I was feeling a little frustrated at the end of my third week in Tokyo. Everything here seemed so monotonous and uniform, without any room for differences and individuality. In hindsight, I was looking at it through a very American lens and not bothering to notice the positive aspects of Japan’s collectivist culture. I felt like I needed to get out of Tokyo, so a friend and I planned a trip to Hakone and Enoshima.
On Friday, we traveled to Hakone with a small stopover in Odawara. We saw the Odawara Castle, a rebuilt relic from Edo Period. I could see the surrounding mountains and forests from the top, which was a nice break from Tokyo’s never-ending skyline. This was my favorite part because it was the first time I felt like I got away from the city.
We got to our hostel around 3 and the bus lines would only be running for a couple more hours. One of our first stops was the Hakone Jinja Shrine near Lake Ashi. A core belief of Shintoism is purifying oneself by becoming one with nature, so seeing a shrine surrounded by awe-inspiring mountains and towering trees gave me a greater appreciation for this Japanese religion. I was able to better understand the peace that can come by prioritizing a connection with the natural world. We ended the night with a trip to an onsen, a volcanic hot spring, which are very common in this area because Hakone is geothermally active.
The next day was filled with more beautiful scenery and a boat ride. We spent the night in Enoshima. The train ride there took an extra hour because of some mistakes on our part, but thankfully everyone in the station helped us get on the right train. Enoshima had a very different vibe than Tokyo. There were pieces of Hawaiian and surf culture everywhere, including restaurants and clothing stores. Everyone seemed more relaxed and talkative in public spaces. On the way back to Tokyo, we stopped in Kamakura to see the Great Buddha of Kamakura. It was such a cool experience to see something so grand from 1252.
I was happy to be back in Tokyo at the end of our journey. I felt refreshed and ready to dive back into the organized chaos. The less rigid public transportation system in Hakone really made me appreciate Tokyo’s punctual trains. As I wandered to the grocery store that night, I came across a local celebration taking place at the Hakusan Shrine. I almost didn’t go in because I was so tired and just wanted food, but I’m so happy I took the detour. Watching people in a mix of traditional and modern clothes randomly join the dances, helped me realize the benefits of Japan’s collectivist culture. In this emotional moment, the beauty of Tokyo and its effortless combination of the past and future became apparent to me. I will try to recall this memory during future moments of weariness to combat the reservations I may have about my time here.