Japan 2017 – Hakone

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Hakone and Mt. Fuji

Hakone is the name that refers to the whole area, surrounding Mt. Hakone (a double caldera) – and which is part of the Fuji Hakone Izu National Park.  Hakone is an internationally known holiday resort that includes many renowned spas and Lake Ashino-ko.  There are also many museums in the area, plus other interesting sites in the surrounding area including Hakone Sengokubara Shissei Kaen gardens, and numerous Buddha temples and Shinto shrines.  As I mention in other blogs, not all spas will accept people who have tattoos, nor are all temples/shrines open to the public (some Buddhist sects do not practice goshuin like (浄土真宗) Jodo Shinshu and (日蓮正宗) Nichiren Shoshu.)  We could have easily spent 2 weeks or more exploring this area.

Getting There

You can take the trains from Zushi to Hakone, but there are a number of transfers which take about 3 to 3 1/2 hours one-way.  If you are planning on spending the night along lake Lake Ashi, this is a good method.  The route from Zushi is:  Yokosuka Line west to Ofuna; transfer at Ofuna to the Tokaido Main Line west to Odawara; then transfer from Odawara to the Hakone-Tozan Railway, which is the only mountain railway in Japan.  The Hakone-Tozan Railway is a beautiful trip, but has many switchbacks where the driver and the conductor change shifts and the trains switch to reverse travel direction.  At the end of the Hakone-Tozan railway in Gora there is the Hakone Tozan Cableway, which then leads to Zounsan Station and the Hakone Tozan Ropeway/Tramway, ending at Lake Ashi and a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji.

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Another route is via automobile, which is what we did.  This was mostly done by following the coastal route along Seisho By-Pass (a toll road) to Highway 1 (Tokai-do Highway) to Highway 138 (Hakoneura Highway) and the winding road to Gora then local road 723.  We returned to Ikego/Zushi along the Tomei Expressway, then through Yokohama and south toward Yokosuka.  It cost us about $100 to rent a 6-seat van for the day, plus the gas and tolls, and it was 2 hours or so one way (versus the 3 1/2 by train).

Open-Air Outdoor Museum

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We were unable to see Mt. Fuji on our day trip because it was overcast.  However, we did see a Mt. Hakone vent which was still steaming from the 2015 eruption.  We then visited the Hakone Open-Air Museum which has an entire building that focuses on Piccaso and his life’s work.

Entry, Shop and Restaurant

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Buffet lunch. So many selections.

Like everything else, this was quite a walk, and most areas aren’t easily wheelchair accessible, but there are elevators in most buildings.  There were a number of exhibits that were kid friendly, like the see through climbing geodome, underground and above ground mazes, movement study (in the Piccaso building), and koi feeding station.

The Picasso building was off limits as far as picture taking, except the lobby and movement-study areas.   Most of the exhibits were about Picasso’s early life and finding his “voice”.

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Other Interesting Works

Foot Bath

The foot bath was at about the 1/2-way mark.  The water is heated naturally via the volcanic activity of Mt. Hakone, then pumped into the rock ponds at about 105ºF.  You can purchase a towel for ¥100 (US$1) (the vending machine is shown here on the left).  There are obligatory scrub brushes and shoehorns hung on the walls.  The rocks are smooth and make a great massage medium.

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Gardens and Grounds

Japanese gardens are just awesome with respect to space use, light vs. dark, water vs. earth, and the types of plants.  Here are just some of the more interesting pictures at the museum (there were literally thousands but I ran out of space and camera battery):

Shrines

Kintoki Shrine

This is one of the smaller shrines in the area that does not accept goshuin except on larger holidays.   It enshrines Sakata Kintoki who is a motif of Kintaro, a boy raised in the mountains with animals as friends (similar to the Tarzan legend).  There are tales of him wrestling bears, running with deer, and chopping trees with his ever present ax.  Kintaro was raised in the area and as hikers ascend the mountain, they pass the shrine dedicated to his spirit.  The shrine is easily accessible from the main road with ample parking and a hiking trail to Mt. Ashigara (a low to intermediate hike which takes about 2 hours and gives you a great view of Mt. Fuji on a clear day).  There are public restrooms available at the trail head, but these are “pit” or “hole” toilets that are not necessarily stocked with supplies on a regular basis.  Since we were short on time, we did not do the hike.

Hakone-Sokokura Shrine

This is also a smaller Shinto shrine that does not accept goshuin, and little is known of when it was established.  It is dedicated to three gods …  Amatsuhiko-Hononinigi-no-Mikoto (Hononinigi),  Hikohohodemi-no-Mikoto (Hoori), and Konohanasakuya-hime-no-Mikoto (Sakuya-bime).

