David Chart's Japan Diary

November 15th 2005

Well, that was a busy four days. I have quite a lot to write up since my last diary entry, so let's get started.


On Friday, I got married. This was, as noted previously, just the legal bit; the ceremony is happening next year. It's still significant, though, so we made an effort to mark the occasion. Yuriko took the day off work, and wore a kimono. I now know rather more about what is involved in putting a kimono on, and it's a lot of work. People can get quite fast, with practice. Yuriko told me afterwards that women who want to get good at wearing a kimono often take part-time jobs in traditional Japanese-style restaurants, where the staff wear kimonos. That way, they get to practice almost every day. Yuriko, however, does not work at such a place, so it was a considerable effort, for which I am very grateful; I thought she looked great. I wore a suit, to match the degree of formality, at least.

Yuriko sealing the Kon'intodoke Yuriko, immediately after sealing the document declaring that we are getting married. I sealed first, so the document was complete at this point.

Once we were ready, we both sealed the Kon'intodoke, the wedding document. Then we gathered up all the other necessary documents, and took a taxi to the Ward Office.

The official at the desk congratulated us when we handed the form over, and then took it away to investigate. Things immediately became complicated. First, a Japanese woman marrying a foreign man cannot automatically change her surname. She has to fill in an extra form, to ask for the change to be made after the marriage is completed. Since Yuriko is making a new Family Record, her name will first be entered as Yamamoto, and then changed to Chaato. (That's the closest the Japanese syllabary can manage to 'Chart'.) You can do it on the same day, and we did, but they are still separate events.

Then there was the problem with my parents. Their names, as recorded on my birth certificate, also need to be recorded. So I had to provide katakana versions. Next was the matter of ordering extra copies of the marriage certificate, so that we can send one to the UK to have our marriage registered there as well. (It isn't legally necessary; the marriage is already valid in the UK. It does, however, make things easier.) That meant filling in another form.

At this point we realised that everything on Yuriko's residence record (juuminhyou) was going to change, so we ordered a couple of copies of that; one for the visa application, and another for Yuriko to update her driver's license. That meant filling in another form.

Finally, I was asked if I wanted to record my marriage in my foreigner's registration. Since I am applying for a spousal visa, this seemed like a good idea, so I filled another form in.

You may have got the impression that there was quite a lot of paperwork involved in this part of the day. I can see why the Japanese custom is to keep it completely separate from the ceremonial part of the wedding.


From the Ward Office, we went straight to the railway station to start our honeymoon. This was just a short weekend trip, to Hakone, a national park to the west of Tokyo. We made it to Shinjuku to catch the Romance Car express train, and ate box lunches together as we travelled. Hakone is really quite close to Tokyo, so most of the journey is through urban areas. We did, however, see Mount Fuji from the train at one point, peering over the other mountains. That was the only time we saw it all weekend; although the weather was generally good to us, it wasn't quite that good.

We arrived at Hakone-Yumoto station, at the edge of the park, at about half-past three, and by the time we'd booked return tickets, sorted out, and got to the ryokan, it was about half-past four, and starting to get dark. This was not a problem, as our plan had always been to just have a relaxing evening at the ryokan. We were staying at Ichi-no-yu Honkan, in Tonosawa. This is where Mum and Ray stayed when they visited Hakone, and since they were enthusiastic, I booked us in here. It was an excellent choice. I made the reservations six months ago, so we had a room with a private hot spring bath. It was on a corner of the building, with a wonderful view across a fairly large river to a steep forested slope. As it is autumn, the maples on the slope were starting to change colour, making the scenery a patchwork. Ichi-no-yu claims to be the oldest ryokan in Hakone, and there has been one on the site for nearly 400 years; it appears in ukiyo-e prints. The current buildings do not go back more than 150 years, however.

We had breakfast and dinner in the ryokan, in the dining room on the top floor. This room also has a view over the river and forested slope. The food was delicious. There is, however, no choice, which is normal at ryokan; you eat the seasonal dishes you are given. It seems that everyone gets the same thing on their first night, and then if you stay more nights, you get different dishes. On the first night, the main dish was kinmedai (sea bream, according to my dictionary) and it was one of the best fish dishes I've ever had. Tai is traditionally eaten at celebrations, so it was an appropriate meal for the day.

The weather forecast for Saturday was for clouds and rain. It was wrong. We got clouds and sun instead, and a really pleasant temperature. We took things slowly in the morning, and set off to see some of the sites of the park at about eleven o'clock. My guide book (Frommer's) recommends using the Hakone Free Pass to get around the park, and we followed the recommendation. The first leg is the Tozan Railway, which is the second-steepest railway in the world. There are three places on the route where the train reverses direction, because there is not enough space to do a curve that the train can negotiate and still get up the mountain. As a result, the views from the train are quite spectacular.

The recorded announcements include tourist information, and as we were passing through one village they pointed out the elementary school. The school has an attached hot spring bath, which the staff and students use. I wonder whether this puts the children off hot springs for life? I suppose it depends on how much they enjoy school.

The Tozan railway ends at Gora, where you change to a cable car (in the San Francisco sense). This goes straight up a steep slope to Sounzan, by which time you are quite a long way up in the mountains. There, you change again, to a ropeway, which takes you to Owakudani. This is the highest point, more than a kilometer above sea level. Here, we got off.

Yuriko with volcanic gases Yuriko at Owakudani. The steam in the background is from volcanic vents.

