After staying the night in a tiny and truly charmless Air BnB, we headed out for Oiso to visit the town of Hakone. Hakone is a mountain town known for it’s onsen, or japanese hot spring baths, and art museums. It’s also a resort town so when I went to look for places to stay, I was blown away by the prices – $300/night for the most basic! We’re really trying to stay at no more than $100/night as much as possible, allowing for the fact that Japan costs more than other places, and that was out of our price range. Instead, I found an Air BnB not too far away that had great reviews, so off we went.
We arrived and our host picked us up and took us to the property. I haven’t written much about the places we’ve stayed, I realize. Mostly we are in Air BnBs which have 2 bedrooms and a living area, and the prices have been anywhere from $60-100 night for most of the trip. They’ve mostly been nice, clean and have worked well for us, usually set up like a standard small apartment you could imagine.
This one was something else. The owner and his wife are artists/decorators/musicians/photographers/videographers/art teachers who live in the little seaside town of Oiso, where I later learned Haruki Murakami also lives. Masami, the husband, wakes up at 6 am to surf every day. We were hungry so stopped for ramen on the way at a place that made tomato ramen in a salt broth, quite tasty.
Masami told us that he and his wife had redone the house with a shipping container, adding in the floors, the electricity and the rooms. We walked in through a sliding glass door and saw a worn wooden floor hallway going into a small patio and a twisted, narrow winding staircase off to one side. On either side of the hallway were rooms, one of which led to the shower room and also had a vintage foosball table in it which the kids promptly began playing. The other side had a room with a magazine racks in it and another staircase leading upstairs. The hallway ended in a large space with long tables, a small bar area, and a piano, drum kit, guitar, and various musical instruments scattered about. We walked up the narrow metal staircase to find the second floor with rooms to either side, and were motioned up to the third attic level through a tiny, steep staircase that emerged onto an open landing into a low ceilinged attic room. Eric stood up and immediately hit his head on a rafter, in what was to be an oft-repeated event for the two night stay here. I’m not sure what Japanese building codes are like, but I’m pretty sure this place doesn’t comply. For a kid, it’s a wonderland. Dusty rooms in seemingly secret places with treasures to be found around the bend. As an adult I looked down the attic staircase without railings and pictured one of the children tripping and falling to the bottom, laying there with their neck broken. At night we blocked off the entrance with a chair. Eric used whatever bottle was handy if he had to pee at night as the only bathroom was two sets of stairs down.
We all headed off to the beach, we all played in the waves while Masami surfed. On the way home we picked up fish for sushi and some sake and headed back. After we showered and changed he had us come back to their part of the house, which was by following the second level back, outside on a wooden walkway and then into their house. That night we had hand rolled sushi for dinner!
The following day we went to Hakone. This was truly beautiful. A switchbacking mountain railway leads to mountain base. If you wish, you can further take cable cars to the top and boats around. I do wish we’d had another day to explore and to take an entire loop of the town. As it was we went to the Hakone Open Air Museum, filled with outdoor sculpture of all kinds and a special Picasso exhibit with some of his fused glass paintings, which I had never seen. They had a big outdoor clear plastic bobbly play structure for the kids, who scampered about like little hamsters inside. We had hoped to see Mt. Fuji, but it was cloudy and she remained shrouded. She is indeed a modest lady.
We then went to an onsen, or Japanese bath! It was so, so lovely. The men’s and women’s areas are separated as you go into the spas in your birthday suit. First you go into the locker room areas and disrobe, then sit in the communal shower area and wash thoroughly. Then you head into the spas! There were several small to medium size pools of different warmth and a cold pool for refreshment. I had been really looking forward to this as a time of peace and relaxation. The girl and I got into the onsen area and from the moment we stepped in it was “oh this is so nice the water is so warm oh this one is too hot should we try that pool that one looks like a cave here’s a cup! What do you think this cup is for? Oh they use it to splash water on themselves i’m going to try the cold pool what’s this little fountain for my towel is wet can you put my towel up can you fix my hair lets go into the sauna soon lets just put our feet in here okay maybe we can sit on the bench and take a break…” On and on and on. At one point I asked for five minutes of silence, and after 30 seconds I heard, “has it been five minutes yet? Now? Now? Now?” And I gave up on the peace and quiet part of the experience. Even with the logorrhea, the pools were so nice and my muscles felt better.
That night for dinner was fresh gyoza and takomaki, or octopus dumplings, also amazing. (We had a octopus free version). Ikuko was a wonderful host – at breakfast that morning the boy had mentioned that he loves gyoza but we haven’t been able to find any vegetarian or fish gyoza here, and she said we’d have them for dinner! A South Korean guest had joined the house and we enjoyed meeting her for dinner. Next morning was miso soup and onigiri, or rice balls wrapped in seaweed. The onigiri became a staple food for us during the rest of our time in Japan.
The next morning, after breakfast, we all hung out and played music together and chatted before we left for the train station. The boy played “Space Oddity” for all assembled, I pattered on the drum kit, and Eric enjoyed having a piano again and playing.