Lost and found in Hakone

I lost my onsen virginity in Hakone and found one of the best sleep at Fuji-Hakone Guesthouse. We travelled by bus from Kawaguchiko to Hakone which took us to Gotemba and we had to switch to another bus from Gotemba. All in all, that must have been about 2 hours or more. I can’t be certain as my travelometer was totally off since five minutes on the bus stretched like 50 minutes with four guys in front of me who couldn’t stop talking at the top of their voices [no guesses for which nationality they are]. I must have heard everything about their lives in my journey between Kawaguchiko to Gotemba.

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Now, coming back to the good stuff. How can one not visit Hakone and not try its onsen (“warm water”)? Yes, even in summer. Good for us that we had private onsen within the guesthouse! I had the onsen to myself for a good half an hour! Half an hour sounds like a short duration for those seasoned onsen goers I would think.

The onsen at the guesthouse was private and since it was night when I tried, there wasn’t much of a view. After showering, I made my first attempt in getting into the bath. There was a running tap to keep the water ‘fresh’ and bits of powder on the ground of the tub [which I later discovered that those are the good bits of mineral]. I dipped a toe in the water and had a feeling of dread that I might not survive this and may have to leave without trying the legendary onsen. If my foot couldn’t take it, how would the rest of my body adapt to this temperature? It felt like I could boil an egg in it. How is this “warm water”?

Adamant on trying it nonetheless, I tried again and this time I managed to soak my feet for more than 2 seconds and proceeded to lower myself until I was almost squatting in the bath. That took another few seconds before my lower half regained its mobility to move completely into the water. I was probably half-boiled by then.

After having submerged my body completely in the  water, I found that my body floats slightly after resting my head on the side of the bath. My fingers were wrinkled within a few minutes too. I had a strange feeling of my body being compressed by the water. I lasted all 10 minutes, maybe less. The intimacy of the heat left me breathless.

I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep from the Mt Fuji climb or the onsen, possibly a combination of both, but I was dead to the world before you can say ‘cheese’. My room mates were amused with how I had fallen asleep when they got back from their shower and onsen. I was sprawled face down and had all intention to put my eye mask on since the light was switched on. I had no recollection of anyone going in or out of the room. In other words, I could have died and gone to nirvana.

Except the bright light which filled our room the next day with an odd alarm-clock chirping wasn’t the light calling from nirvana. I jumped up and searched for a non-existent alarm clock with the feeling of dread like a usual work day. I realised after a few seconds that I am actually in Japan and the guys in the room had also awoken to the sound. Someone groaned / or croaked that it was only 4:30am but it was getting bright outside.. Still groggy, I dozed back easily into sleep and woke again at 7am after a great night of sleep, also evident from a really puffy face.

I did try that again the following morning and there was an improvement when I started to enjoy the engulfing heat, enveloping me. That put me in a slightly better mood after having had the most dramatic experience travelling in a group, from the result of an explosive group dynamic which obviously was a catalyst for some discomfort. Since this is a happy post, I will leave this for another post. .

[As one could say, want to put your friendship or relationship to the test? Go on an adventure trip. Sometimes, a luxury trip may not evoke the same reaction.]

From Hakone back to Shinjuku and to Ikebukuro where we stayed one night and tried to cover as much ground around the city as possible but in all the wrong places since I wasn’t too keen on ramen as food or walking aimlessly at night, in the humidity popping in and out of shops. I thought Singapore was humid and hot. But I soon discovered that the city was worse. We later found out that it was actually 41 degrees Celsius.

I recall reading somewhere between the correlation of crimes and the temperature. It was mentioned in the article that there was a slight correlation between how hot the weather was to how inclined a person may be towards certain petty crimes or violence. I wondered then if there were indeed more crimes recorded in summer then. I for one, just felt irritated with some things but that soon passed when irritation or any form of non-scheduled action brought on more perspiration. I preferred the calm state of mind where I could rest in a constant state of non-reactive system hibernation.

Every pore was open and I think it was hot yoga in open space. I felt detoxed. Imagine our walk from Shinjuku to Yoyogi park close to noon. Standing under aircon vents later at the subway was heaven.  Picture four drenched and red-faced people trying to get beamed up an aircon vent at Harajuku station. Once our system cooled, we gathered our wits and let the stomach lead the way.

Our next and final stop after Ikebukuro was Narita. One of the best travel decisions was to take the high speed rail to Narita.

What a difference space and privacy makes. Narita Excel Hotel was an adjustment to normality. I got back into a sane sleep pattern and the dessert I have been eyeing at all Lawson stores – The cup of cheese pudding of some sort. Simple yet most enjoyable in my room after a swim at the indoor pool.

A visit to Narita is not complete without visiting the quaint town. Do spend some time walking and exploring the shops along the street. It was a Public Holiday when I was there and the Tourist Centre was closed. There are plenty of brochures on the town and the vicinity for your reference so I would highly recommend one to pop in for a look when you get the chance to visit.

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Unagi and onsen help with fatigue. With the numerous fatigue-remedies in Japan, one might think that the nation is full of energetic people and they truly are. Energetically upbeat on the exterior which do not explain the high suicide rate in the country.

It is the richness of the culture and the effort in everything they do which makes me feel truly at home and Asian in Japan. And fresh, convenient food…

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