Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A traditional Ryokan and Fuji-san

We spent the last day of our trip to Hakone in a traditional Ryokan (Japanese guesthouse), the Senkyoro (http://www.senkyoro.com/). A beautiful Ryokan with an even more beautiful garden. And exceptional traditional Japanese (vegetarian!) food. Here are some pics of our luxurious meal served in our room by our friendly Okami-san (hostess or landlady):

Next day we had to leave for Tokyo where we would spend one more night before our final call back home. On our ride back to Tokyo the kami-sama had mercy and made us a good-bye present: Fuji-san allowed us a glimpse of his mightiness:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ôwakudani, the Great Boiling Valley

Ôwakudani 大涌谷 is a volcanic valley not far from Hakone with hot springs and sulphur vents. You can use the ropeway to go there or drive and walk for a km to the visitor centre.

Wild Lillies on the way up to the hot springs:

Ôwakudani is most famous for its Kuro-Tamago (黒玉子) or black eggs. The sulphur in the hot water turns the egg shells black while cooking and they are very popular with the visitors, not the least because it is said that eating one egg adds seven years to your life. I wouldn't recommend more than one a day, with all the cholesterine they would probably shorten your life more than seven years. Anyway, here is one of the sulphuric springs:

A brave young man from the egg-shop (http://www.owakudani.com/modules/mw_egg/) walks into the acidic water to get out the baskets with eggs boiling in the water:

 Putting them away for selling:

You can buy 5 eggs for a mere 500 Yen, which we of course did:

People trying to extend their life span:

I forgot to take a photo of the eggs themselves, but here is one from a different blog:


A look from above looks not very inviting, but it is really worth a visit :)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hakone Hanabi

In Hakone we stayed at the Green Plaza Hotel (http://www.hgp.co.jp/language/english/sp/index.html) in an 'East meets West' room, in other words two slept in a western bed und two had the luxury of sleeping on a futon. The Green Plaza may look a bit dull

but it is far from it. It has a nice onsen section, a superb restaurant, friendly staff, all you could possibly ask for.

Adjoining to our room we had a small private onsen! Wonderful, just relaxing in the hot mineral-rich water and watching the little garden in front of you...

When we arrived they told us that there will be a firework at the lake which we could watch from a cruise ship. Hey we love fireworks and although we just saw a most beautiful hanabi in Yokohama, off we went to see the local fireworks.

beautiful, isn't it? While watching from our ship I thought that a small rowing boat had caught fire, but now looking at the photos I noticed that it is actually the figure of a standing man holding an oar in a boat that was lit up:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hakone and Lake Ashi

Leaving Tokyo we headed for Hakone. The first obstacle was renting a car, since we didn't want all the hassle with dragging our luggage across trains and buses. None of us had an international driver's license. So we had to go to an official translator first and then, with this document in hand, we could go to the car rental. But at last we were sitting in the car and driving off to Hakone, a hot spring town not far from Mount Fuji.

3000 years ago there was a volcano, called Mount Hakone, where nowadays a beautiful lake (芦ノ湖, Ashino-ko) is situated. After its eruption a caldera lake developed. Today it is a main attraction in Hakone with tourist boats criss-crossing lake Ashi.
I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this scenic tour, so we left C in the Onsen hotel since was not feeling too well, and went off for a tour in a faux  replica of a  man-of-war pirate ship:

Pirate ship

Figure head

Enjoy some views from the tour:

Hakone rope-way heading into the fog

The famous gate from Hakone Jinja (箱根神社)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

National Museum of Nature and Science

The National Museum was ... huge! You would need weeks to explore everything in it. I thought it great that they had a lot of Prehistory in it, too.
Starting with methods like Dendrochronology:

over many replica artefacts (including the Lionman from Hohlenstein-Stadel!) to some real goodies like these figurines from Malta, Siberia:

And this is how Japanese people imagine the "barbaric" and "primitive" Neanderthal man:

Looks like my neighbour in the bus ;)

But of course there was also 'real' science, like the Neutrino trap, the Super-Kamiokande-Detektor.

It is basically a huge water tank with many photo-multipliers (the bubbles you can see there). Since neutrinos do not have an electric charge like an electron they are difficult to detect. When they bump into matter, however, they create a charged particle which can be observed. The 50,000 tons of water is a bigger target and thus increases the number of collisions between neutrinos and nucleons or electrons.

One of the purposes of the Super-Kamiokande experiment is to reveal the neutrino properties through the observation of solar neutrinos, atmospheric neutrinos and man-made neutrinos.  In 2001 for example, solar neutrino oscillations were discovered by the observation of solar neutrinos. This is to better understand how matter was created in the early universe. Or, through the observation of solar neutrinos, we can predict the activities inside of the sun.
Fascinating, is it not?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tokyo Tower and the Zoujou-ji Temple

There wasn’t much time left for visiting Tokyo since we were due to leave Wednesday. So apart from eating (a lot!) we went to Tokyo Tower. I have never seen it, but it appeared in some lectures of my Japanese text books, so I thought it would be worthwhile to go there, too. I was also intrigued how they would put an aquarium inside a tower built after the Eiffel tower in Paris.

Crepe display in front of Tokyo Tower (no this is not a vending machine, just a menu)
 Tokyo Tower is the highest building in Tokyo. And, with standing 333 m tall, even a couple of meters taller than the Eiffel Tower itself. However, to get to the second observatory they charged roughly 15 Euros – each. Since we didn’t have a lot of time to spend it wasn’t really worth going up on the tower and I couldn’t find the tiniest scrap of the aquarium :( .

Tokyo Tower
 Well, whatever, at least we saw it and we managed to go to the Zoujo-ji Temple (増上寺). We had a look at the famous Sangedatsu Gate (三解脱門). It is said that whence you walk through the gate you can free yourself from three passions: greed (貪),hatred (瞋), and foolishness (癡). I’m not really greedy and I’am not really hateful, but about the foolishness, well we’ll see…

Sangedatsu Gate at the Zoujo-ji
 The most intriguing thing was the huge line-up of jizou statues. Jizou is a well-loved divinity in Japan. You can quite often see a statue with the typical red bib around its neck. He is the guardian of the children, but even more so of the still-born, aborted or miscarried ones.

Jizou statues with bibs, toys and windmills
 Here is a nice haiku from Issa (小林一茶, 1763 – 1828)

The young sparrows

return into Jizou's sleeve

for sanctuary.