Hakone is a volcanic area; that, of course, is why it has hot springs. This is particularly noticeable at 'Great Boiling Valley', where many sulphurous hot springs come to the surface. The sulphur leaves a yellow residue on the rocks, and the smell of hydrogen sulphide is quite distinctive. There is a path from the ropeway station up among the springs, with a number of warning signs saying "these gases are poisonous, do not dawdle and stay away if you have any respiratory illness". A few minutes above the station, in an area presumably slightly less prone to poison gas, there is a shop that sells eggs boiled in the water. The sulphur turns the shells black, and just about everyone bought some. We did, too, and I discovered that I am still completely useless at peeling hard-boiled eggs. They were tasty, however, and set us up for the next stage.

That was a little walk, along the Owakudani Nature Trail. The Frommer's guidebook gets this mixed up with the path to the place selling the black eggs, but it is well worth it. The trail goes to the next ropeway station down, and the walk takes about half an hour, through woods and along side streams. Despite the fact that it was high season weekend, there weren't very many people on the path. As the station at the top of the mountain had been heaving, this was something of a relief. (I've commented on this before; in Japanese tourist traps, you only need to go a tiny distance from the standard route to find much, much quieter areas.)

We then got back on to the ropeway for the rest of the journey to Lake Ashi. This is quite a large lake in the middle of the mountains, and part of the standard circuit is crossing it by boat. The boats are decorated in the style of European paddle steamers and pirate ships, which is bit strange, and very Japanese. The trip across the lake took about twenty minutes, which gave us plenty of time to enjoy the view.

Husband and Wife The happy couple, on Lake Ashi.

We got off at Hakone-machi, and went to visit two more locations. The first was a reconstruction of the Edo-period Hakone checkpoint. Hakone is on the original route of the Tokaido, the main road from Tokyo to Kyoto, and the Hakone checkpoint was an important one, as the terrain makes it very hard to dodge it. The checkpoint is currently being expanded, and Yuriko wants to go back when it's finished, in spring 2007.

A short distance beyond that is the site of an old Imperial palace, which is now a public park. It's a very nice formal park, with a great view over the lake, but we didn't have time to do more than walk around part of it.

We got the bus back to the ryokan. The bus was full. Very, very full. In fact, almost all the modes of transport we used were at full capacity. I suspect that, with the leaves turning, this is high season; if it isn't, I dread to think what high season is like.

View of mountains The view over the mountains from the top of the one of the art works at Chokoku-no-mori museum.

On Sunday, we had to move a little more sharply, as check-out is 10am. Thus, we were squeezing ourselves into the Tozan railway a bit earlier, planning to visit a couple of museums. The first was Chokoku-no-Mori museum, an open air museum of modern sculpture. This museum is definitely worth a visit, for the setting as much as for the contents. It's on the side of a hill, with fantastic views out across Hakone. The contents are also interesting, including works by lots of famous sculptors. We spent about two hours there.

We then went on to Gora, and the Pola Museum. This is a more conventional indoor museum, which Yuriko had been wanting to visit for some time. The foundation that sponsors the museum also sponsored NICAF, the art fair that preceded Art Fair Tokyo, but Yuriko hadn't been able to get to the museum itself. In fact, she'd never been to Hakone before, despite living in Tokyo for well over ten years.

We had a late lunch on Sunday, at Gora Kadan. We chose this place because Yuriko saw the buildings from the train on Saturday, and decided that she wanted to eat there. For some reason, this technique seems to work when she does it. Gora Kadan is a high-class ryokan, but non-residents can eat there. The lunch was delicious, and made a good end to the weekend. After that, it was just a matter of squeezing ourselves back onto the Tozan Railway, and getting the express train back to Tokyo.


But there's more! Yesterday, we went to apply for my spousal visa. First, we went to the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, in Shinagawa. There, at the place where you take your ticket to wait your turn, there was a sign telling us to go to Yokohama instead. Personally, I would have prefer to have been told at an earlier stage of the proceedings.

So, we got back on the bus, and headed to Yokohama. Once we got there, things were fairly straightforward. I got a ticket, number 79, noted that they were dealing with number 54, and worked out that we would probably be dealt with before they closed for lunch. We sat down while I got all the paperwork organised so that I could hand it over quickly.

By that time, they were calling for number 61.

"Number 61? Is number 61 here?" No movement.

"Number 62? Is number 62 here?" No movement.

There was a brief pause around number 69, but then another rush through most of the seventies. When we got to the desk, things went very quickly. We need a copy of Yuriko's family record, once that's done, but as they took the documents it is very likely that the application will succeed. Thanks to Declan's advice back at Yamasa, I knew to take originals and copies of most documents; the inspector checks that the copy is a real copy, then stamps it and lets you have the original back. Apparently Yuriko's proof of employment had to be the original, though.

Chrysanthemums Part of the Chrysanthemum Festival.

That meant that, in the end, I was able to do what I had planned for the afternoon. First, I went to Yushima Tenjin to see the Chrysanthemum Festival. This is a display of lots of chrysanthemums, grown into particular shapes. It's competitive, and there are many categories, from domes, as in the picture, to bonsai chrysanthemum displays. This was the 27th, and I believe it happens every year.

From there, I went to the National Theatre of Japan, where there were performances of traditional Japanese dance. These were being given by the students of a school where one of Yuriko's bosses studies, which is why we were going. I couldn't be at the whole thing, so I only saw a couple. One was a performance by a four-year-old, which was very cute. The other was a performance by an adult, and was also very interesting. It's a very different style from western dance, and takes a bit of getting used to, but I enjoyed myself.

And then, I came home, finally. I could do with a break, now...