Like all shrines, the gods worshiped there have a story.  Sakuya-bime is the cherry blossom-princess and symbol of delicate earthly life. She is the daughter of the mountain god Ohoyamatsumi, and the goddess of Mount Fuji and all volcanoes.  Sakuya-bime met the god Hononinigi at the seashore and they fell in love.  Hononinigi asked Oho-Yama, the father of Sakuya-bime, for her hand in marriage. Oho-Yama proposed his older daughter, Iwanaga-hime (the rock princess), instead, but Hononinigi had his heart set on Sakuya-bime.  Oho-Yama reluctantly agreed, and Hohoninigi and Sakyua-bime married.  Because Hohoninigi refused Iwanaga, human lives are said to be short and fleeting, like the sakura cherry blossoms, instead of enduring and long lasting, like stones.

Sakuya-bime became pregnant in just one night, causing suspicion in Hononinigi.  He wondered if this was actually his child.  Sakuya-bime was enraged at the accusation and entered a doorless hut, which she then set fire to, declaring that the child would not be hurt if it were truly the offspring of Hononinigi.  Inside the hut, Sakuya-bime had three sons, Hoderi, Hosuseri and Hoori.  Hoori would later lose a fishing hook borrowed from one of this brothers, which led him on a quest to recover the hook, and during which he would meet and marry the daughter of the sea god Ryujin.  

The shrine has numerous steep steps and there is very little parking along the Sokokura main road.

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Japan 2017 – The Great Buddha

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Temples and Shrines

One of the more interesting things on many military personnel’s “To Do” list is to visit as many shrines and temples as possible, and get a book stamped by the monks who oversee that temple.  Here is how this works:

Buy a Goshuin-cho (朱印帳), then carry it with you wherever you go (you can get these at the various temples or at shopping areas).  “Go” is an honorific title; “shuin” is the stamp/writing; “cho” means notebook.  When you visit a shrine, give your book to one of the monks.  He will then use black ink to hand write the name of the temple and date using traditional Japanese calligraphy, and then stamp the book with a large red stamp that is unique to that specific temple.  The cost of this is an entry fee of ¥200-¥500 (US$2 to $5) and a donation for the stamping of about ¥50 (US$.50).  You use the same book at each temple (there are 1000’s of them in Japan) until it is full (about 40 or so temples).  When you fill up a book you can get another and continue on.  By the end of your sailor’s duty, they will have a collection of original artwork that traces their journey through Japan.  Everyone’s notebook ends up being different based on where they visit and when.  Aside from the names and dates being distinct, each monk and temple also has a different style.  The best part is that the book unfolds like an accordion … it opens up like a folded scroll so that all the pages can be revealed at one time.

The origins of the temple visits is rooted in pilgrimages to sacred and holy sites.  These may be sacred natural destinations like Mt. Fuji and Mt. Koya; or they may be early single-site holy places like Ise Shrine.  The idea is that since no one temple is more important than the other, all of them must be visited.

Some of the larger temples are so popular that you will be given a ticket and will need to pick up your journal later (sometimes in a few minutes, sometimes in a number of hours.)  The larger temples also have upped the ante by offering a unique and more expensive notebook, or they charge more for a larger stamp and artwork.

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Getting there

This is one of the closer tourist sites near Yokosuka Naval Base and is easily reached via trains.  To get to the Great Buddha, we took the Ikego train (Jimmuji Station on the Keikyu Zushi Line) which was right outside of our sailor’s apartment building to the end point at Shin-Zuchi; then walked to the Zuchi Station of the JR Yokosuka Line (about 1/2 mile).  We took the Yokosuka Line to the Kamahura Station; then transferred to the Enoden Line and got off at the Hase Station.  It was about a 10 minute walk from Hase Station to the Great Buddha.

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Transferring from JR Kamahura Station to Enoden Line

The Great Buddha of Kamahura
(鎌倉大仏, Kamakura Daibutsu)

The Great Buddha is a bronze statue that was cast in 1252 and originally located inside a large temple hall. However, the temple buildings were destroyed multiple times by typhoons and a tidal wave in the 14th and 15th centuries. So, since 1495, the Buddha has been standing in the open air.  Entry fee was ¥200 per person; the interior tour was ¥20; and a book stamp was ¥50.

