Japan Revisited: Tokyo, Osaka, Hakone

We booked flights through Singapore Airlines for our summer vacation and ended up on their promotional mailing list, which meant receiving fare sale alerts every so often. The fare sale to Tokyo was too good to pass up so I ended up booking a random week-long trip for Tom and myself over Valentines. Japan had been a life-altering experience for me and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to return. I wanted to visit areas we hadn’t seen yet and decided on Osaka, known for its food scene, and Hakone, known for its hot springs and views of Mt. Fuji.

Japan is and will always be a phenomenal place, but if I’m being honest…it wasn’t quite as phenomenal the second time around, for a variety of reasons that weren’t Japan’s fault. It’s not you, baby, it’s me. First of all, it was cold as fuck in February. Note to self: if you live in Denver where wintertime temperatures are frigid, maybe avoid traveling to a country with an equally frigid climate? Maybe opt for a tropical destination if you’re trying to escape the cold? I have no idea how I lived through so many New England winters during my formative years but I do not handle the cold well, at all. If the temperature drops below 78°F I want to be immobile underneath a down comforter. That’s not an option on vacation, so I donned multiple layers and my trusty L.L. Bean fleece parka, which is basically like walking around in a sleeping bag. Long gone are the days of sacrificing comfort for cuteness. I looked like some forlorn arctic voyager wandering the streets of Tokyo and Osaka.

The food bar had been set so high during our first tour of Japan that Osaka turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The local cuisine, like takoyaki (octopus balls that were unexpectedly mushy inside) and okonomiyaki (a pancake/omelet/pasta/frittata concoction that was also mushy), was fine; we just didn’t enjoy it as much. The city itself was grittier and more industrial than Tokyo and not nearly as impressive. Tokyo itself wasn’t as impressive because the novelty had worn off and being there without the kids made me ridiculously sad. Whenever we had a really cool experience, I kept wishing the kids were with us so they could experience it too. I missed them like crazy. This was the first vacation where I realized that I didn’t want to vacation without my kids anymore. Being without them was like going back to black-and-white after living life in technicolor.

The highlight of the trip was definitely our stay at the ultra-lux Hakone-Ginyu. I was so impressed by our experience in Kyoto that I was eager to stay at another ryokan. Hakone-Ginyu blew our prior experiences out of the water.  It was unbelievably gorgeous. Every vista, every corner was a sumptuous feast for the eyes. I could not stop taking pictures of everything I saw. Japanese aesthetic sensibilities are on a level beyond anything I’ve seen elsewhere. And the kaiseki meals at Hakone-Ginyu—to die for. Add the luxurious hot springs onsen (the piping hot outdoor water bath) and I was in heaven.

We bought the Hakone Freepass which allowed us to explore popular sights by train, cable car, cruise, and other fun modes of transportation. But for the cold temperatures it would have been the perfect getaway, and I would love to return to Hakone in the spring or summer. I would love to return to Tokyo as well, except I know it will have to be with the kids. I can’t wait to introduce them to Japanese culture and cuisine. This is a society that prizes its food like jewels on display. As you can tell from my excessive food pictures, I’m obsessed with eating delicious things. On many occasions we would finish a meal and immediately get in line for our next meal. Maybe the reason why I’m so drawn to Japan is because the enjoyment of food is not only perfectly acceptable, it’s a priority.