Fly me to the Moon is inextricably caught in my head.
I took off to Hakone with time enough to spend a good couple of hours there. Stepping off the train my first question was, where can I get that bloody Neon Genesis map?! I went to the tourist office, and the poster of Rei on the door was a good sign. But there was no map inside. I looked around, and found nothing – nothing!
Look, I came all the way out here to get a map, and while I'm sure I'd have loved it anyway, it would feel like a failure without it. I needed that map!
Once the lady trying to figure out that, indeed the bus outside the building was the one she wanted (this concept was just not getting through) I was able to ask the english speaking employee about it.
Well, actually, she pushed the bus lady aside, to help me. How many more times could she really explain – orange bus – you can see it through the window – go now!
When I asked about the mysterious map I had read about, she smiled and fetched me a card. Apparently you had to fill out a card and exchange it for the map. No doubt this is to gather information about how many tourists that aspect is bringing in, and also to keep people from taking a whole stack of them. It's not like that's what I was planning on doing – I just wanted one, just one for me – ok, fine, I wanted a whole stack and was going to take every one they had, but no – I was foiled. That's OK though, I left with my one map and that was all I needed.
It turned out that aside from the main train station most of the sites were far from the city centre. Fair enough, this was still a scouting mission, and I had now seen where I need to return on my next trip here. There are cable cars, and all sorts of other fun ways to get around (in the anime the cable cars all have automatic weapons and serve as a defense system.) For a low price you can get a pass that lets you get all over the area. It would take two days to fully see though, and I only had a couple of hours left. Next time.
With map in hand, and regular tourist map of the area, I headed out to wander the streets. For the most part I saw two things on this day. Two temples, each uniquely juxtaposing one another and bringing modern day Japan into sharp focus.
One was a waterfall temple – two waterfalls bordered the building, and a day spa had been built close by to capitalize on the location. It's hard to picture the area one hundred or more years back, when all there would have been was a path to the falls, and the temple atop a short hill. One can try and picture the terrine, but it's nearly impossible as the falls have been manicured to best suit the visitors of the spa/onsen.
This is Japan today.
The other temple took me up into the hills. On my map it did not seem quite so far off the path, and had I known just how long it would take, I would probably have ignored it completely. But I was ignorant, and all the better for it.
Walking up some stone steps, I found myself on a path leading ever upwards, wondering when I would reach the top. Although at this point I didn't know if there would be a top, nor that there was a temple located there. I was simply climbing stone steps into the moss-grown forest, assuming that something must lay ahead. The path had to lead somewhere.
Every landing presented me with a number of small tombstones, and wooden planks engraved with text undecipherable to me. Ever upwards I wandered as the shadows closed in around me, and blocked all vision – all sound – except for that which was immediately before me.
At that moment I was travelling again. I loved travelling with a large group, but there was no off the path. I doubt may of them would have wanted to turn down this side journey. In fact I doubt I would have followed had one of them suggested it. So communal were our travels, so social, that it was hard to appreciate why one would want the sanctity of something cutting one off from the surroundings.
the path was lined with small statues, glad in red knitwear. I know not what they were for, nor how long they had been there. All I knew is that I was walking up, ever upwards.
Losing myself in the experience I was both shocked, and relieved, when finally the end was before me. Silently I had cursed my desire to explore, spending twenty minutes climbing higher and higher. But then, there was the end. A temple before me. And one lone cherry blossom tree. These would be the last blossoms I saw in Japan, and they stand out in my mind, perhaps more so after the climb, than had I just found them with ease.
The temple, as I drew close, was a lonely one, with one man sitting inside. I peeked in, but then quickly left. This wasn't about the destination. This was about the journey to the top , and then back down once more. This was exploring, and travelling, and being alone with your thoughts.
No, it was not isolated by days of trails from the quote unquote real world, but it was a momentary escape. And I saw no one else from the time I started the climb, passing a group just headed down, until I reached the bottom once more, as another group started going up.
The walk down took as long as the walk up, but every step held meaning, a value of sorts. Once more I had found my way and I loved it. That moment, never to be repeated, filled me with the type of warmth I experienced wandering through Akiba with my friends from back home. I did not think it could be topped. And it wasn't – but this? It was something as equally wonderful. And I thought about how I'd like to share it with others – but could it have been shared, or was the experience in going at it alone?
Just letting someone know there is an end point, or pointing the location out to them – would that take away some of the beauty?
Every now and then it's worth taking the stone steps leading up into the forested hills.
And this? This is the old Japan.