In the middle of the madness that became our lives after we decided to move to Copenhagen (caring for a 4 month old, adjusting to being a mom, packing up a house of 3 in just 3 weeks to move across the world, just to name a few major events), we wanted to take one final trip to enjoy the things that make Japan so special.
June is hydrangea season (あじさい) in Japan. I've mentioned it before, but the Japanese are so organized that they go even as far as to plant flowers so there will always be something in season to celebrate (ume, sakura, azaleas, hydrangeas, to name a few). Hakone, Tokyo's playground and area surrounding Mt. Fuji, is famous for their hydrangeas so we went in search of the big blooms.
And of course, we had to take Woody on his first shinkansen ride. Technically, this wasn't the shinkansen. It's called the ロマンセカ or Romance Car and it actually moves pretty slowly, but it's a direct train from Shinjuku to Hakone.
Power saving measures were obvious everywhere we went. June begins the rainy season and with that comes high temperatures and insane humidity. With the crippled Fukushima plants, the Japanese are concerned with reducing energy usage to prevent rolling blackouts. Air conditioners and escalators were turned off, and salarymen were encouraged to swap out their black suits for Cool Biz attire (think Japan meets Hawaii meets Casual Friday).
Aside from it's natural beauty, the main attraction in Hakone is the many forms of transportation you can take to get to Lake Ashi and back again. After your arrival on the Romance Car, you then transfer to a narrow gauge railway, a funicular, a cable car that stretches high above the mountains and sulfur spewing holes of the volcanic landscape, and finally, these horrifically gaudy pirate ships ferry you across the lake. Yes, it is all very campy. But, the views are spectacular, even on a hazy day like we encountered.
Along the way, you can stop to visit a bajillion "special" sites which are mostly non-events, but this one is worth the visit. The Hakone Open Air Museum is an outdoor sculpture museum in a park like setting. The coolest part is this giant hammock play structure for kids.
We spent a couple hours just lounging, taking pictures and wishing Woody were big enough to run around.
The next coolest part is the onsen foot bath with yuzu fruit floating in it. So nice on a rainy day.
Somehow we lucked out and got a top floor tatami room in our ryokan that night. We lounged in our yukata and ate 10 course meals in our room brought to us by sweet women in kimono. It was pretty amazing.
As for hydrangeas, we found a few, but there were more in Tokyo at that point in time. I think we were 2 weeks too early.
Sayonara, Japan. We miss you already.