When I met my last host family, they asked me what I had already seen in Tokyo. I listed every major tourist attraction, and they all looked at each other uneasily. They had not realized they would be receiving someone who had already spent two weeks in Tokyo and were worried about how they would make my time feel special. Our one full free day was that Saturday, so they asked me what I wanted to see. I told them that since I had already seen the concrete parts of Tokyo, I would like to see something more natural that Japan has to offer. After a few days of brainstorming and deliberation, they invited me on an overnight trip to Hakone.
After school that Friday, my host mother, sister, and I hopped on a train with our Hakone free passes. We went straight to the hotel and shared many laughs over a dinner with strange sushi and odd gelatinous shapes. Before an early bedtime, my host mother and I spent twenty minutes acting out showering because we had difficulty communicating the rules of the hotel’s onsen.
The next morning, we woke up early and spent some time in the hot baths. It is really strange to witness people who seem so conservative in daily life being so comfortable being naked in front of strangers. The first time I witnessed this kind of nudity was in the pre-pool showers in Reykjavik. Women of all ages and body types stripped down and showered in front of their peers with no apparent discomfort. Perhaps this is yet another deficiency in “American culture,” but it would be nice for nudity in a private setting to not seem so out of place to me.
After we had breakfast (their breakfast potatoes were french fries), we headed to a place I only just found out is called Owakudani. Before five minutes ago, I had referred to it as “that place with the eggs.” It is a sulphur mine/volcano thing and it smells like eggs. They also sell black eggs (only the shell is black), and there are fifty different animated characters paired with the black eggs throughout the scenic area. The only way to get to this particular tourist destination is by cable car (another thing I had to look up the name of), so we enjoyed a scenic overlook of the valley in both directions.
I really had no idea what anything was called, so I apologize for my vagueness. We then ventured to a restaurant in which I was dissed by the waitstaff. After I ordered soba noodles with a side of edamame, the waitress told my hosts that foreigners always order edamame, but what she doesn’t realize is that it was the only non-meat source of protein on the menu.
This final area in which we spent time was surrounding a large lake. After finding out that I’m a rower, they were insistent upon taking me for a boat ride. Little did I know that they meant a ride in a small row boat of which I was the sole driver. Aside from being able to turn and dock the boat like a champion, I had no more qualifications than they did to row that thing. We petted and took snapchats of the dock cat, then headed to the train station to get back to Tokyo. There were torrential downpours in the city, so we were unable to use our prepaid tickets to get home. However, this gave me the opportunity to take my first Shinkansen which brought us back to Shinjuku speedily.
I very much appreciated the thoughtfulness of my hosts to take me to such a unique and natural place. It also provided a wonderful bonding platform for the three of us, and we were dancing and laughing about everything by the end. Hakone gave me a taste of what natural beauties lie outside of Tokyo, and I can’t wait to return to experience some more.