Japan: Lost and Found –

Episode 7: Hakone Yukata


The first real excursion that Temple University Japan arranged for its study abroad students was a trip to Hakone.

A town southwest of Yokohama (which itself is southwest of Tokyo) famous for its scenic mountains, its proximity to Mt. Fuji, and its natural hot springs.

We took a bus to the town and headed straight to our ryokan to check in.

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. Anyone thinking of visiting Japan should definitely experience one, as it’s a great dose of old-time culture, and is how most families there prefer to enjoy their vacations.

Since our rooms wouldn’t be available for a few hours upon check-in, we got some lunch, which was handmade buckwheat noodles served cold and dipped into a flavorful broth, plus rice, tofu, miso soup, and buckwheat tea.

Hakone is famous for its ultra-pure natural spring waters, and so is also famous for its tofu and soba noodles made from those waters.

Both were absolutely delicious, some of the best I’ve ever had.

Then, we did some sightseeing. We took a trip to the Hakone Open Air Museum, which allowed us to view its exhibits while roaming beautiful green hills surrounded distant misty mountains.

If anyone has ever seen the Yellow Submarine movie, it kind of reminded me of Pepper Land.

After some time checking out the various pieces, wandering through wooded pathways crawling with crabs the size of spiders, we headed out for the next adventure.

At this point, I was eager to go back to the ryokan and enjoy my first hot spring bath, so I wasn’t particularly excited about this last stop.

But once I saw what looked like the Cracks of Doom towering above me, I was excited to check it out.

This was Owakudani, a volcanic valley with active sulphur vents.

So we climbed this huge mountain surrounded by billowing fumes of sulphuric gas. Near the top there was a shop, which sold black eggs.

Owakudani is famous for these eggs, which are cooked in the sulphuric springs, and are thought to add seven years to your life.

I’m not really the superstitious sort, but I was the hungry sort, so I helped myself to…three. 

Not surprisingly, they tasted like eggs. Hard-boiled eggs. The sulphuric gases would have made Chilean sea bass taste like eggs as well, of course; but despite their strange look these eggs were quite ordinary. But if my life happens to be blessed by twenty-one extra years, I won’t complain.

After conquering the Mount of Broken Wind, we headed back to the ryokan. Upon arrival, the group broke off to our various rooms. I was rooming with three other guys, two of whom were buds of mine. 

The room was beautiful. Made from wood, bamboo, and shoji paper, and with floors of tatami matting, it resembled the rooms of old Japan as depicted in paintings and film. It was one of the larger rooms available, which was nice, but everything’s relative: the doorways were still about a half-foot too low to accommodate my friend who’s 6’4’’. By this point he was used to such things.

On a table near our futons for sleeping was a pile of neatly folded yukata.

These are robes worn for lounging, Japanese style.

Like a casual-wear kimono.

We had about an hour to ourselves before dinner was to be served, so we considered going to the hot spring bath. But…we were all still nervous about the whole public nudity thing. So, we just opted to watch some TV and drink green tea instead. Eventually, we tidied ourselves up and went down to dinner, still dressed in our yukatas.

We entered a large dining area to find our meals already set upon the floor before us, each one hidden by a thin sheet of rice paper draped over the food. Some students were already sitting and waiting for the rest of the crew. 

Before I could sit down, one of the ryokan workers, a woman of about fifty years, grabbed me and started to retie my yukata. It seems that I didn’t do it the proper way. I must say though, the women working at this inn were a bit on the handsy side!

Just as I was remarking to myself that she was fumbling around quite a bit during this retying, the woman gave my butt a strong pat, then led me to a place to sit. Our tour guide joked and said that his yukata needed retying as well. Sure enough, a different woman straightened him out, then gave a playful bat at his crotch! This was so far from the uber-polite style of Tokyo; we thought it was hilarious.

Soon our meals were unveiled and, after a brief toast, everyone proceeded to eat.

After dinner, we passed the night away with some drinks and karaoke. 

The women workers stayed and poured sake for us. And…they drank a bit themselves as well. 

Some noteworthy karaoke performances include: my tall friend singing George Michael’s “Kissing a Fool,” the whole group joining in on “A Whole New World,” and myself delivering a blistering “Welcome to the Jungle” with vocal shrieks turned up to eleven.

When everyone was too worn out to sing any more selections, we headed toward the onsen for a nice, warm bath.

But that will have to wait until next time.

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Phylum of Alexandria

Committed music junkie. Recovering academic. Nerd for life.

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Famed Member
April 11, 2023 9:52 am

Yikes. That was strange – but should be all fixed now. Let me know!

Famed Member
April 11, 2023 10:42 am

Are Yokohama Tires a big deal in Yokohama?!

Is it just me, or is Japan much more protective of retaining its culture and traditions than other countries, including China? I can’t think of anyone other than Native American tribes or any Aboriginal Tribes worldwide that are as committed to keeping traditions front and center in modern society. I love that they do care so much.

Famed Member
April 11, 2023 11:12 am

Ooh, good point about it being an island nation, because England has a similar attitude as well when it comes to centuries old customs and traditions.

Famed Member
April 11, 2023 8:09 pm

Tokyo = Ozu(or Hirozaku Kore-eda)
Owakudani = Nikkatsu noir

Noble Member
April 11, 2023 11:40 pm

Phylum, thank you for not being a re
covering nerd!
I wish I had known you when I first started teaching at our humble school.
I was charged with teaching World History (basically nothing to do with the Europe or the US) and all I had to fall back on was my knowledge of movies and books I had devoured as a high school and college student.
I had one fall back position and that was my one year being part of the debate team I had read much on the transition of Japan from being an isolationist country to embracing the Western culture during the 19th Century.
At that time it was assumed the Japanese had embraced certain objects of the Western Culture that would be acceptable to their nation,
From what I remember, it was the adopting of the Us military, the French parliament and the British currency as part of their entrance to the Twentieth Century and by many means it succeeded.
China for geographical and political reasons was reluctant to do so and fell behind in the times and was reduced to being a third world country at that time.
I’m envious of your journey and thank you for telling us your stories!

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