We found the Hakone that lived up to the hype today. After a haphazard journey that involved a bus (the wrong one, apparently) and then a train (which turned out to be the famous narrow gauge train through the mountains), we arrived at the Hakone Open-Air Museum in a downpour. Fortunately there were several closed air (indoor) galleries and several fantastic museum shops to explore until the rain finally became mist and then fog and then a few hopeful patches of blue sky that never really panned out.
But we were able to explore the famous sculpture garden for hours. So spectacular, especially with the atmospherics from the fog and mist drifting across the forested mountains and into the valleys. We ended up staying almost four hours there and could have stayed longer. The combination of dramatic contemporary sculpture and gorgeous gardens was stunning. Everywhere we walked, we’d find sculpture and nature complimenting each other. Female bronze nudes popping out of a sea of tall grasses. A bright red circular sculpture in a rock garden pond with orange and white koi swimming around. A grassy hillside dotted with bold sculptures. And this being a hot springs area, there was a long narrow outdoor foot bath for strollers to soak in while admiring some sculpture.
Indoors was a really interesting exhibit of work by a contemporary Japanese artist (Tadanori Yokoo), another interesting permanent Picasso exhibit and a way cool exploratory exhibit on sculpture that included two podiums where you could stand and move around and a sculpture on a video screen would duplicate your position. Amazing.
We left reluctantly and took the train a few stops to Miyanoshita station, which turned out to be another highlight. Wet and hungry (we delayed lunch so we could stay at the Museum), we found an ideal spot – the Naraya Cafe, a charming place that served not only great pizza but we ate it while sitting a foot bath under our table. That was a first. We sat at an outdoor wooden table on the side of a mountain, with a tarp draped above us to keep out the pouring rain, eating delicious pizza and soaking our feet. Oh happy day! The cafe was all wood and bonsai plants and gorgeous crafts. Reminded me of a place you’d maybe find in Big Sur.
Miyanoshita is the home of the famous old Fujiyama Hotel, where we peeked into the gorgeous wood carved dining room, wandered around the gardens and the old-fashioned swimming pool, and stocked up on some breakfast food at the hotel’s bakery. We also did a little walk on a narrow path in the woods, high above waterfalls and a ravine that reminded me of my beloved Ithaca.
Tonight, we had a good Japanese meal at a little place near our guest house called Hanasai and ended up chatting with a mom and her two teenage kids from the Netherlands. Also chatted with people today from Seoul and Kobe. Great day.