ExpertFlyer Hot Topics – Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
In our final installment on Japan, we leave Kyoto and head to Hakone, land of Onsen (hot springs), and then to Japan’s modern capital of Tokyo. If you missed parts one and two, click on the links provided to read about things to see and do in Kyoto.
Our group traveled by train to Odawara Station, where on the way we were able to capture images of the majestic Mount Fuji. Upon arrival, we were taxied to the hot spring town of Hakone and the KAI Hakone, a ryokan, traditional Japanese inn of Hoshinoya Resorts, with soothing hot springs and Japanese-style interiors.
After touring the resort property, we were introduced to traditional, local wooden mosaic lacquer-ware called Yosegi. This beautiful intricately designed art is formed from varietal wood species and finely cut and pieced together in contrasting patterns resulting in everything from wall hangings to jewelry boxes.
Before dinner, we were escorted to the highlight of our stay at KAI, the onsen bath experience. Submersion in the KAI natural piping hot mineral bath from a huge open-air spa overlooking a river, is both spiritually moving and divinely relaxing. Believed to have extraordinary health benefits, the water of a Japanese onsen is rich in a variety of minerals and is naturally heated by the earth with water temperatures exceeding 25 degrees Celsius or 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
We wrapped up our stay at Hakone with a visit to Lake Ashi, where we admired mountainous views. On clear sunny days, one can see Mt. Fuji in the background – a site that the area has become famous for. Finally, we visited local souvenir shops where we purchased crystals, Yosegi crafts and drank delicious tea infused with citrus and sprinkled with gold leaf, before boarding our train back to Tokyo.
A Day in Tokyo
We had just a few hours to take in some of the attractions of Tokyo, so we wasted no time. When we arrived, we took in a guided tour of “First Avenue,” “Character Street” within Tokyo Station and we were met with pop-culture cartoon icons, like Hello Kitty, Angry Birds and Domo. From there, we checked out some of the more “sub-cultural” sites of Akihabara where we visited a Maid Cafe and crept by a Vampire bar.
When we returned to the Shangri-La Tokyo hotel, we had just ordered a drink and alarms sounded,
alerting guests of an impending earthquake. Yes, an earthquake! Shortly thereafter the building shook and we all held on for dear life – well, I did anyway. It was over as quickly as it started, thank goodness. We all wondered if this was Japan’s way of saying goodbye as we counted down our final hours in Tokyo with a tour of the exquisite 5-star Shangri-La, followed by an elegant dinner at the hotel’s gourmet Italian restaurant, Piacere.
Shaken, not stirred, that puts an end to our five day odyssey in the uniquely cultured country of Japan — Shiawasena tabi!