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Nicholas Powers-maher

School: University of Southern California

Major: East Asian Area Studies

Hometown: Chapel Hill , North Carolina

I'm a graduate of USC (BA, East Asian Area Studies) interested in eating. And blogging about eating. I'm originally from Chapel Hill, NC, and my goal in life is to eat. And to learn about eating. Specifically, pastries and culinary anthropology. – [Read more]


I spent my weekend in Hakone forgetting about school. It commenced at 12:30 pm Friday in the CIEE Study Center with 3 hours of me spacing out and staring at the white board while waiting for my friends to get out class, b/c I was too tired to move (nothing new, some days I don’t even notice the time passing, and occasionally forget where I am*.)

*Not really, but my early wake up is definitely taking a toll. How I am to survive in the working world is beyond me.

She thinks I’m funny.

We left campus around 3 pm on Friday, and got to Hakone that evening, checked into the inn and immediately bathed naked together in the indoor onsen downstairs (gender-segregated, of course.) That was my first onsen experience, so I can safely check that off the bucket list. Luckily, it was only the five of us the first night, and since it was just the three of us guys in the men’s onsen, I didn’t have to cover up my tattoo. Because tattoos are most often connected to the yakuza (like a Japanese mafia), people view them a lot more negatively here than in the States. I don’t know if they were ever really connected to criminals, or at least any famous criminals (aside from Mike Tyson’s Maori face tattoo), but mostly to bikers. Now, they’re becoming more of a fashion statement, and we see a lot more types of tattoos. I explained this to my host family in April when the topic of yakuza scalp tattoos came up at dinner. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that my tattoo might be an issue at public onsen.

We saw this hill right outside the convenience store near our inn, and decided to follow it to the end. We found a pot of gold. Or maybe it was a pothole.

Actually, we didn’t find anything. After a few minutes, the trail ended. But it allowed for a number of photographic moments.

The first night, the three of us guys decided to make a conbini run (“conbini” = “convenience store”), for some dinner food to eat in the room. It was balmy outside (anyone from NC knows what a balmy summer night is: warm, humid, buggy…but dark), and there was fog galore. We didn’t want to change out of our yukata (provided in the rooms for the onsen), so we slipped on our shoes and entered the darkness like three hapless, modern-day samurai looking for sandwiches. I am reminded of the Meiji Restoration, when Comm. Matthew Perry threatened to attack Japan if the nation didn’t start trading with the States, and as a result, for the next few years, samurai attempted to attack the American sailors and traders now living in the Japanese ports.*

*Samurai comparison not mine.


You know how hard it is to walk in yukata? Oh, the ankle chafing.

The few street lights on the way to the conbini (rather, the three streetlights in the entire city) combined with the fog and mist, created light effects never before imagined.

Too bad I left my camera in the inn.

After our little adventure, it was time for some real exploration. We took a bus to the ropeway, and then flew right over the mountains! What a feat of extraordinary skill!

We rode over the top in a box.

I did this three years ago with my parents. I love discovering things that I had forgotten about from the first trip. Maybe next time I’m in Japan, I’ll end up in Saitama again.

Black boiled eggs. They dip them in hot springs on top of the mountains and the water turns the shells black and lightly cooks the yolk and whites. Japanese eggs are amazing. Often, with ramen, you get brown hard boiled eggs that taste like no egg I’ve ever had has ever tasted. Amazing. American hard-boiled eggs aren’t even a proper match.

They were selling blood type fortunes outside the station, so I bought one (type AB.) They’re written based on blood type (“ketsuekigata,” 血液型), birth month (“umare getsu,” 生まれ月), and gender. I haven’t read mine yet. Apparently, AB means you can adapt to either A-type or B-type personalities, like an intermediary. Now, if only it meant you were guaranteed 6-pack ABs from the moment you hit puberty. That’d be nice.

Way back in November, while reading blogs about Japan to find things to do, I stumbled across an article or blog post about the Hakone Open Air Museum (“Sculpture Forest,”) so I added it to my “may want to do if possible” list. As I mentioned before, I came to Hakone 3 years ago with my parents, but I’m geographically inept and paid little to no attention on the trip there, so I had no idea how long it would take to get to Hakone. My friends went earlier in the semester (on a date, which means smoochy-smoochy in the rain, and me having to put up with “ooh, this is where we kissed last time,” all weekend), and mentioned they’d like to come back as a group. So we followed all the required protocol for such situations (created a Facebook event page), and started discussing things to do. I mentioned the museum, then immediately forgot I had mentioned it (I have a selective memory.)

