Caught the metro in rush hour to Ueno and then Tokyo main station. Slightly mad but no worse than Waterloo on a busy morning. Then the bullet train to Odawara. It never got up a real head of speed but it was clean, quick and comfortable. From Odawara took a taxi to the Mikawara Ryokan which was a big mistake. Cost almost £40 much easier by bus but as I didn’t know where to get off I had little option. The Mikawaya Ryokan is a traditional inn complete with their own thermal onsen more of which later. The room wasn’t ready so I dropped my rucksack and took the bus, with my new Hakone Freedom Pass, to the Open Air Museum. A fabulous collection of modern sculpture set in an imaginative and beautifully landscape Japanese park. Without doubt the best sculpture museum I’ve ever been to. The Picasso gallery has some fabulous ceramics. Sat and had an orange juice and watched a women collapse in the heat and get carted off by ambulance, compared to Tokyo it isn’t as hot here but 10 people died in Japan last week with the heat. Luckily my fellow museum goer won’t be one of those. Then stopped for some dim sum for lunch overlooking the gardens which was fine apart from the shark fin dumpling. The only way of describing it is that it had the consistency of a toy pencil eraser with less taste.
Returned to the ryokan and was met by Mama-San who whizzed me around the hotels amenities while giving me a crash course Japanese etiquette. Slippers off here, washing body here, hang towline here, “naked in yukata with pants” (which is how you find me now). Then she showed me how to dress and the various onsens or thermal baths. After she’d left I crept down to the large public onsen which was fortunately empty so I stripped off showered and washed and then sunk into the hot spring. It was really fantastic after a sweaty day on the road. I re-robed and headed back to my tatami room. I have a 6 mat room with a seating area and a lavatory. The good news is that is a western style convenience, the bad is that it is another novelty loo. This one has been set to either spray your parts or flush when you stand up. I won’t bore you with the Keystone Cops antics but you can imagine water spraying, random flushing and so forth.
Then I sat in the fading light watching Lost in Translation on the iPad which seemed very fitting and enjoying a sake sampling at my twelve inch high dining table while I wrote this waiting for dinner. I must confess to really liking the peace and relaxation that this place provides. Dinner was served in my room. So aged Mama-San brought in a succession of beautifully printed courses while I sat on the floor. Every time she shuffled out in her kimono I’d leap up to get circulation back in my legs only to scoot back under my 12 inch table every time I heard the paper screen begin to slide back. The food was extravagant to put it mildly. SashimI,sake,cold prawn and scallop nibbles, Teriyaki beef and raw egg to dip it in, fried stick like things, soup, grilled eel and crayfish all – very good. Sadly, the perfection was let down by an execrable prawn custard that was more like heavy nasal discharge and then there was a fruit salad so vile I shudder to remember it. Think fruit in a jelly flavoured with lavatory cleaner.