Friday, September 7, 2012

Just a little bit of History

Hakone (箱根) is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and very close to Mt. Fuji.  Lake Ashinoko (芦ノ湖, Ashinoko) was formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone after the volcano's last eruption 3000 years ago and provides a great base for traveling around Hakone.  After visiting the Open Air Museum, we drove the short distance to Lake Ashi to view the Shrine and Torii gate that are one of the best tourist destinations in Japan.  The picture to the left is of the purification well at the shrine. 


This Torii gate in the lake was something new for Miranda and Aaron.  They enjoyed seeing something new and different from all the other shrines they have visited since arriving here. 


Owakudani (大涌谷, Ōwakudani) is the area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone some 3000 years ago.





 The steam vent area of Owakudani Here you can purchase eggs, cooked in the naturally hot water, whose shells are blackened by the sulfur and which are said to prolong one's life by seven years.





Egg flavored Ice Cream....the boys will try just about anything.


 This sign cracked us up.  It is located at the entrance to the parking lot of the visitors center.  They are doing construction to the visitors center, so the sign shows a Japanese man bowing with "sorry for the inconvenience" as the message.  Only in Japan can they come up with so many ways to be apologetic.



Hakone- Open Air Museum, Sept. 2012

 The Open Air Museum still occupies one of the memories I have of Japan from our honeymoon over 20 years ago.  Tom and I stayed a night in Hakone and visited the museum for an afternoon.  It still lives up to it being a fun place to while away an afternoon and hopefully will give the kids memories many years from now.  It is part art museum and a museum of odd sculptures and play areas for the kids.  We enjoyed a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago and have these pictures to share.

There are large scale sculptures of several philosophers that greet you as you first embark on your journey in the outdoor gardens.  Not sure who this fellow is, but he provided a few minutes of enjoyment and wonderment at the enormity of his creation.

 This is one of the first play structures we encountered.  It is made of plexiglass and consists of many shapes to climb up into.  I thought better of chasing Evan up here as I am quite claustrophobic.  This retrieval of said child was left up to his older brother. 
 Took us awhile to convince Evan there would be more to play in but he finally gave in and followed his big brother out of this place.  Although Hakone is located in the mountainous region near Mt. Fuji, it was still a hot and humid day in early Sept that made this mom worrisome of such an enclosed place. 


 Moving on to fried egg play area.  There were several of these fried egg flat areas to play on.  Evan was not going to miss this opportunity and even help his big brother remove his shoes to join him.  A definite plus to this area was the water misters that cooled down the little ones at play.
This is a Picasso exhibit.  I am not sure what it "actually represents" but here is my take:  Unhappy BIG momma disciplining child or husband with a thump over the head with her purse.

Result of discipline from above mentioned mom. 

This is a tower that is made of stained glass.  It was a beautiful work of art and it was difficult to capture the size of the creation. 
Aaron climbed to the top of the spiral stairs inside the cathedral and reported the view from the top was not as great as the view from inside.  Glad I have a scout to save me unnecessary stair climbing.   


This was a foot bath that was filled with onsen water and a variety of citrus fruits.  Convincing Evan to leave the fruit in the bath took some extra convincing, but we left empty handed and with rested feet.





 Another play structure to occupy the Littles.  Evan can now climb all the way to the top of one of these and leave his older siblings in the dust.  Aaron seems to be getting a little big for the entrances to these rope structures.
Random Art

The Conveniences of Life

 In order to battle the humidity and mold that grows here, we have to use some special techniques.  I buy these "humidity controllers" by the case at Cost-Co.  They are containers that you open and place in closets, linen closets, under beds, etc.  They have the small styrofoam balls that somehow collect the humidity out of the air and absorb it into the container.  I have to replace these about once every 2 months, but it sure saves from having to replace shoes and linen that has grown mold on them.





 We spend a lot of time at convenience stores in Japan.  You really can't help not to, they are all so CONVENIENT.  I'd have to say Lawson and Seven 11 are our favorite.  They have such a variety of foods to eat.  You won't find any overcooked hot dogs or slurpees here as the food is actually filling and healthy.  The pictures above are of the microwave foods to begin with.  Here you can find such delicacies as ramen, spaghetti or hamburger and tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) selections.  Just take it to the counter and the clerk will nuke it for you for just the right amount of time.  The second picture is of the ice cream selections.  So many ice creams to choose from, so little time to try them all.  I think our favorites are Coolish (Evan's packet ice cream), Monaco's, juice bars, and watermelon bars.  Quite the treat on hot summer days.  Drinks require quite a lot of discussion sometimes.  The variety of teas, milk teas and juices make us reach for something different almost every visit.  So many things are sold in convenience stores.  We have found doggy diapers, emergency underwear, ties, shampoo and of course all types of food.  You can also buy airline tickets, theater tickets, pay your utility bill, mail a package, pay your car insurance and various other services here.  The clerks are all very highly trained and are usually very helpful.  I'm sure they can see me coming from a mile away but I have found the local stores I can depend on to help me figure out just about anything.
Potato Chips are just plain boring.  Why not go for some of these treats such as fried sardines, and various flavors and sizes of different chips.  We love Edamame crackers and barbecue flavored rice crackers. 


The food is very fresh at the convenience stores.  Some stores actually have a kitchen in the back where you will see the ladies making fresh salads and rice balls to sell.

Oh, the beloved Onigiri or Rice Ball.  I think we have finally figured out most of these by trial and error so we now know what to reach for and what to avoid.  We can finally trust each other to run in and bring back a variety of rice balls without too many surprises.  Chicken salad (tuna) and ebi mayo (shrimp) are probably our favorites. 

Edamame is consumed by the case loads in our households.  I think we can safely say soy is definitely good for you and tastes great too!!

You would think with all the selection of food at the convenience store, Tom could find something better then this dead secada he found on the street to eat.  Nah, he was just trying to freak the kids out a little bit!!  Notice the 1/2 liter of tea he has to wash it all down.

Yokohama Port Festival, August 2012

 We haven't gone to many festivals this summer due to it just being too hot.  We happened upon this one the end of August and it fulfilled our "summer festival" needs. 

A mikoshi is a portable Shinto shrine. Shinto followers believe that it serves as the vehicle of a divine spirit. Often, the mikoshi resembles a miniature building, with pillars, walls, a roof, a veranda and a railing. Typical shapes are rectangles, hexagons, and octagons. The body, which stands on two or four poles (for carrying), is usually lavishly decorated, and the roof might hold a carving of a phoenix. The mikoshi is often carried through the neighbourhood for hours on end. There's usually a team of 50 to 100 people, who work in shifts of 30 to 50 to carry the mikoshi, which can weigh several tons.  There is usually quite a lot of Sake consumed during Matsuri.  I can only imagine it helps one forget how much the Mikoshi weighs and helps to dull the ache of the scrapes and bruises acquired during such an event.


There are usually about 100 people following the Mikoshi during a parade.  Once a carrier gets tired, they signal and another willing participant jumps in to take their place.  It is very much a team effort type of activity.
Mikoshi are carried by young and old, male and female.  Being on one of these "teams" truly shows the essence of how Japanese people work together. 



There are sometimes specific foot movements that teams will accomplish as well as turning or dipping the Mikoshi. 


I loved the look of an old tradition and the McDonalds logo together.  This is true Japan, you will see shrines/Temples in the middle of the city surrounded by new restaurants and skyscrapers. 

Evan and daddy enjoying a aerial display.


A fun day filled with tradition and a look at how summer festivals are an important part of life in Japan.  You can find over 100 festivals throughout the summer season.