Tokyo Part 2: Healing At Hakone

MARCH 2008…

For our first excursion out of Tokyo, we headed to Hakone, a town on the outskirts of Tokyo. It was easy to get there with the direct train from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, which took about 90 minutes. Alternatively, there is a shorter 55-minute route by Shinkansen and local train for those pressed for time.

Hakone is the postcard setting for Mount Fuji, together with Lake Ashi and the Hakone Shrine on the shore, and so, expectations were high. Hakone is also known for its scenery, museums, onsen (hot springs) and volcanically active geysers. So, there were lots to see.

The museum we chose to visit was the Hakone Open-Air Museum as it was something different from the usual indoor museums we were used to. The museum houses over 1,000 sculptures and works of art and comprises both indoor and outdoor spaces, including a special Picasso Pavilion Hall featuring around 300 of the artist’s works. The entire museum area spreads over 70,000 m2 so it took a while for us to cover the grounds. Comfortable shoes are a must for this activity.

Hakone Open-Air Museum, Tokyo, Japan.

The park-like museum grounds of the Hakone Open-Air Museum.

I’m not the kind who tries to decipher the meaning of the artworks or ponder what inspired the artists to create their masterpieces. Rather, I simply enjoy the visual display and appreciate the effort that went into creating it.

Actually, that’s just a nice way of saying I don’t really understand art. It’s also a heads-up that I didn’t capture all the names of the artworks and so, whatever I caption the pictures with are purely my own amateur interpretation. These are my favourite ones.

Cosmic Colour Space by Shigeo Matsubara at the Hakone Open-Air Museum, Tokyo, Japan.

Cosmic Colour Space by Shigeo Matsubara. A rainbow line-up of squares that’s happy on the eyes.

Floating Sculpture 3 by Marta Pan at the Hakone Open-Air Museum, Tokyo, Japan.

Floating Sculpture 3 by Marta Pan. The smaller piece of sculpture sways with the wind at times.
Now in freeze frame, it looks like a fish jumping out of the water.

Personnage by Joan Miró at the Hakone Open-Air Museum, Tokyo, Japan.

Personnage by Joan Miró. A friendly blob that I would like to get to know.

The Garden of Stars at the Hakone Open-Air Museum, Tokyo, Japan.

The Garden of Stars. A real maze that you can walk through.
If you get lost, just climb your way out.

Symphonic Sculpture by Gabriel Loire at the Hakone Open-Air Museum, Tokyo, Japan.

The 18 m tall Symphonic Sculpture by Gabriel Loire…

Symphonic Sculpture by Gabriel Loire at the Hakone Open-Air Museum, Tokyo, Japan.

And the beautiful mosaic stained glass inside.

A glass pavilion at the Hakone Open-Air Museum, Tokyo, Japan.

A glass pavilion that’s apparently no longer there. The layered glass effect reminds me of Elsa’s castle.

The Hakone Open-Air Museum was indeed very unique. At times it felt like a walk in the neighbourhood park with the occasional art installation; at times it felt like a scenic attraction with the rolling hills in the background. In any case, it was definitely a healing space. Coupled with the cool spring temperatures and mountain view, we were really hesitant to leave.

Hakone Ropeway, Tokyo, Japan.

The view from inside the cable car on the Hakone Ropeway.

Another attraction of Hakone is Ōwakudani, a volcanic valley with hot springs and active sulphur vents. Eggs boiled in the hot springs turn black (just the shells) and smell bad (due to the sulphur) but are said to prolong your life by seven years. While we didn’t head down to sample the black eggs, we did pass by the valley overhead on the Hakone Ropeway.

Ōwakudani in Hakone, Tokyo, Japan.

Sulphur steaming through the vents in the Great Boiling Valley that is Ōwakudani.

Our plan had been to take the ropeway to catch the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise on Lake Ashi and then head back by ropeway. Unfortunately, the ticket office en route told us that if we took the 1-hour cruise (to and fro), we would miss the last ropeway back to the train station, so we had to skip the cruise.

In hindsight, we probably should have double-checked the timings for the ropeway and the cruise. Not everything opens till late like in Tokyo. Or maybe we should have taken the cruise before heading to the museum. Oh well. We’ll just have to imagine the awesome view of Mount Fuji from the lake cruise.

Hakone is a nice escape from Tokyo, sans tall buildings, crowds and excessive noise. Marking only one day out for Hakone can be a bit of a rush. A better option might be to stay one night and take your time to explore the place. Or, simply start the day earlier.

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