May 6

We both slept really well, probably our soundest sleep yet. We wanted to dodge washoku breakfast. Something about fish in the morning... Plus breakfast has been so essential while traveling; we were sure we would regret not getting enough food. I looked on Google maps and found a local cafe that had Western breakfast food and planned to go their after taking a private bath in the wooden bathtub on our balcony, into which onsen water flowed via a spicket.

The breakfast cafe, Cafe Doucet, was a ten minute walk from Mizunoto. Hakone is a mountain town that reminded us of northern California or the Smoky Mountains.

The cafe was just opening when we arrived and the owner ushered us in. A fairly strong mildew smell wafted through the air; hakone is extremely humid and it is hard to imagine anything drying out completely. Despite that inauspicious marker of culinary excellence our food was quite good; baguette sandwiches with ham and cheese (more French obsession), freshly-brewed coffee and tea served in delicate china, a tasty waffle with bananas and whipped cream. A young couple walked in about halfway through breakfast and chatted about children’s day.

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After breakfast we stopped at the Hakone Open Air Museum, which had a borderless feel. Traidional japanese sculptures were scattered among offerings by American and British artists, only a few by household names. It was cloudy and cool; a nice day to walk around. I saw the most English-speaking patrons in this musuem of anywhere we’ve been.

We left the museum and boarded a city bus to the nearest cable car station. The car was crowded with about thirty people onboard, including two people we recognized from our ryokan. It rose steadily on an incline as we headed towards the Hakone Ropeway which promised scenic views of the valley and Mt Fuji.

The Ropeway’s gondolas were larger than I expected with 18 passengers in each car, and the station in which we boarded the Ropeway was fairly crowded. Our first stop was Owakudani, a volcanic crater spewing sulfuric gas into the air. We stopped to take a picture with the black egg, a famous statue commemorating thr fact that eggs boiled in the sulfuric water turn black. There were lots of signs warning about the consumption of volcanic gases but the smell wasn’t too bad.

We transferred to the next gondola which led us deeper into a valley where we could see Lake Ashi. We ate beef stew at the restaurant in the gondola station and saw the famous hakone pirate ship .

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We wanted to head back to the ryokan for an afternoon bath so I pulled up Google maps and found the buses we needed to take to get there. I wanted to confirm my findings with a bus attendant because of the previous day’s struggles with the bus system; two attendants conferred in japanese that was a little too quick for me and told me that this was indeed the right bus but they didn’t recognise the transfer stop I had pulled up on my map. They told me a letter and number representing the stop we needed to transfer at, but once we were on the bus it was clear that number didn’t make any sense. I was able to follow my blue gps dot on the map and figured we could just hop off the bus when we needed to head off the main road, because there was only one road that the bus could take until that point.

When we got to the transfer stop the source of the confusion became clear; Google maps was translating the bus stop names incorrectly. The name of the station we needed was “Hoteru Mae”, which means “in front of the hotel” or “Before the hotel”. Google maps had translated that to “Hotel Zen”. The bus attendants had no idea what Hotel Zen was, because that’s not its name!

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The last leg of the bus journey was uneventful though I could tell the driver was nervous to have Americans onboard because he didn’t speak English. When I was able to hand him correct change and say “two people from stop ten” in japanese, he was clearly relieved and gave me a thumbs up. Thank you japanese class.

We stopped at Seven Eleven on the way back to the ryokan- the food was a notch too authentic at Mizunoto and we wanted to make sure we had enough snacks to sate our appetites in the event that dinner failed to. Seven eleven in Japan is great; the quality is much higher than the states. Plus my stomach was really upset, maybe from the various vehicles we had ridden that day, and I wanted to find an antacid. In my compromised state I said “good morning” in japanese when I approached the cashier but it was almost three pm. This caused uproarious laughter. “It’s afternoon” they kept saying. Then I continued to make a fool of myself by asking if a particular supplement wrapped in foil I had found was for stomach aches. It had what appeared to be a picture of a stomach on it, but the question put the employees in stitches. “It’s for your liver” they said. I didn’t press any further, I just asked “if your stomach hurts...” And they interrupted “we have nothing”. In English. The youngest cashier was still cracking up as we collected our sandwiches and left the shop. 

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About the author

Joe Duran

Editor Emeritus at Team Lunch.