Lazy Bones

In true summer vacation style, I have been very lazy about many things recently, including updates. Not that I had that much to do in the first place, but I still have a vestigial desire from my teaching days to just stop doing anything come real summer weather. The rainy season is suddenly over here, and it’s like someone just flipped a switch: the air is clear, the sun is bright, and there’s a breeze again in the evenings. It’s hot, but it’s that good kind of summer hot.

Last week Rob was able to take some leave and, jealous of my recent trip to Hakone without him, wanted to go to the mountains. We stayed in the same place as I did with Mama, but the exciting development this time was that we found the Chip-sized Japanese pajamas. He looked like the cutest little Maoist insurgent you ever saw:

After several baths and lots of Japanese food (Rob ate sashimi!), we ventured farther afield. Hakone is locally famous for black eggs, and we just had to  see that. The eggs are blackened from hard-boiling in the hot sulfur springs in the mountains. We took another terrifying cable car ride to a mountain called Owakudani, passing over fields of belching yellow pools of molten sulfur. It looked like a cross between Yellowstone and something out of medieval illustration of Dante’s Inferno. At the top we disembarked to the smell of rotten eggs lighting matches. The landscape was otherworldly; the winds were high and blowing thick clouds over the mountain ridges. When the mists parted, one could see steaming yellowish streams wending through scrubby plants and rocks. We took a short hike to the egg-boiling pool, where one could purchase the black eggs. In true Japanese style one cannot purchase one egg, one must purchase a set of five. Fortunately we found some nice Chinese tourists with whom to share. Chip seemed to enjoy his black egg but Rob passed. Somewhat disappointingly, they tasted just like regular hard-boiled eggs.

See? They're black.

This contraption conveys the eggs up the mountain for boiling. I guess it beats hauling them up there on one's back.

This is the view we could have seen, if visibility had been greater than 3 feet.

After our descent, we went down the mountain to Miyanoshita where we stayed at the Fujiya hotel, something I’d really wanted to do. The Fujiya is a Japanese institution, with buildings dating from 1878, and a long history of hosting relatively famous people. Several buildings make up the complex, and all are in varying states of genteel decay. The Fujiya shows its age a bit, but was still so charming. We stayed in the mod 60s-era “Forest Lodge” (I tried to channel Betty Draper traveling to Japan–after she reconciles with Don of course, not with the guy she ran away with), but there were lots of older Western/Japanese lodge amalgamations, and an annexed old Imperial summer villa that the Americans added to the place while they occupied it in the years after WWII. The best part of the Fujiya was the dining room, where Japanese takes on mid-century French cuisine were served in silent and lovely splendor. My rainbow trout still had its eyes, teeth, and fins, and Rob’s chicken parmesan didn’t actually seem to feature any cheese. They were still great, and even better was the French toast the next morning.


The Flower Lodge

The dining room at the Fujiya.

A nice escape. Now Rob is back to the 15-hour work days. Another reason I have been distracted recently is the fault of a wonderful book, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. It takes place in turn-of-the-nineteenth-cenutry Nagasaki, where Dutch traders are confined to one small island in the harbor and Japan is still largely closed to foreigners. The details are so vivid and the characters are so real. It is an incredible story.

I am in love with this book.


Ca fait longtemps…

It’s been a while, sorry about that, but life has been pretty quiet lately. Chip had something gross going on with his right eye (which is fortunately clearing up) and his nap schedule, which was a regular and dependable as a Japanese train has now gone all Amtrak on me. Some mornings he has been taking a 3-hour nap, and then yesterday he didn’t nap until 3pm. Thus “Alden time” has been scarce.

Last weekend was fun–the theme was “eating.” Rob and I had another date on Saturday (I’m getting used to this) and we found a good pizza place in nearby Zushi. The veggie pizza came with radish and edamame which were delicious and gave the pizza that crunch that has always seemed to be missing. On Sunday we had a cookout with some of our neighbors who are German, Brazilian, Russian, another Navy family, and of course Japanese. I thought of my dad, a master griller, as onto the grill went a multicultural assortment of whole fish (one member of the party later ate the eyeballs), rice cakes called “onigiri”, hamburgers, and later marshmallows for s’mores. I thought of my grandparents as I looked around at the company. What would my WWII-veteran grandfathers have thought if they could know that I was standing around in Japan grilling with the enemy? I like to think that they would have been happy to know that it all turns out okay.

I have also been reading. Somehow I got through all of my education without having to read John Hersey’s Hiroshima, so I finally did that here (Dad, I have your copy). Needless to say it was very moving, and amazed me in the way it portrayed the horrors of the bombing so that they were simultaneously so vivid and so unbelievable. I then moved on to a book of Rob’s called Embracing Defeat by John Dower. The book is the first non-fiction (well, besides Hiroshima) that I have picked up since graduation last spring, and it is fantastic. It is very well-written; unlike most scholarly tomes I’ve been subjected to, it has a strong narrative and wonderful detail. The pictures are amazing. The book talks about Japan right after World War II, and answers all kinds of questions I’ve had about what old Japan was like, and how it got on the road from bombed and defeated nation to the marvel I see around me daily. The most burning question the book answered for me, however, is why Japan doesn’t have daylight savings time (the sun, and therefore Chip, rise before 5 am now). Land of the Rising Sun, indeed. I won’t spoil it for you–you should read it.

The problem with reading is that it sometimes leads to action, and now we are all booked to go to Hiroshima over Memorial Day weekend. We are taking the shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train, which has been a lifelong dream of Rob’s. Japanese hotel rooms are notoriously small, so we’ll see where we manage to stash Chip for two nights. I might wish I had never read those books after all.

To tide you over, a picture of Chip. He and Rob went to Tokyo on Saturday to the Maritime Science Museum (I sat that one out, and enjoyed a lot of “Alden time”).

Lunch at Ma-ka-do-na-ra-do's