Over the Mountains and through the Woods
This is the third in this series of Hakone museums. As so many things, it was the journey that was interesting, not so much the final destination. To get there from our hotel, we took:
- A train that used switchbacks to go up the mountain, moving its way up in a zig-zag path. So at certain intervals, the train pulled into a dead-end, then reversed into the ascending track.
- A cable train that went straight up the mountain. There were two trains on one track, connected together by a pulley, and they passed by in the middle to switch places. They worked as counterweights to each other.
- Then we took an aerial lift, called the Hakone Ropeway, that smoothly vaulted us towards a view of Mt. Fuji that solicited applause from the passengers. We were lifted over sulfur mines that looked like the steaming despair of hell. After going over the mountain we descended onto the banks of Lake Ashi.
- From there we boarded a man-o-war-style pirate ship that was a bit Disneyish for my tastes, but still wicked cool. Our 3-day transportation pass worked here too (getting this, from the JR travel office, is a must). For only 300 yen more we were able to sit in the first class section, which is a more comfortable cabin away from the crowds. It’s not every day you can upgrade to first class for $3.
Once we crossed the lake, we wandered up to the Edo Era checkpoint that was an ancient gateway from the west into the Kanto/Tokyo area. Past that, we walked on the ancient tree-lined highway that led to the checkpoint. Along this path, we turned off and climbed the hill where the Narukawa Museum sits.
The Narukawa Museum
This museum’s centerpiece is not really the exhibits, but the view it affords. As soon as you enter, you’re treated to a spectacular view of Mt. Fuji overlooking the nearby hlls surrounding Ashi Lake.
We right away wanted to check out the café which has huge windows looking out at this vista. The coffee is the usual mediocre and over-priced cup of joe. The pizza was plain, artless and small, straight out of the back of a college kid’s microwave. Oh but the view was fantastic.
Around the café area is a cool assemblage of kaleidoscopes. They were gaudy and fascinating, rococo fetishes from a Jules Verne library.
There’s a permanent collection with interesting pieces of mostly paintings. There’s no unifying theme to the collection except maybe “nature”. Although, the collection is described as the largest of nihonga (which just means Japanese style paintings), it feels like a lazy way to hobble a vision together after the fact.
That said, the special exhibit of Yuki Sekiguchi is truly special. His depictions of nature in different seasons has emotional punch. They’re not just pretty paintings. They strike something deeper about the loneliness of the passing seasons. Winter is especially bleak. Autumn is melancholy. Spring is punch drunk. Summer is just ephemeral and reckless. These wall-size paintings were lovely dreamy creations.
Sekiguchi learned his chops sketching in Parisian cafés, and his postcard size pencil drawings inspired us to both buy small sketchbooks. We’ve been sketching all through the winter holidays. And that’s the best testament of a gifted artist, to make viewers go and make their own art.