All temples have a main “gate” with minor gates at the sides and back.  The gates are guarded by Komainu (or “lion-dogs” in English).   These statues ward off evil spirits, and are almost identical except one has an open mouth (pronounced “a”) and one a closed mouth (pronounced “um”) which represent the first and last letters of the Sanskrit alphabet and mean the beginning and the end of all things.

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On entering the gates there are a few things you should know:

  • Behave calmly and respectfully. Traditionally, you are not supposed to visit a shrine if you are sick, have an open wound or are mourning because these are considered causes of impurity.
  • At the purification fountain near the shrine’s entrance, take one of the ladles provided, fill it with fresh water and rinse both hands. Then transfer some water into your cupped hand, rinse your mouth and spit the water beside the fountain. You are not supposed to transfer the water directly from the ladle into your mouth or swallow the water. You will notice that quite a few visitors skip the mouth rinsing part or the purification ritual altogether.
     

  • At the offering hall, throw a coin into the offering box, bow deeply twice, clap your hands twice, bow deeply once more and pray for a few seconds. If there is some type of gong, use it before praying in order to get the kami’s attention.
  • At some temples, visitors burn incense (osenko) in large incense burners. Purchase a bundle, light them, let them burn for a few seconds and then extinguish the flame by waving your hand rather than by blowing it out. Finally, put the incense into the incense burner and fan some smoke towards yourself as the smoke is believed to have healing power.
  • When entering temple buildings, you may be required to take off your shoes. Leave your shoes on the shelves at the entrance or take them with you in plastic bags provided at some temples. Wear nice socks.  Bare feet (wearing sandals without socks) is considered rude in Japanese culture.

Most shrines and temples have stone or wood lanterns on the grounds.  They represent important symbolic offerings to the Buddha and to Japan’s native Shintoism.  They also act as a way to light various main paths.

 

Inside the Great Buddha

You can go inside the Great Buddha to see how it was constructed.  Since the stairs are very steep and narrow, you may have to wait for people to come up to down.  There is a fee (of course) to go inside.

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Some Shrines also have market booths inside the gates which sell goods that are made at the Shrine by the monks, or are offered as a donation from groups who support the upkeep of the area.  These items include incense, Goshuin stamp books, umbrellas!, Dharma dolls and omamori (お守り) (protection amulets).  The Tokyo Weekender blog has more about these at Tokyo Weekender Omamori Guide

Outside the Shrine or Temple

After we toured the grounds, we walked back down the main road.  There were many “tourist trap” shops selling souvenirs (and umbrellas!), and quite a few places to eat.  We found a very nice local restaurant.  They spoke very little English so we ordered via pictures.  The food, service, and drinks were awesome.

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Can’t read Japanese?  An English/picture version of the menu was available.

 

Japan 2017 – Intro

Background

My youngest daughter, her husband (my son-in-law) and their daughter (my grand-daughter) are stationed in Naval Base Yokosuka, Japan (since November 2015).  We decided we would visit them at least once during her 3 year duty station stint.  Since Japan is so large and we only had 11 days to enjoy the country’s hospitality, we decided that we would focus our tourist travels around the Yokosuka, Yokohama, Tokyo, and Urayasu (Disneyland) areas (the southeast side of the main island).  Although I worked for Mitsubishi Electric America in the early 1980’s and knew some Japanese traditions and culture, this was our first trip outside of the United States, and we found it to be fascinating in comparison to what we’ve been told and have read.

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I’ll try to cover as much of the culture, transportation, sites, food, and some of the military aspects via pictures and comments, plus a comparison of Disneyland Park and California Disney (Anaheim) to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea.  During this journal of our journey, I’ll also post up about a zillion pictures of my cute kids and grand kid.

First Things First – Planning

Number 1:  Get your passport.  You will need to carry this with you 24/7/365 when you are in Japan.  It is your I.D. to enter EVERYTHING … immigration and customs, hotels, military bases, and many tourist sites.   Subsection 1.1 … if at all possible, put in for Global and TSA precheck so you won’t have to deal with the lines.  However, Global is currently running 6 months or so behind schedule on interviews and this may not be doable.  Example:  We applied for it in March and the earliest interview we could get is/was August 2.  Since our trip was mid-May, we were SOL in that respect and had to stand in the cattle herd line.

Number 2:  Get all immunizations up-to-date.  You will not need any special ones if you are only there for less than a month or not in areas that have issues like rabies or Japanese encephalitis or amoebic dysentery or malaria, but you will need to be up to date on the basics like MMR, HIB, DPT, flu, CHxP/Shingles, or any others your doctor recommends for your age (like pneumonia).  If you are anti-vax, that may be an issue.  Start the immunization check at least 6 months before traveling since some (like HIB) are a series and you must have at least 1 or 2 in the series before traveling.

