The last time I hied off to a solo day tour to Hakone, I was not able to visit the place I had originally intended to go to - the Hakone Open Air Museum.
I got so caught up in doing the "Hakone Loop" that I didn't leave myself with enough time.
On this last trip to Tokyo, I was glad to have Jay with me -- we would go back to Hakone and we would make sure that the museum would be our primary destination.
It helped that we had an early start and were able to complete the "Loop" by lunchtime.
We arrived at Chokokunomori Station, a mere 3 minute walk to the museum via the Hakone Tozan Railway just a little past 1 pm.
The day was clear and bright -- but very cold. Would traipsing about outdoors, even among world class art, prove to be unbearably chilly?
From the outside or even from the entrance to the museum grounds, first timers (like us) don't quite have a hint of just what it is that is in store for them.
We walk through the entrance and the vista of art amidst sky and natural landscape opens.
Large bronze and brass sculptures by renowned sculptors and artists in the most amazing forms are all over the grounds.
This massive bull stands perpetually ready to charge or perhaps, he is just about to graze?
On a shallow reflecting pool lies this gigantic marble head, with a lush growth of greenery growing around it -- a veritable verdant hair do. It is just so overwhelming that I take my time, exhale and just sit and reflect.
There are several galleries within the museum but the art out in the open air is what truly moves and astonishes me. This giant metal piece is by Calder.
The Hakone Open Air Museum has the distinction of having more than 20 pieces of Henry Moore's large sculptures. Working on his recurring themes of mother and child, sculptures within sculptures and reclining figures, it is just amazing to see his work all over the place.
The museum is in the vicinity of the Fuji Hakone Izu National Park. Since this area is mountainous, the museum is on land that is about 550 meters above sea level. The mountains of Hakone and the rolling landscape are the perfect backdrop to the seemingly never ending display of art.
It is one thing to see art in museums ... framed on walls, kept behind protective glass, placed on pedestals.
But the art here is out in the open, you don't get to just see it ... you get to react to it and really experience it.
What an amazing place this is!
These small figures hug the wall and placed one on top of the other seem to be reaching to escape and jump over the borders.
Everywhere you look, you see sculpture in various forms.
Because it's winter, the ground is brown and the trees are bare of leaves but I can imagine, in my mind's eye what this would look during spring or summer.
All these pieces amidst lush greenery must be a totally different experience again.
This large block of Carrara marble that formed these figures probably comes from the same place where Michelangelo got his stones.
Not all art is heavy or ponderous -- or solemn or serious. Much of it is whimsical, light even humorous. How we respond and react to art is entirely personal. Much of the snobbery surrounding art revolves around how one is supposed to be moved by a specific piece.
I believe each person has his own take -- art is purely subjective and personal.
I find myself smiling at this piece by Turner Prize winner Anthony Gormley.
It was surely not his intention but this figure lying flat on the ground reminded me of how I feel at the end of the work year. Flat out spent and exhausted.
We walk slowly through the grounds, discovering more and more treasures -- as we turn a corner, as we walk up a flight of concrete stairs.
I am truly happy to see so many of Henry Moore's large pieces. It is amazing that this museum in the middle of the mountains should have such an impressive and significant collection of works by this major artist.
The white building in the background houses Henry Moore's smaller pieces plus a well stocked gift shop and small coffee shop. What holds our attention though is what you see in the foreground -- an open air hot water foot bath! It is so unexpected yet so natural in this unique open air setting. Particularly since Hakone is known for its many natural hot springs, this comes as a welcome feature.
There is no one around and we make a beeline to soak our cold feet in the hot spring water.
The museum have thoughtfully provided for visitors like us who cannot resist the lure of the foot onsen. There is a small cabinet with washcloths for sale -- 100 yen, honor system -- get a towel and slip a coin into the slot. Exactly what you need to dry your feet with.
The water, which is perfumed by large orange halves floating along, is extremely hot at 65C but as we continue to slowly dip our toes, we get used to the heat and pretty soon, we are having a lovely long soak.
Only the thought of minor degree burns makes us get up, put on our socks and shoes and continue our way through the museum.
Still, it was such a wonderful albeit short interlude -- our feet felt so good afterwards!
Aside from Henry Moore and the others who are all in the international list of who's who in sculpture, the other major talent in the Hakone Open Air Museum is Pablo Picasso. There is a gallery devoted to over 300 pieces of his work - from drawings, etchings, prints and paintings.
On this side of the museum grounds, the pine trees still have their green needles and the ground is covered with plants that are a bright green hue. The winter must be mild for these hardy species to survive. More gorgeous bronze pieces await you at every turn.
This large wooden piece is called Woods of Net and is an interactive work where you can go in and enjoy yourself amidst the swinging nets that are suspended from the ceiling.
We have made the circuit of the museum and find ourselves headed back towards the exit. This large obelisk has two huge bronze pieces that seem to be floating on air. It is "Man and Pegasus" by Swedish sculptor Carl Milles.
I think flight could be the theme for this whole glorious place -- flight from the ordinary, the mundane -- flight to whatever and wherever your mind can take you.
The Hakone Open Air Museum is a typical example of the Japanese character "wa"... which means harmony and peace. This museum, set amidst such a stunning backdrop of mountains and sky, could easily have been overpowered by Nature.
Instead, they co-exist in complete balance and harmony.
Truly wa, truly Japanese.
It has also helped restore my own sense of "wa" -- after just a few hours, I feel I have recovered my own sense of peace and harmony.
An afternoon spent amidst such a spectacular setting is truly an afternoon we will always remember and cherish. These moments are what make travel so life-enhancing. These gifts that come my way are gifts that will always be with me.
Domo arigato gozaimashita, Hakone Open Air Musem -- thank you for your gift of "wa".