It rained much of the time we were there, but we didn't mind so much because this was supposed to be the mellower, "vacation" portion of the vacation. We did visit the Hakone Open Air Museum, which has a marvelous collection of modern art sculptures, displayed in a very pleasant park,
along with it's very own hot spring-fed foot bath.
We also stopped at Woody's which was quite aplty named. It was pretty cool to see what Americana looks like, Japanese style. And at this point in the trip, we were happy to eat something that didn't include fish, and to have a shot of SoCo.
The detour into "western" culture was all the more of a contrast because the first night we were in town we stayed at a semi-traditional ryokan. The beds were western style, but we had to wear our yukatas to our (very fishy) dinner and breakfast in the communal dinning room.
Overall, that place was rather depressing (the property felt neglected, and our room smelled strongly of mildew) so the next morning we were happy to get an early start on the traditional tour of the Hakone area. I'd hoped to see some of the Japanese "back country" this trip, and although I knew Hakone doesn't qualify, I still had to laugh as we spent the day moving from a mountain train to a cable car to a gondola to a replica pirate ship to a bus, to a.... I lost track of the number of modes of transportation we took that day, but it was all very scenic,
and we did get to see some of the geothermal activity the area is known for.
Right as we got hungry for lunch it started to pour, so we holed up in the Gyoza Center and ate ourselves silly.
Although it was warm and cozy, and lovely to sit and look out at the rain while eating one of my favorite things in the world, it wasn't the best idea because shortly after we left we took the train partway down the mountain to our next hotel Taiseikan.
A true ryokan with its own hot spring baths (I guess that makes it an onsen?) situated at the bottom of a steep gorge, right on a river, we were blown away by this place. It might have been the private cable car you take to get down to the hotel, or the fact that we were waited on hand and foot the whole time, or their enormous outdoor hot spring pools right on the river, but I have a feeling it was all of the above. All I know is that by the time I took my 5th soak, in our own private hot spring, I was finally on vacation in Japan.
Unfortunately, I was still full of lovely gyoza by the time our elaborate dinner started being served to us in our room. Still, the only thing that marred the whole experience was the live abalone that arrived at our table for dinner that night, twitching before it was steamed alive. I swear I can still hear it screaming.