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Randy and I visited Japan in August of 2000.
After three days in the city, we took a train south from Toyko along the coast to Hakone, under Mount Fuji. A slow and twisty mountain train to Miyanoshita. Blue hydrangeas grew wild in bushes along the railway.
We were spending only one day in the mountains. As soon as we arrived, we had lunch (roe on a croissant) on the Fujiya Hotel terrace overlooking the koi pod. Children stood on flat rocks at the edge and clapped to call the giant fish, who poked their noses out of the water for bread.
New friend, with noodles.
We took a quick look at our room - old Western-style grandeur, then Randy and I took another train up to a steep tram, then boarded a ski lift up through a pass in the mountains. No sign of Fuji, the day was bright, but overcast. Steam vents in the rocky ground where the Japanese cook eggs. The sulfur turns the shells black. Freaky giant signs warned us of volcanic gas spouts leaking hydrogen sulfide:
Have a pain in your eye, nose and throat. But your sense of smell becomes numb, and you can no longer smell well. Please "immediately" evacuate from here.
The ski lift took us down to the shores of Lake Ashi where we boarded a paddle boat dressed up like a pirate sailing ship and cruised to the other side. Had a lovers' spat in a cedar wood, then caught a bus back to the hotel for a bath in the hotel's hot spring and a Japanese-French dinner, consomme, aspic and all.
Sunday, August 6
6:20 a.m. Tawaraya Ryokan, Kyoto, Japan
The days fly away, as I expected they would.
I wanted it all yesterday, so after waking in our room with the pretty flower name Acacia at the grand and venerable Fujiya Hotel in Hakone, I blankety blankety Randy and put on my bathing suit under my clothes. We went to breakfast in the bright main dining room -- clear bright light like in the Rocky Mountains. Views of the hills. Randy had the "Western" breakfast and I had the beautiful salad with a muffin and tea and grapefruit juice. "Who eats vegetables for breakfast"" I ask as Katie's mom did and I smile through my steamed broccoli and endive, kiwi and egg.
I want it all so I tell Randy I'll meet him at the pool and tour the impossibly lovely greenhouses while he finds his suit. Those tiny pink and white fuchsia flowers I thought were paper because they were too pretty to be real are growing here along with bonsai and tiny moss pots and other petite flowers - Christina would go nuts. And Japan is made for Sally.
I'm going up to the pool, marveling at the beauty and I catch a strong familiar scent - I turn back and it's a huge gardenia bush, covered in creamy blossoms. I burst into tears from the loveliness and meaning. My mother wore gardenia perfume.
I meet Randy and we climb stone steps to the blue pool at the top of the hill. Wisteria vines grow on the lattice over the lounge chairs and blue and while changing rooms. Cicadas singing in the trees overhanging the pool, three boards and an old concrete slide at the deep end.
Va va voom!
The water is cold, then perfect. I swim laps then dive, loving the fresh energy as I break the surface.
I cried a second time as we walked the tiny busy street to the Miyanoshita station because we passes a photo gallery with historic black and whites of Fujiya guests and there was John Lennon and the Emperor, okay, but who was that sweet faced old woman with the short and wavy 1930's hair. She had Grace Paley's wide and open cheeks. I knew her like I'd met her. I'd seen her in the photos in the halls of the hotel next to the New Year's groups in festive formal wear. 1917. 1929.
Then I noticed her far away look and the famous Fujiya white rooster with the 20 feet tail on her lap. It was Helen Keller stroking the bird. I cried with the recognition. Emotions are brought close to the surface by this world, this culture of reverence and beauty.