Number 3:  If you are staying on a military base or military housing, get your sailor ALL of your information (passport # and Date of Issue and Expiration, copy of birth certificate, social security #, immunization record copy, driver’s license, etc.) so he/she can put in for a gate pass for you during the period of time you will be entering the base.  He/she will need this information at least 3 weeks or more before traveling so the paperwork can be approved.  You will need to carry the gate pass with you (along with the passport) 24/7/365.

Second Things First – Travel

Number 1:  Pick an airport.  Narita is the largest airport in the area, but it is also the furthest away from Yokosuka.  Haneda is about an hour closer and near a direct Express train line to Zushi (near Ikego Housing).  Haneda’s immigration and custom’s process flowed well and they complete the check in to gate waiting process in less than 2 hours.  If your sailor is in Iwakuni or Okinawa or Sasebo or Misawa or a base other than Yokosuka or Atsugi, you will probably have to transfer to a connecting flight since those are further north or south.

Number 2:  Make yourself aware of the train system.  There is one major train line in Japan – JR East.  However, there are numerous minor lines that run parallel and criss-cross to JR; plus, just to make things interesting, there are hundreds of smaller locally owned lines and subway systems and not all of them have English signs.  Also, some stations can connect several of these various lines at a time on numerous levels – from 3 above ground to 5 below.  Not only that, but there are different types of trains including:  Bullet (no stops for hundreds of miles); Express (limited stops which skip about 5 stations at a time); Local Express (limited stops skipping about 3 stations at a time); and Local (which stop at all stations along the line).  You can purchase a PASEMO card that will work on all trains, subways and taxi services for about US$5, then you can put on as much as you wish on the card indefinitely or as needed.  Our typical daily train fare was about ¥900 (US$9) so we set aside US$100 for the 10 days we were there and added to the card at each station.  At the end of the trip, we traded in our cards and got a refund on the remaining credits. There are definitely times of the day you will want to avoid (especially the last train) … here’s why … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7kor5nHtZQ  I’ll cover specific trains and issues more in my various blog posts but here is the Wikipedia explanation:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_transport_in_Japan

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(Map of JR East lines)

Number 3:  Order ¥ from your bank and be aware of the exchange rate.  It took our bank 7 days to mail us yen.  The conversion is easy on the most part … simply divide ¥ by 100 to get the US$ equivalent.  Example:  1000¥ = US$10.00   Anything below US$10 is in coin … 500¥ = US$5; 100¥ = US$1; 50¥ = US$.50, etc.

Last Things Last – Tourist Choices

Number 1:  You will not be able to do everything.  Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea are at least a day each and even at that you will not have enough time to see everything there.  The various shrines and temples will easily take a day or more … not only to get there but to walk around the area.  Make an itinerary with a plan A and B … then stick to it as much as possible.  Also, check the local holiday schedules and do as many as you can (i.e. Fertility Festival, Cherry Blossom Festival, etc.)

Number 2:  Many popular sites will require a reservation.  An example is the Kirin Brewery in Yokohama.  Another example, which may seem a tad racist but actually is quite bluntly a way to allow native Japanese the ability to experience their own country, is that you as an American (or non-native) will not be allowed to make reservations.  There are about 127 million people in Japan with 13 million plus in the Tokyo area (a population density of 10,000 to 15,000 per sq. mile in some cases).  My suggestion?  Find a small, local popular place to eat and order via photographs or “fake food” plates in the front window.  You will get more out of the culture by doing so in my opinion.  Then again, many small local shrines and restaurants are not open between 3 and 6 p.m., nor during the week, and only on weekends or special days.  Do your homework!

Number 3:  Leave the American “rude”tude at home.  The people of Japan are friendly, accommodating and on the most part curious about American culture.  What we consider “rude” (crowding of personal space) is common place for them.  What they consider “rude” (not moving to the left side, saying please/thank you, and picking up after not only yourself but others) may seem strange to us but is actually just good manners.

More tomorrow about our specific experiences.

Sea Dogs on Liberty

There’s this little (ok … big.  ok … REALLY big) competition between the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, but there is this understanding about liberty, leave and not meeting up with the “wrong” person (male or female) while doing what you do away from the ship.  That said, the Coast Guard posted up pictures of their sea dogs and I just couldn’t resist making this meme …
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