Japan Trip–Day 3


Jan and I decided to walk around the village of Goya during the 40 minutes before the bus departure.  The weather was clear and brisk.  We took one of the steep streets bordering the city park, passing new resort hotels, antique gates of private residences, stone walls erected with huge rocks, neatly cut or jagged and irregular, bubbling tanks, and small flumes along the gutters that steamed with fast flowing hot water.



As we rounded a corner, the top of the mountain we were on came into view, a steeple-like peak below which a series of modern masonry walls spanned an eroded gulley.  “I bet they’re building a hotel up there, what a travesty,” I complained.

The bus drove up the hill where we’d walked, to the large terminal of a teleferique heading toward the mountaintop over an expanse of forest. Our group of fifteen packed into two gondolas and ascended, the view over forest and ocean expanding as we went.  Suddenly there was a gasp and the passengers in our gondola rushed to the right side to gaze at Fuji rising over the far wall of the caldera, brilliant in the morning sun.


Another minute and all turned to the left to gaze down at billowing plumes of smoke erupting from yellow sulfurous pits in a barren gully cluttered with rusting steel towers and crossed by modern masonry walls built, not for a hotel, but to prevent the mountainside from falling on the town. This place, said Maya, was known as hell in the sky.


The ropeway ended on a plateau below the summit at a complex of hotels and restaurants, just below paths leading up to a bunch of steam-spewing vents.


The place was as crowded and busy as Tokyo Central station on this holiday weekend. Maya told us we could ascend for a closer look at the vents and buy the famous black eggs boiled  in their bubbling cauldrons, and that we should meet back in 40 minutes at the sign of her cherry-blossom wand.



People of all ages indulged in the characteristic activity of posing and photographing each other in special places, happy to have reached this mecca on a beautiful day that provided heavenly views of Fuji and a chance to play on the brink of the inferno.


We couldn’t resist the endless sign-language offers to stand and say cheese while someone snapped our cameras and put our stamp on the incredible scene.


Anthony, a member of our tour group bought a bag of five eggs and offered us two to celebrate a demonic prelude to Easter.


By some magic the tour bus met us at the top of the ropeway and carried us down the mountain past a horrible jam of cars trying to drive up. It deposited us at a ferry terminal on a lake at the bottom of the caldera.  The boat took us across, followed by another decked out as a fanciful pirate ship.


After a 20 minute voyage, we landed at a terminal in the town of Hakone Machi, and Maya ushered us into a lakefront hotel where we were indulged with a lavish Sunday buffet. After lunch, as the weather turned less friendly, she led us on a walk down an ancient wide footpath that used to be the main road between Kyoto and Tokyo lined with 200 foot 400 year old Japanese cedars.


The bus met us at the end of the path and passed a bright red Tori gate in the water as Fuji once again came into towering view.


The prospect was a famous image that we saw repeated in the amazing wood mosaics on display in the workshop and store of a craftsman whose family had mastered the art over a period of hundreds of years.


Maya translated as he gave a lecture and demonstration of techniques for assembling blocks of different colored wood and then using a plane to shave off paper-thin layers of geometric or representational patterns that were either framed or applied to the surfaces of everything from ball point pens to puzzle boxes.


The bus wound around the ridges and canyons of the Caldera and stopped at the Pola Open Air Art Museum highly recommended by Kazumi and Maya.  But by this time I had reached my limit of stimulation and went back to the ryokan, while Jan stayed and later showed me her pictures of the marvels I’d missed.


After a short nap I descended from the sixth to the first floor in my yukata and slippers and entered the onsen on the left side where I’d bathed at 5:00 A.M. I enjoyed being there all alone, and after a soak in the pool duly preceded by a thorough scrub, I decided to enter the sauna off the dressing room. Just as the sweat started flowing, I looked through the sauna’s large window and got a glimpse of the swept up straight black hair and graceful back of a naked girl passing through the inner curtain.  It was red!  I dashed out of the sauna, grabbed my towel and yukata, trying unsuccessfully to get my arms into the wide sleeves as I stumbled through the outer door, hoping to avoid another encounter on my way to the opposite door, which now was curtained in green.  Both relieved and flustered, I noticed three pairs of slippers outside, which told me the pool would be occupied.  I dumped the towel and flopping yukata in a basket and went through the green inner curtain, bowed politely to the three men inside and walked straight into the hot pool, since I’d already scrubbed with soap before. No one said anything, but all three looked at me with swords. It took  a little longer for me to realize my error this time, but then it hit me: they thought I was getting in unwashed.

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