It’s laughing so hard at me that it has begun to cry…and stain a little bit.

It was some of the strangest, most interesting, most emotion-inspiring, and most beautiful artwork I’ve ever seen. We couldn’t possibly see everything in one day. The photo immediately above is of a sculpture near the entrance called “The Crying Angel,” and the bust was set in a reflecting pool. For more pictures (not mine) of the museum, here’s the Flickr page (which soon will have to put up with my photographic attempts.)

After a few minutes, we came upon the edge of a forest in the middle of the museum, and got separated. As I am wont to do, I wandered off, crashing through the bushes like an idiot (read: politely following the trails and bridges until I had walked them all), stumbling through the cob webs (looking at them from afar, paralyzed by fear of spiders), and discovering sculpture like none I’ve ever seen before (Roman nudes and Buddhist statues that you can see in many other places.)

There was art by modern Japanese artists, artists from other countries, and even things from various time periods. At the base of the hill coming down from the entrance was the Picasso Pavilion, a church-like building containing works from throughout Picasso’s lifetime. I’ve never seen his work up close. It was mind-blowing. Now, if I could just visit the Rothko Chapel, I’d be a happy camper. Mark Rothko’s work is some of my favorite.

These works of art inspired in me many a feeling. The star-shaped labyrinth made me feel as if I were a character in Wonderland; the woods evoked an ancient jungle in my soul; the underground passages a sense of “will I make it out of here alive?”

But most importantly, this view. It made me think of food.

So we got a late lunch at a Chinese restaurant in the museum entrance.

Of the next event, there are no photographs, as it consists almost entirely of naked people. The photographs contained herein depict the scene at the close of our adventure.

After “lunch,” we hiked up the road towards Yunessun, a water resort and open-air public onsen. It’s split into two halves: the water park, and the traditional onsen (the onsen woods.) In the water park, you can bathe in green tea, coffee, wine, sake, or regular hot spring water (in bathing suits.) It’s all supposed to be good for your skin. It is said that Cleopatra bathed in wine. That means I’m just as fabulous as Cleopatra.

Luckily, my tattoo is on my upper back near my neck, meaning I can cover it easily with my towel without looking too conspicuous. I sat with my back away from everyone, trying to keep my towel from falling into the sake (no one likes an alcohol-soaked towel, even if they bathe in rice wine.) Mind you, this was all pretty diluted. We could smell the coffee and wine, and taste the tea (no one told me not to drink it), but I couldn’t really smell the sake. I should emulate this at home. Maybe I can bathe in beer. I wonder what that’d do for my skin. After that half of the resort, we went to the other half (the onsen woods), for traditional onsen. I’ve never been in a room with so many naked people in my life. I got over my body-anxiety pretty quickly. After the hot springs, we got milk. Milk is great after a good nudy dip.

We left right at closing, which, unfortunately, is half an hour after the buses stop, so we had to wait half an hour on the curb for a taxi. When we got back to the inn, we went to the convenience store for dinner, and fell asleep almost immediately after. School? What even is that?

Our plan for Sunday was to take a pirate cruise on Lake Ashi.

But alas, the weather was not conducive.



You saw that coming. Admit it.

We came here 3 years ago and looked Mt. Fuji (couldn’t see it this time), but didn’t go to the shrine that time, so we went this weekend. We couldn’t really do much else here, anyway, but the fog made for a very photogenic lake Ashi (oh, stop.) We walked up a bunch of stairs, so I think I can safely I’m ready for Mt. Fuji (ask me again when my body’s rolling back down the side of the mountain Sunday morning.)

  • Art,
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  • Travel
  • art,
  • asia,
  • bucket list,
  • CIEE,
  • culture,
  • hakone,
  • hiking,
  • japan,
  • nature,
  • onsen,
  • study abroad,
  • travel,
  • yunessun


2 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. Love these pictures and great insight into how the Japanese view tattoos (I had no idea!!).

    • thank you! it’s interesting to talk to people about tattoos. i think it’s just starting to change a little bit. i told my host family about how they’ve become significantly more popular in the States recently, and they seemed to think it was funny that i have one. i’d been told that a lot of ppl here assume all americans (or maybe it was all westerners or all caucasians) have them, or most, at least. i have seen a handful of japanese ppl with visible tattoos (not yakuza, i haven’t seen any yakuza), and heard of one japanese woman going into the hot springs with a visible tattoo on her foot. i was in another onsen today and the only person there with one, so it was a little unsettling. going back to LA (and also Durham) will be a shock.

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