I can’t leave Japan tomorrow without pulling together some of the visual highlights of the past five weeks. There is so much more to see and experience here, I hope we can return sometime soon.
It’s our last full day in Tokyo. The pace is definitely slowing and the focus shifting to thoughts of our next destination. This morning, we rode the subway to Shinjuku, a major commercial and government centre of Tokyo, and also home to the 2020 Summer Olympics stadium (under construction).
Just over a week since the artist died, we visited Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture, one of several located in both Asia and the USA.
Then for a wider view of Tokyo, it was up the 45 floors to the South Observatory of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government offices.
Tokyo will be one amazing Olympic venue to showcase the new and old Japan.
For the past month, we have been accompanied on this trip by a pocket-wifi device. We posted it back to the supplier last night and are now reliant on paper maps, city signs and helpful subway staff to help us navigate Tokyo in our last couple of days here.
First stop today was Hama-rikyu Gardens, once the site of a shogunal palace.
Next was Tsukiji Market where hours after the early morning tuna auctions we lined up for a sushi feast before hearing to the Outer Market to check out the action.
Over to Akihibara to find ourselves way outside the age profile in Electric City on a Saturday afternoon.
For a change of pace, the JR rail line took us to Nippori to wander around Yanaka Ginza, one of the old shitamachi districts of Tokyo where pre-World War Two streetscapes still exist, having been left unscathed by bombs. The city’s lower classes lived in this district of alleyways, flowerpots and stray cats, although it’s fair to say that gentrification has taken place in recent years.
So, this morning I walked past the cultural icon that is Japan’s Kibuki Theatre in search of other delights housed in the 12 floor stationery lover’s magnet that is G-Itoya.
Two hours of happy browsing ensued before I emerged with an assortment of paper and pens, all of which is now on its way to Australia courtesy of Japan Post.
Under the Wave off Kanagawa (or The Great Wave) is one of the most popular images ever to emerge from Japan.
This woodblock print by the prolific artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) was just one in the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.
The Sumida Hokusai Museum opened in late 2016. The current exhibition, Hokusai’s Water Wonderland, focuses on his waves and waterfalls, and how the imported pigment, Prussian Blue, featured greatly in the series.
Hokusai worked in many forms during his long life and was also responsible for small manga-like how-to-draw manuals, some of which are available free of copyright on Open Culture.
As you can see, they are still very useful to those learning drawing, even if you don’t read Japanese.
Hokusai and other “artists of the floating world” (ukiyo-e) greatly influenced the French impressionists and Japonisme became quite the fashion in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
The museum is well worth a visit as much for the building itself, designed by the architect Kazuyo Sejima.
By any measure, Tokyo is up there as one of the most populated cities in the world. There is no better proof of that than Shibuya Crossing in the early evening.
A few vantage points from above are available to capture the spectacle, one of which for us required the purchase of an Uzu Iced Green Tea from a particularly ubiquitous American coffee company.
Other evidence of this big city’s population is travelling on the subway at around 8.30 pm when commuters are heading home from work and after-work activities. As a train arrived at our transfer station, the faces of commuters were all but pressed against the door windows. The etiquette of boarding a train is well executed as potential passengers stand to each side of the door to release and ultimately replace those who have been nestled together in each carriage.
The Izu Peninsula came about by the collision of two tectonic plates. It is an area of great beauty with volcanic activity, both old and relatively recent, evident on the coastline. The peninsula is prone to earthquake swarms and tsunami activity, neither of which we wish to experience.
It’s raining today and we’re having a low key afternoon after visiting the Jogasaki coastline. We watched the sea swell from the Kadowaki Suspension Bridge.
Two Australians walk into a bar after 8.00 pm on a Tuesday. Everything else within proximity of their hotel seems to be closed, but this one has a flashing OPEN sign and seems to indicate it’s a dining and drinking establishment.
The four customers at the bar, enjoying cigarettes and their own bottles of sake which the bar retains for them, turn their heads simultaneously. This is not a usual occurrence in this side street of Izukogen.
Still, the barman calls his wife who emerges from the kitchen with the Japanese word for welcome. The two are seated at one of the two tables. It is explained to them by one of the bar patrons that this is mainly a bar, and only a set meal is served. “That’s okay”, the visitors say as they order one set each and a beer for the non-driver.
