Saturday, 21 January 2012

Louise & Rob: Day Nine

We wake up to cakes – which is the best type of waking up we can imagine! We fall into a tangley cuddle and end up setting off somewhat later than if we had gone with a tour, but since Expedia messed up our booking – we’re going solo!  We’re actually quite glad to be able to go at our own pace (particularly when we see tour groups milling around with silly hats and flags).

We get a bit confused when trying to book shinkansen tickets. When we ask the time of the train, the ticket clerk keeps showing us numbers on a calculator and it takes us a while to work out that she’s showing us the time, rather than massively expensive prices! We’re thrilled to learn the bullet train we’re catching is called the kodama – which is a type of forest spirit, which we’re familiar with thanks to Studio Ghibli.

The bullet train seems mostly normal, but slightly more fast and comfortable. And because you have to book tickets we don’t end up face-to-armpit like usual. The train is much quieter than inner city ones, but we’re seated across the aisle from a salaryman with an ekiben – and Rob keeps trying to peep to see what’s in there!

We arrive at Odawara station, and get a bit confused about where we’re supposed to go, but eventually get pointed in the direction of a tiny little train. Surely it can’t be that! We climb onboard and get nestled between a couple of tiny little old women, who carry on a conversation over us. The train reminded us of a toy train, with a weirdly-shaped track that was a series of hairpin bends –so it seemed we kept going one way, stopping and then going the complete other way – it seemed like we weren’t making any progress at all, until we noticed how high we were getting!

We find ourselves on yet another mode of transport – a big steep funicular that takes us up a big steep hill. It’s a bit busy to begin with, but lots of people get off half way up to go to a museum, with a garden full of strange statues – from what we can see! Louise is starting to get a bit travelworn, queasy and grumpy, but Rob cheers her up by reminded her she’ll soon get to see Fuji-san! If we can find him! 

Guess what’s next? Another mode of transport – yay! And this one isn’t for the faint-hearted. Louise hops happily into the glass cable car, while Rob edges in nervously – as we both realise just how high up we’re going. We get some beautiful views of sweeping green valleys and mountains, and eagle-eyed Rob spots the kanji symbol for big in amongst a forest. We spot lots of hot steam and sulphur spilling from the ground and it reminds us of iron town in Princess Mononoke – quite suitable about riding the Kodama! 


We stop halfway up the ropeway at Ōwakudani, which means Great Boiling Valley – and the name suits the place! We stop for some obligatory tourist snaps, and a meal. Louise gets some kind of noodle soup and manages to somehow get a noodle on her face –earning her the nickname of Noodle Nose. Rob eats katsu, and we both try the local specialty black eggs which are said to add seven years onto the life of anyone who eats them. Yum! 

Rob buys Louise a fox necklace from a local craftsman, and then we both search the skyline for the unmissable Mount Fuji – er, except we miss it. We can’t find it anywhere. Rob eventually asks a restaurant worker – who lifts a blind and points to the indeed unmissable Mount Fuji. It’s bloody massive. 

We clamber back into the cable car – after a short wait, during which we’re approached by a troupe of Japanese schoolchildren, who want to try their English skills on us. We eventually end up trapped in a glass car with some gobby Americans, who really annoy Louise by saying “Why can’t they use dollars here like the rest of the world? (It’s worth noting that at this time the exchange rate was 1 Japanese yen to 1 American cent. Braintingling eh!) 

We depart the cable car at Tōgendai, and sit a while near the peaceful waters of Lake Ashi – Rob is feeling a bit delicate – so Louise buys him a Hakone Ropeway badge, and hugs him until he feels better. We marvel at the pirate-shaped boats cruising the lake, but spurn them for a calming walk – where we bump into a pirate friend! 

We take our guidebook’s advice and take the coach home, but as it’s starting to get dark, and we’ve been on the coach for about an hour and a half Louise starts to panic, so we end up getting off the coach, and trying to find another way back to Shinjuku. This turns out to be a wise move in the end because, after some stressing and fussing and language issues at quiet ticket offices, we end up aboard the Romance Car – a wonderful, old-fashioned train with delicious buffet service and seats that swivel round through 90 degrees (thus removing the person behind’s legs if you don’t check first). It is indeed romantic, and we found ourselves wishing – for very much the first time that day – that our destination was actually further away than it was. There was time for Louise to enjoy a yuzu-flavoured sake drink, and Rob a large beer, from the well-stocked and friendly buffet lady, and for us to discuss the places we hoped to visit together in future – our adventure is certainly making us braver!

Alas, our journey did soon draw to a close, and we headed back to our hotel – albeit briefly, and before too long we were strangely reinvigorated and heading to Shibuya for a night on the town. We see the famous Shibuya Crossing, teeming with people, and pass many queues and excitable groups before deciding on a pizza restaurant for our evening meal. Here, Rob orders a spicy chorizo pizza and neither ends up with cheese on his face nor with the subsequent moniker “Cheesecicle-Face” (some of this last sentence may be inaccurate). 

Following our meal, we hit the arcades. Again. Seriously. This is becoming something of an obsession. But so long as we’re winning, what’s the problem? Laden with further armfuls of arcadian spoils, we stroll back through the seedier parts of Kabukicho (itself a pretty seedy part), before calling it a night. Night!


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