a weekend in hakone

I know I've already said this about a million or so places in Japan, but Hakone (箱根) had to be one of my favourite destinations over the past year. I'd always wanted to visit the famous onsen town, and my time there didn't disappoint! There's something so invigorating about breathing in that crisp mountain air, and the weather during my trip was absolutely perfect. There was barely a cloud in the sky, and I got the chance to see Mount Fuji from so many different angles. If only I had more time to explore than two short days...





Straight after arriving my friends and I checked out Hakone Open Air Museum (箱根彫刻の森美術館), something I'd been looking forward to ever since I first saw it in photos. It's not so much a traditional museum, but more of a park filled with amusing sculptures and selfie opportunities galore. While some of the installations are quite questionable, my favourite had to be this stained glass tower! It's not so obvious in photos, but there are cute little motifs to be found all the way to top. You can even climb a staircase to the roof, which was terrifyingly steep. It's totally worth it for that panoramic view, though!





This unassuming installation is actually a staircase leading to an underground tunnel! Fumbling through pitch-black darkness was quite the experience, but definitely something I wouldn't recommend if you're remotely claustrophobic.

      



We stayed at a ryokan that night, and were treated to a set meal followed by full access to the onsen. In case you were wondering, you do have to be completely naked to enter the baths. But honestly? After getting over the initial squeamishness you'll never want to stop. Nakedness really isn't a big deal here, and everyone just minds their own business. Not to mention, it's super liberating once you stop caring about how your body looks to others and enjoy the water. I guarantee you'll have the best sleep of your life afterwards!

      





The next day we paid a visit to Owakudani, which was quite the journey. We used both a ferry and cable car, but they're super easy to navigate if you buy the Hakone Freepass. Anyway, at the top of the mountain there are even more views of Fuji-san as well as tons of things to buy and eat... like these black eggs, which are hard-boiled in the hot springs! It honestly tastes just like any old boiled egg, but apparently eating one adds seven years to your life.









It just wouldn't be a complete trip without some questionable soft serves, right? This is egg-flavoured ice cream, which I obviously couldn't leave behind. The flavour wasn't that strong at first, but as for the aftertaste... even though I chose to have mine mixed with vanilla, the egginess definitely came through loud and clear afterwards. In any case, it was truly nothing like anything I'd ever eaten before!
Posted by : Mani

full circle

So, it’s definitely been a minute since I updated this ol’ blog of mine! Since then I’ve landed back in Australia already, and if I’m being totally honest? The past month has been tough to say the least. For one, the sheer process of tying up exchange was way more stressful than I imagined. There are so many things to cancel, and so many procedures involved with basically erasing all traces of my existence in Japan. 





I also don't think I've ever been in the position of having to say so many goodbyes at once. Nothing really prepares you for that dreaded feeling, especially the uncertainty of whether or not you’ll see someone ever again. Of course, the people I've met and memories I’ve made on exchange are things I’ll treasure for a lifetime. I truly never thought it was possible for me to experience such a deep level of friendship, let alone in a strange place where I started out knowing exactly zero people. But at the same time, as each day passes memories of the year start to slip away. In fact, it's beginning to feel like a dream that might as well have never happened at all.



     

I remember seeing the sakura just a week out from arriving in Japan, so it was kind of fitting that I saw them again in Tokyo just before flying out back home. Of course, it’s way too early for the main event, with most Japanese cherry blossoms not emerging until at least early April. However, this early blooming variety of sakura can be spotted if you just know where to look. On this particular day in Shinjuku Gyoen (新宿御苑) a lot people had the same idea as me, and were all crowded around this particular tree that was in full bloom.



Anyway, now that I’m home again there’s good and bad news. I’ve been travelling a lot recently, so I probably have enough Japan photos to blog about for years to come! The bad news is that I kind of overdid it and wound up in hospital on my return. Without going into too much detail my chronic illness took a turn for the worse, but thankfully I’m in good hands and have been resting a lot over the past few days. I hate to end the post on such a negative note, but that’s reality and I try to be as transparent as possible when it comes to this little space of mine. Thanks so much for sticking around if you’re still reading this far, and more posts to come soon!
Posted by : Mani

kamakura day trip

After just a day in Kamakura, I totally regretted not extending my stay there. One thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to take my parents to see the famous daibutsu, or Big Buddha that resides in the area. However, I didn't expect to be blown away by the gorgeous surroundings! Kamakura may only be around two hours from Tokyo, but it's right next to the seaside and has some amazing views all around. There's nature everywhere you look, and you can definitely feel that distinct freshness of the ocean in the air.



     

We almost didn't go inside Hasedera (長谷寺), but figured that since we'd already come this far it might be worth a look. Thank goodness we did, too! This had to be one of the most interesting temples I've visited so far in Japan. It had so many things to explore, from koi ponds to a zen garden and a secret cave. I was baffled to discover that they even had free wi-fi available onsite.



     

I was immediately drawn to this striking wall of Jizo statues, but the meaning behind them is much more solemn. The figures actually represent the souls of stillborn, aborted or miscarried babies, and are placed here by their grieving families. While the statues are regularly removed to make way for new ones, it's estimated that 50,000 of them have been offered at Hasedera since World War II.





Keep climbing the seemingly endless flights of stairs, and you'll be rewarded with a stunning view at the top. It was cold and I was totally out of breath, but it was worth the exercise! I never thought I'd see such gorgeous seaside views in Japan, but was gladly proven wrong.

     



As much as I would've loved to explore all day, the sun was going down fast so we had to cut our visit short. I definitely hope I'll be able to visit Kamakura again one day though! It has so many other shrines and temples to offer that I feel like I barely even scratched the surface.
Posted by : Mani