It is busy in the kitchen if the emergent sounds are anything to go by. The drinks arrive and soon, an egg salad appears. The food keeps coming. Yakitori next, followed by more beef than these two have seen for the past 4 weeks in Japan. Fried rice accompanies the feast.
In between courses, the host runs through some cities in Australia she knows. When they zero in on Brisbane, she mentions jacaranda trees and the time of year they flower.
Someone is diving into her Japanese notes to keep the conversation flowing. A dessert of watermelon and orange pieces finishes the meal, followed by a “presento” of non-alcoholic beer for the driver.
The couple is us, and we were made to feel most welcome. This was no set meal that our host prepared. This was Japanese hospitality. We left with bows and hugs and a photograph of another memorable night in this country.
Dining Bar, Mitsuko. Izukogen, Japan.
This is what last night’s dinner looked like. The luxury hotel we stayed in was booked months ago at a very economical price. The cost for two to dine in their restaurant was more than we paid for the room. The Gyoza Center is well patronised in the area by travellers keen to get some good gyoza from a family-run take-away business. A drop-in to a convenience store on the way home and we were set to smuggle dessert and a bottle of wine to our room.
The same went for breakfast this morning. We started the day in the cafe of the Hakone Open Air Museum, thus rendering us fit to walk around the extensive and impressive gardens and halls of this sculpture park.
The Picasso Pavilion contains some of the artist’s less familiar works. It is the first time I have ever seen any of his gemmail pieces where layers of coloured glass are overlaid with a clear glue to produce a mottled stained glass effect.
One of the most impressive works in the Museum is Symphonic Structure. A staircase allows you to climb up the inside to get a closer view of the sculptured glass work.
There are many notable names represented in the collection, including Alexander Calder and Henry Moore. Here’s a small selection not by Calder or Moore.
A journey down the east coast of the Izu Peninsula afforded big sea views and a change from the winding roads around Mt Hakone. We stopped off in Ito, right near the railway station in search of lunch.
Some of our best meal experiences have been random. If the price is right and the plastic models or menus look promising, we’re in.
In the company of two others seated with us at the counter, we watched while the chef prepared and assembled nine sushi plates from scratch for the customers who had already ordered. His parents were preparing other dishes, serving up miso and waiting on customers.
After our meals arrived, another customer entered and sat beside us. Once her glass was filled with sake, she started to chat, our broken Japanese and English helping to make a connection. The next thing we knew, the man at the counter was offering us one of his raw fish dishes to eat. It felt like a Netflix episode of Midnight Diner (Tokyo stories) except for the fact it was lunch time.
By the time we left, it was bows and handshakes all around. The elderly woman escorted us out of her very small restaurant and called out as we stepped up the road. “Nice day have!” We did have, and she helped to make it so.
We are in Izukogen for the next two nights overlooking the ocean and pulling back a tad on the pace of travel. On Thursday, it’s back to Tokyo until we leave for the Mongolia leg of this amazing trip.
The Fuji Shibazakura (moss phlox) Festival runs for around six weeks each year and has about a week to run. Perhaps that’s why we had free entry to the site as many of the plantings had died off or were beyond their best.
Still, the views up to Fuji were enhanced by the pink carpets still blooming and there were beds of Japanese primrose, tulips and dahlias still in flower.
The road to Hakone skirted around the mountain with new aspects around each bend.
We took the Ropeway up to Owakudani, where active sulphur vents release steam and that oh so familiar smell, and the best-selling product is black eggs, hard boiled in the hot springs. We passed on the eggs, but did enjoy a sample taste of peanut snacks coated in bamboo charcoal.
An afternoon wander around Moto-Hakone around Lake Ashino resulted in the inevitable cafe drop in to take in the views.
Today, we drove from Matsumoto in the top left corner of this map to a place called Kawaguchiko which is a little north of that mountain in the centre bottom of this map. Yes, that mountain.
This place is stunningly beautiful. We are staying beside one of the Fuji Five Lakes and my travel agent (also known as Himself) has exceeded all expectations in finding this place, across from which Mount Fuji soars. EVERY room has a view of the mountain.
We were extremely fortunate to arrive on an afternoon of full sun and a clear sky. There is a walkway around the lake where you can take in Fuji San, watch boaters and recreational fishers and birds looking for a feed.
I will let the landscape tell its own story via these photographs. Meanwhile, we are here for dinner and breakfast, and settling in for the night.