What I Did On My Holidays

Chapter 4

Kisarazu to Hakone

Day 2

Ok, you'll have noticed that suddenly we've jumped from flying over the Pacific to the next day in a small suburb near the gigopolis known as Tokyo. Hey, if you want a consistent plot line, go read a Howard Bell*. This story jumps around a bit. That's life, or at least, that's my life sometimes.

In truth, I'm saving you from the tedium of  half an hour in a queue for some Immigration guy to tell me that I got my date of birth wrong by twenty-eight years (Exactly twenty-eight years, what are the odds of that? Answer: about 1.0 when you've been sleeping way too little.) and the nail biting tension of sitting on a train hoping that a watch can tell me at which station to get off. So to cut a long story short, I made it to Kisarazu for day two and no-one received a small bruise on their arm.

Getting from Kisarazu to Kawasaki on the other side of the bay is easy. You just get on the bus that goes directly there. There is a bridge halfway across the bay to an island, then a tunnel the rest of the way. Both impressive pieces of engineering with no cracks or leaks in the tunnel. (Eat your heart out Transurban. (Note: Melbourne based joke))

Shame the mist blocked the view from the bridge, because apparently it is quite good when it's something other than water fading to white stuff. One feature that we did get to see was fields of sticks in the shallow water. Yep. Rectangular arrays of thousands of sticks poking half a metre out of the water. My theory was that this was to discourage water-skiing (clearly the skateboarders of Tokyo bay). This hypothesis was proved correct on the train to Odawara later in the day. We crossed a small inlet that was devoid of sticks and, yea verily, there was some-one water-skiing.

Another odd thing in Japan is the trees in the cities. They're all tied down! For smaller trees, it's three bamboo stakes forming a tripod around the trunk. For larger trees, it's a small piece of treated pine playground equipment bolted together around the trunk, even if the tree had grown so much that it's beginning to wrap around the framework. Were these people spooked by "Day of the Triffids" or what?

The bus trip from Odawara to Hakone is fun. Hakone is a mountainous bit  of Japan. After travelling from Kisarazu to Kawasaki to Odawara, where the highest elevation was achieved crossing a bridge, the road to Hakone was steep, narrow and twisting. Sort of like Mount Dandenong Tourist Road but narrower and twistier, maybe as wide as a two car carport and only 50-100m between the sharp bends. The road edge was marked by a white line, a gutter and then a power pole, the wall of a building or the remainder of the hill the road was cut into. There was no shoulder or any space wasted for room to maneuver. And all the time, this road steadily gained altitude.

Of course there aren't many roads in an area like this where it is so hard to put a road in, so this one road had a steady stream of traffic; cars, trucks and buses. The latter of course also stop at regular intervals.

The thing about buses is that they are long and wide. The thing about thin, twisty roads is that they are thin and twist a lot. Well, the things about thin, twisty roads is that they are thin and twist a lot. And they don't fit buses well. Sitting up the front of the bus gave the distinct impression that one was heading straight for a cramped encounter with a wall of rock (well it would be cramped once the rear of the bus joins one up the front) and suddenly the world leaps sideways and the future includes road and not people pancakes.

We survived intact, just like the hundreds of other users of this service every day. The buses run every fifteen minutes and have a really neat ticketing system. When you get on, you get a little ticket with the current stop number stamped on it. A display above the front window has the price from each earlier stop displayed. This updates automatically as the trip progresses. When you get off, you just put the ticket and the correct coins and notes into a magic machine next to the driver. This magic machine also sorts the coins and provides a money exchange service where you feed it a note or a large denomination coins and get a handful of coins back. This system is a quick way for people to pay, but does assume a certain level of honesty from the patrons since the driver has no chance to check a ticket and handful of coins tossed as you leave the bus.

The Fuji Hakone Guest House is a nice joint. The people there speak some English but the rest of the place is very much a traditional Japanese inn or ryokan. The beds are futons on a tatami floor, there are dividing walls made of wooden frames with paper (although no ninjas were hurled through them during fight scenes) and the door frames needed the yellow and black "MAX HEADROOM 1.75m" signs (or in Australia, these would be "MAX CLEARANCE" - there's a title for a TV series that wouldn't have worked).

Of course, these signs were only needed at the beginning of our stay. After Linda had walked by a couple of times, you just needed to aim for the Linda's-head-shaped hole in the door frame. I was lying in bed the next morning, Linda got up and was heading down the corridor. Twenty seconds later I heard from the bed the thud and the "Ow" and I thought "That's gotta hurt".

So the thing about Japan is that the tap water tastes more like a swimming pool than drinking water should. So we resorted to buying water. Ten litres in three days between two people. Pretty serious drinking problem that. Japanese supermarkets are much like Australian ones, right down to the musak. So here we were, looking at the Japanese "bread" approximation with more sugar than Fruit Loops, and there's this vaguely familiar noise. I listen. I hear. I cringe. Billy Joel's "You might be right", but re-hashed as musak and with the lyrics removed (which makes sense for the Japanese) and replaced with something very artificial and electric (which doesn't make sense for anyone). It sounded like a bad MIDI file. Not quite in the league of Pink Floyd's "Wash you were hear", but pretty bad.

Dinner was at Irorichaya (aka The Waterwheel), a restaurant near the guest house. A really realistic Japanese restaurant. Japan is full of Japanese restaurants! Full on sitting on the floor with a low table type dining. A fire set in the floor with cooking pots hanging around and a menu full of very Japanese sounding meals. We both chose beef dishes as a valiant attempt to get a safe meal with foodstuffs that we recognized as food. Despite this, we ended up with a collection of little side dishes of completely unknown origins.

Miso soup I can handle, the dish with a little burner under it full of raw beef, bean shoots and broth was what I expected, and rice is rice, even if it has a sprinkling of purple stuff on it. But the side dishes... some pickled green stuff, some pickled greeny-brown stuff, and the seafood. A few slices of raw fish I can cope with, I'm happy to ignore the whole shrimpy things, but bits of tentacles with suckers are purely off my list of "food". So I tried the suckers and decided to let them stay off my list of "food". The raw fish tasted like raw fish, so I cooked it with the beef over my little burner. The Japanese will be really upset when they find out just how tasty cooked fish can be!

* see "Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul" - D. Adams. (back)


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