Tuesday, September 8, 2009

An Inauspicious beginning

Monday was Labor Day in the States - and as we are still part of the U.S. but just in another country, there was no school and it is a military holiday. We decided to take advantage of us (Americans) being off and they (Japanese) not and head for the hills. Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and sits on Lake Ashi, one of the 5 lakes surrounding Mt. Fuji. It was an absolutely beautiful day - we headed out in high hopes of actually being able to see Mt. Fuji in full view. But first - we had to get there. By car.

Driving in Japan - It's all your fault
So a little background about driving in Japan. Everything is flipped here - they drive on the left. I normally consider myself a good, cautious driver (precious cargo), I am also a veteran of the DC highways and byways having commuted in and around DC for 7 years, not to mention the countless drives up and down the east coast to visit family in Georgia. I don't get flustered by much behind the wheel - except here. Maybe it's something about my driving class where they told you if you hit anything - it's all your fault; if anything hits you - it's all your fault. If you get stopped by a police man call base security immediately - and whatever you got stopped for "it's all your fault." So we decide that Jeff would be the navigator on this adventure and I would be the driver. Mostly this is for practical purposes - if I try to read directions while he's driving I will hurl (never mind the fact that I always feel like I'm strapped into the death seat when he's behind the wheel). It just works a lot better for our marriage if I'm driving - of course it's probably also some sort of control thing but I'll leave that for a counselor to figure out one day. So back to the driving - Jeff is giving me directions, and trying to navigate with a map that is probably more handicap than helpful - and right off the bat we miss our turn. I mean we're probably not more than 15 minutes from the main gate of the base! But no worries, Jeff with his handicap map guides us through multiple small towns until we reach a road we can take and cut over and hook back up to where we were supposed to be miles ago. I am listening to him and trying to avoid the people on mopeds who like to drive up the side of the road so close to the side of your car that the cars sonar goes off; the cyclists who alternate between riding on the sidewalks and riding on the streets; the pedestrians who when there are no sidewalks also walk in the street and all the while I am repeating my mantra for the day "keep left, keep left, keep left." Somewhere in the middle of all of this I comment to Jeff - "wow, there sure are a lot of policemen out today - I've already seen 5 people stopped." Now you know that little voice we all have in our heads? The one that starts screaming "don't say it"? Yup. I got pulled over. First time driving off base, not 20 minutes from home. Any one with teenagers want to know a really good way to absolutely mortify them? Get pulled over by a cop. In a foreign country. So really, I have no clue what I could possibly have done - other than drive too far below the speed limit because I'm too afraid I'm going to hit someone/something and it will of course "be all my fault." So a bit more education about driving in Japan - not only is it all flipped from what I'm used to after more than 30 years of driving (ouch - that hurts to admit) - once you have your driver's license you are now considered a professional driver. Luckily for me, for the first year you also have a sticker on your car (it's pretty big - 5"x8") that basically screams - new driver, get the hell out of the way!!! It also helps that policeman know that too. Really, he was very nice and knew enough english to tell me what I did wrong (I guess you are supposed to come to a complete stop at all railroad tracks here and look left and look right before crossing - oops). I got off with a caution and a promise to be a safe driver the rest of the day. Mitchell and Walker were probably wishing they could just beam themselves to a different family - or at least have a different mom.

So after that bumpy start we make our way slowly ... and I mean very slowly towards Hakone. The traffic is horrendous. For miles. And miles. Really, you just don't appreciate the things you take for granted on a daily basis until you don't have them any more - like the U.S. Highway system. We were told it would be better to drive than take a train because we would have to take 4 different trains to get to Hakone and the drive is only 2 hours away. Well 4+ hours later and several more missed roads we arrive but it was worth it. Hakone/Lake Ashinoko is lovely and since this was basically a scouting mission for us we definitely plan to go back. We stumbled on a park there (another wrong turn) that sits on the site of the Hakone Imperial Villa - the view of the lake and Mt. Fuji were beautiful.

From there we headed to Yunessun - a hot spring sort of amusement park. This is a bathing suit onsen (hot spring), which is something you need to be clear about here in Japan to avoid any embarrassing incidents like bathing with your kids in your birthday suit. They have numerous hot springs to try out - green tea spa, coffee spa, waterfall spa - but probably our family favorite was the foot spa with the Doctor Fish. These little fish nibble your dead skin away and after the initial strange sensation of having these little guys nibbling on your feet and legs it actually felt pretty good. If you want to check it out go to: http://www.yunessun.com/english/yunessun.html

I think I am finally caught up with my weekly blogs. Thanks to all of you who are actually interested enough to email me and find out where/when my next entry will be. Like I said before, the learning curve would be steep for me and between new emails, new internet provider, trying to track down all the camera connections to load photos - well it's been a challenge. My next trip is this Sunday to the Seto Pottery sale - it's a once a year event and the word is to bring a suitcase and packing materials. Oh, and lots of Yen - no credit cards. Sounds like some serious shopping. Will fill everyone in on this next adventure on Monday/Sunday - luckily this time I'm riding a bus! Till next time, sayonara.

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