DEF EXCLUSIVE GOES TO JAPAN 3/8

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by Ants

Continued from part 2.

First port of call of the day was to head to catch a bullet train. These sometimes hurtle through the Japanese stations with intimidating speed, reaching around 300 KPH. They ‘look’ like the future too, sleek and aerodynamic. Travelling on them is mint; you can get to most regions in the entirety of Japan within a few hours. They have smoking compartments on the trains too, a great way to see the landscape whizzing past whilst enjoying a relaxing smoke. It was also the first experience I had with just how beautiful a county Japan is. Before going, my impression was basically metropolises or temples, but there is so much contrast and Hakone is one of the most scenic areas they have to offer.

After the bullet train ride, we had to take the much slower mountain railway to reach one of our destinations. Being an old railway, the carriages were not air conditioned, so the windows were open. This helped very little and most of us were pouring sweat because of this. Sadly, this wasn’t the worst part. This was our first encounter with the Japanese Death Hornet. That isn’t a name made up for comic effect. I saw through to the other carriage and was wondering why people were running around and diving to the floor. Then I saw it, about three inches long, bullying a train full of humans. Whilst thanking I wasn’t in that car, then the same thing happened in ours. Too close for comfort I saw one of these bastards as it swooped past, fortunately out of the window opposite. When we alighted, I had a calming cigarette, only to be aggressively pursued by another.

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Stock image; hand not journalist’s own. No, the very idea that Ants would get so close to such dealers of misery is laughable.

I hadn’t read on dangerous animals before going so I didn’t scare myself unnecessarily. When I got back I saw there are bears, warthogs, a few snakes and centipedes, but the hornet is the most deadly animal Japan has, killing an average of 40 people per year. The problem with them is that if they sting you, allergy aside, you should be ok, but they release a pheromone that ‘targets’ you for the rest of the hive. They also apparently pursue people who wear black for some reason. Maybe they hate goths, I don’t know. I’m glad that this was the only experience I had with any dangerous creature the entire time I was there.

cable cars combine the heights and enclosed spaces thing, so I opted to take a bus

The terror for me did not end there, however. The plan was to take a cable car journey through the sulphur clouded mountain ranges to get to a ferry port. I flat out refused as cable cars combined the heights and enclosed spaces thing, so I opted to take a bus. Unfortunately, due to miscommunication, the bus only took us to the second part of the cable car ride, so there was no other option but to take the second car. I’d like to say I overcame my fear and marvelled at the view. But I didn’t. I sat with my head between my legs hyper ventilating and shaking like a shitting dog.

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The contrast between Tokyo and the rural winding roads of Hakone was quite jarring. It was like visiting an entirely different country. I’ve used the term ‘lush’ to describe greenery in the past, but never has it seemed so apt. The region is the location for much of the popular Initial D animé series, of which my friend is a huge fan and I could practically see him salivating at the prospect of driving the roads later in the trip. In the meantime, we had a boat trip on one of the five lakes surrounding Mount Fuji (don’t ask me which one – in true Def Exclusive fashion, I have done little to no research). My friend then got way too excited for a guy in his 30s to be travelling on board a pirate themed boat.

Unlike western fog, there were no ghostly pirates. Which was a relief

Standing on the deck, we soaked in the sights of the region such as an old ninja training academy and the houses seemingly implanted into the hills surrounding the still waters of the lake. This was supposed to be the photo opportunity for Mount Fuji, but nature had other plans as a mist descended upon the lake, literally masking our view of everything around us. Unlike western fog, there were no ghostly pirates. Which was a relief.

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In the evening we dined at a local restaurant, which was easily my favourite meal of the entire trip. I tried hot Saké for the first time and had a traditional Teriyaki chicken main course. I can’t recommend the restaurant highly enough; it is located close to the Hakone guest house and hot spring where we spent the evening. Staying there gave everyone the chance to use either the communal hot spring, or a single private one. It is required that anyone entering these shower beforehand, for simple hygienic reasons. Also you need to shower afterwards to get rid of the sulphur smell.

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Hakone highlighted for me how essential vending machines are to life in Japan. There common misconception is you can buy used pants on every corner. This is not the case and possibly racist. Whilst there may well be a vending machine somewhere, perhaps in a specialist shop that does so, they aren’t anywhere that we went in our visit. What is sold is a cornucopia of different beverages. Energy drinks, hot and cold coffees and teas, waters and flavoured sodas are EVERYWHERE. In the heat, it can be a lifesaver, as well as a treat. No vending machines seem uniform in stock and seeing one in the middle of a very tranquil, natural setting was out of place, but welcome at the same time.

Hakone relaxed me quite a lot and was a great way to wind down after the initial excitement of Tokyo. It was also the perfect lead in to our next destination – Kyoto.

To Be Continued…

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