2014
07.11

SYNOPSIS:  About the second wrong pick of a hotel.  No redemptive qualities this time.  About the forgotten corner of the five-lake area and a wannabe Ryokan.

From Hakone to Mount Fuji it is, as the crow flies, a mere hop.  With a Shinkansen at hand, this would have taken 10-15 minutes.  Given the terrain and the different domains (private trains, JR trains, bus monopolies, etc.) it took several hours and multiple transfers with substantial layovers.  But I arrived at the specified Hanbali station at Yamanakaku.  The area the bus had recently traveled through seemed pleasant enough — lake front hotels, golf courses, boat rentals.  All this spelled vacation resort.  But now I had reached the northern shore of Lake Yamanakaku and all of a sudden things looked neglected.  No more resort feel.  All of a sudden, this was a low-income fishing town.

I pulled my heavy suitcase out of the bus, stood there and looked forlorn.  A young man came over asking where I needed to go and without waiting for the answer invited me and his grandfather — who also had disembarked from the bus — to get into his car.  I accepted and pointed to the name on my booking print out.  Thankfully, he had to go the same way I did.  Both his father and he looked out for signs for my Ryokan and found it.  It was all in Japanese except for a small line covered by branches.  How I ever would have found this is beyond me.  As always, they had manifested themselves when I had not even had realized how much I needed them.

The Ryokan was deserted.  I had expected a small place, homey, well maintained, with views of the lake.  Instead, this was a huge place, all dark and run down.  I estimate that they can accommodate as many as 150 visitors if need be.  A note was pinned on the door obviously for me:  Sorry for absence.  Wait your room #310.  A drawing of various stairs and arrows pointing up came with it.  I wandered through at least four corridors, empty bedrooms, halls and two floors, to confirm the fact that there was not a living soul in this huge place!  It was creepier even than that Buddhist Temple in Koyasan.

Why the third floor if all and every room was empty?   I cursed every step as I wrestled the heavy suitcase up.  My room was made up with mattress and sheets and even a jukata (bathrobe) came with it; I figured it out: only room #310 had 1/2 a view of the lake.  That’s why I was up here.  None of the other rooms did.  OK, that was worth something.

I remember when I booked this hotel that I had a weird feeling about it.  “Popular among Japanese” was a euphemism I should have interpreted more forcefully as: “If you are a foreigner stay away and go to the areas developed for foreign visitors to climb Mount Fuji.”  Instead, the lake view and what I romanticized as the authentic Japanese experience drew me here — big, big mistake!  If this had been a cozy and comfortable place with English-speaking hosts, I probably would have put up with it after all.  But the creepiness and a huge black spider in my room were just the icing on the cake.

I went to explore.  One 1.5 km to the North there was a Lawson-Station.  Lawson, a chain of convenience stores, has become my friend as of late, as I can find all sorts of foods (that is sushi, Pringles, or Kit-Kat bars), juices, beer, and other necessities there and they always accept my credit card.  I stopped at a fruit vendor who sold huge tasty peaches — he let me taste a slice — six peaches for $30-40!  No thanks.  I made friends with a young woman who had to change her baby’s diapers right outside in the parking lot of Lawson’s and I listened to the weirdest jingle over the loudspeakers indicating that it was 6 PM.  And I passed a promising sign “Patio and Fun” and almost was ready to eat there, when I noticed that it was completely deserted except for the waiter who had fallen asleep in plain view.  The menu was all in Japanese.  No pictures either.  I lost my appetite.

I still had a long way to hike back when a small truck pulled up besides me:  The scruffy looking peach vendor and his huge over-weight son were offering me a ride!  Squeezed onto the front bench of one of those minuscule Japanese trucks I was returned to my Ryokan.  Wow, that’s two voluntary pickups in one evening.   They are very friendly at this corner of Japan, I have to say!

Back at the wannabe Ryokan — really, there are criteria for each of these classes of accommodations and this “Ryokan” certainly was not in the class it claimed — I found two chairs — a rarity in a world that lives off mattresses and cushions — dragged them outside of my room onto a small balcony overlooking the lake and waited for the host to arrive.

A couple of hours later a cheerful “Kanee-chi-wa” broke the silence and an old lady appeared, still huffing from the climb of the three floors.  She did not speak a lick of English…  But she obviously wanted to communicate about all sorts of things.  I had to get out of here!

The two of us made it downstairs and the lady had a brilliant idea — call booking.com to translate between us.  Over the next 1/2 hour and with the help of the English speaking clerk at booking.com I got out of my four day contract, assured the host that she would not be penalized by booking.com either, but that I would leave in the morning.  I paid her a little extra for all of her troubles.  All my mistake.  Sumi masen.  I need to be in Kawaguchiko, where all the other tourists were if I want to make it up Mount Fuji.  And that was the point of this stop-over.  It had not started very promising…

With that settled, I dug into my food and pulled my bottle of wine out to the balcony.   As I was sitting there, another weird loudspeaker spectacle unfolded.  A high-pitched female voice made all sorts of announcements.  How rude?!  She disturbed the entire silence of the lake.  Her voice was so loud, that it must have been heard all across the lake.  I could not figure this out.  But then… listen to that echo!  Her voice was bouncing off multifold from all the surrounding mountains.  If I looked at it this way, this was actually quite an effect!  Her “announcements” ended with a little jingle and I was none the wiser.  But really, perhaps this was a little echo-curiosity show for the tourists?

With the assurance that this was my last day here, I enjoyed the rest of the evening, my wine and the time to blog overlooking the lake.  And despite the looming threat of more spiders, I slept very, very well.

Good night.

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  1. It always amazes me how angels appear to offer you a ride or somehow come to your aid wherever you journey – and two times just in Yamanakaku to find your unbelievalbe Ryokan. I could not have imagined staying there and am thankful you had your view overlooking the lake and a bottle of wine.