an abandoned circus or a closed down park or something. I somehow feel connection to these kind of scenes – probably because of my childhood where I got to experience this post Soviet chaos of everything being abandoned and belittled..

After the ride, we went to check the Lace and glass museum which is right next to the onsen.

Some of the trees were made out of crystals and as tacky and artificial as it was, I kinda liked it especially because it looked so beautiful in the late sunlight.

There was a garden in front of the museum and I am such a sucker for gardens, it’s like a candy to a child. I spent 10 minutes for the exhibit of glass and an hour just hanging out outside.

There were ducks and Italian clown figurines and watermill and so many beautiful flowers. That’s where they organize Venetian carnival every year.

Oh wait, before the Glass museum we also went to a Botanical garden. Unfortunately, almost nothing was blooming yet. The best season is actually coming in a couple of weeks.  You can see Japanese irises and hydrangeas and lilies… But the garden was nevertheless beautiful! The pond frogs reminded me of Kao Lhak where we stayed 3 years ago. Here is a little video of the pond:

So, at last we arrived at the onsen and got a “rotemburo” room in one of these little cottages.

http://www.ichinoyu.co.jp/shinanoki/annex/room/index.html

Rotemburo means a private outside hot spring. Whenever I go to an onsen in Japan, I prefer to book a private rotemburo instead of bathing in the same spring with the rest of the ladies..I just can never relax and listen to the sounds of nature when I am in the company of women and children talking non-stop and slashing water all over me..

In the evening, we were served this amazing, absolutely delicious and true to its fame seafood dinner.

This boiled Sea bream fish is the best fish I have ever eaten in my entire life. It was so well seasoned and tender, I could eat it forever and I indeed used my stomach to it’s absolute capacity that day.

The dinner started with tofu three ways and tempura, then shabu-shabu which was also tender and tasty. In fact, shabu-shabu was kinda the main dish but I left it all to my husband because for me there can be no better combination than tofu and fish.

Our breakfast was delicious too! This is how a typical Japanese breakfast looks like : fried fish, bowl of rice, miso soup and some otsumami  like tofu, nato, poached egg, seaweed pickles, umeboshi etc. I love it but it’s absolutely impossible to cook on a quick hand every morning. Japanese housewives usually have to wake up early in the morning to be able to serve such breakfast to their husbands by the time they wake up.

On the next day, we went to the museum high in the mountains on the other side of the lake that was an open space restoration of what used to be a checkpoint on the road between Nagoya and Edo (Tokyo). Samurai clans used to guard the exits of Edo to prevent mainly women from leaving without a special permission from the shogun. It was very interesting to know that women were kept hostage in Edo so that their husbands would be loyal to the shogun or Emperor and do their work well even at distant locations. Women who fled Edo in their hopes of finding their husbands where prosecuted and turned into slaves at such “Sekisho” – checkpoints.

After the museum, we went to the Hakone Onshi park which was built around a residence where Japanese imperior honors and entertains his foreign guests. The garden is relatively new but very gorgeous.

It was so weird to see many momiji trees already being orange and red. They usually look like that in Autumn but that’s not the first time I see them in spring so I’m thinking these are a special kind.

My husband took this picture of me while I was trying to figure out how to go to the Cedar alley. I look so detached from the beautiful scenery behind me as if I was cut out of some other picture and placed on top of this one.. ^-^

Sakura was still blooming and it smelled incredible.

After the park it was too hot to go anywhere else so we drove back to Tokyo and went to Odaiba in our hopes of catching a glimpse of blooming cornflowers near Palette town. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a parking space anywhere so instead we went to the Marine museum and saw many beautiful models of ancient Japanese ships and other boats from all over the Globe.

The museum building was in a shape of a big Sea-liner. We could go outside on the deck and see a beautiful panorama of Odaiba bay.