Hakone Honesty

August 18

Everywhere you go, time must be spent getting back. After a tiring day on our feet, no one complained about a day spent riding trains home, with more than half the trip on the comparative luxury of the Hakone Romance Car. It also afforded an opportunity to reflect upon the best aspects of the getaway. Through the good fortune of having a father-in-law with corporate connections, we were able to stay in a hoyoujo (something like a ryokan without the fancy exterior) for a discounted rate. We had a brilliant view of what I believe was Mt. Ashigara (Kintoki-san) with its long, flat peak. The two dinners and breakfasts featured a never-ending rotation of Japanese cuisine and there was a hot spring on site. Not only was it relaxing, refreshing, and recharging, but it also afforded the feeling of living on the set of an Ozu movie.
Mt Ashigara
The highlight though, came the first night we arrived. By a stroke of inexplicable luck, the typhoon-related rain hitting most of eastern and northern Japan largely missed us and the annual lighting of the daimonji proceeded. While the in Hakone does not seem as large from a distance as the one in Kyoto, it is still the only other one in all of Japan (at least that is what I was told that night—I learned of another one in Akita while fact checking). Seeing its burning image in the distance was the fulfillment of a wish I've had since first learning of the practice almost two decades ago. The lighting of the daimonji was accompanied by a long fireworks show in the valley below. Given our location on the mountain slope, the fireworks exploded at eye level and resounded off the mountain walls.

I would be remiss in closing off the Hakone section without telling my lost iPhone story. In an effort to keep my suitcase light, I was travelling with a slim wardrobe which required me to wear my pocketless running shorts on a non-running day. When we reached Hakone-Yumoto Station on the last day, I made a quick pit stop and put the phone on a short shelf almost right in front of me—where of course I left it. Less than five minutes later I realized that there was something missing from my hand and ran back, if not in a panic, then at least in a serious state of apprehension. Having a rail pass, I was able to breeze through the gate and head to the washroom only to see the phone was no longer there. I steadied my breathing, knowing there was still a good chance that it had been turned in to lost and found. Still, the knowledge that I would be on the hook for a major expense was starting to concern me.

I stopped the closest stationmaster and he directed me to the ticket booth. No sooner did I start explaining what happened than I spied the phone out of the corner of my eye. After I was able to describe where and when the phone went missing, they handed it to me without another thought. I felt obligated to prove it was mine anyway by successfully entering the PIN code only to learn that they had courteously shut it off to preserve battery life. After proving to myself at least that I had the right phone, I joined my family relieved not to be on the hook for the $500 fee if it was lost or damaged. Only in Japan.

In an unrelated note, upon returning home for an afternoon and evening of slow recovery, I popped over to the local convenience store and noticed the last issue of Sports Graphic Number (Japan's Sports Illustrated) on the magazine stand celebrating Ichiro's 3000th major league hit. As expected, it offered great photography and a career retrospective on Japan's favourite son, but in a sports geek twist you might only find here, there was also an insert that listed all 3000 hits and the teams he achieved them against.

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