Author Archives: elenacastro

Hakone by Train, Bus, Boat, Gandola, and Hot Air Balloon!

We left Tokyo this morning en route to Hakone, a destination lake resort at the foot of Mt. Fuji.

Our host families took us to Shinjuku Station at 8:30 a.m. to ride the Romance Car to Hakone

The Romance Car–best name ever, for anything–is a separate (train) carrier from the JR line that services this particular region of Japan–about 90 minutes east of Tokyo. Train service here is efficient, comfortable, and offers spectacular views of the countryside and shifting landscape from city to suburbs to more rural communities.

Baby Leena, Yasuko and Brian’s daughter, joined us for the train ride to Hakone. Future Porter’s girl!? Future Kichijo student?
At lake Lake Ashi we visited the Hakone Jinja Shrine in the middle of the vast and impressive snow-covered Sugi grove.
Waiting for the boat to Lake Ashi at Motohakone-Ko. It was cold but astonishingly beautiful. Georgina, Lydia, Mojo, and Alizeh on deck.
What a treat to see Lake Ashi from the Dragon Boat! Here. we’re looking at the surrounding mountains and Fuji-San in the distance.
We arrived at Togendai and took the Gondola to the top of the volcano and Hakone GeoPark. Seo, Kate, Shota–one of our facilitators–Louise, Aimee, and Blythe loving the lift!
An amazing view of the Lake from the Gondola.
Mountain view from Kowakudani on our way to the Ryokan when we spent the night.
After a long and cold day, we enjoyed a traditional dinner (feast!) at the Ryokan. Dishes included a personal hot-pot, sashimi, pickled daikon radish, miso soup and rice, miso-marinated fish…. The food was plentiful, fresh, flavorful, and wonderfully satisfying!
Our hosts, Brian, Yasuko ( and baby Leena) made us feel welcome and at home; our guides, Shota and Eriko, helped us navigate our way through Hakone with patience and determination.

Last August, a damaging and destructive typhoon (is there any other kind?) hit the Hakone are especially hard, destroying local rail lines and making access and egress to these small but important mountain towns particularly challenging. Because many local rail lines are still recovering, travelers–both local and tourist travel–have had to rely on “replacement bus service” which we did in plenty today. (Hot air balloon never happened, though we might have wished it did.)

Back to Kichijo

We returned to Kichijo for Thursday and Friday classes, and spent time with host families and buddies. Japanese classes were invigorating, cooking classes mouth-watering, and afternoon activities rigorous and engaging. Our time here has been memorable, spirited, and dynamic. It’s hard to believe we’ll be heading back to Farmington so soon, bidding farewell to lifelong friends and a community we’ve come to call home.

From Jackie Beaule:

Today we went back to school and it was nice to get back into a routine and see our host families. It was good to have a break on both sides; our host families are always “on,” so it’s nice for them to have a break as well. I bought lunch today, ramen in miso soup, and I was really impressed with how delicious it was! After school, I went home with my host sister and we had some seaweed chips for a snack. They were so good! They were seasoned with sesame seeds and poppy seeds, and wow: it was a great snack! We also had a tea ceremony after dinner with their grandmother. The tea is so fresh here and the sweets are amazing; my favorite is the matcha kit-kats, (Kit-o-Kat-o). I could eat so many of them! I cannot believe how fast these two weeks went by but I am also excited to go home and see my family!

Preparing bento boxes


So many cooks in the kitchen!

Composing notes for our Japanese families.

Host family happiness!



Signs of spring at Shinjuku-Goyen.


UNESCO Intangible World Heritage Site, Miura Beach, Share House, and Yokohama

On Tuesday, we traveled to Misaki and Miura Beach for the annual Chakkirako Festival, a celebration of the fishing industry that offers prayers and blessings for a successful fishing season. The festival is hosted at the local temple, a UNESCO Word Heritage Cultural Site, and the festival has been designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage Event., with village girls participating in the traditional dance and song, accompanied by generations of women. This ceremony travels throughout the village to honor the fisherman who have sustained Mirua Beach. Following the ceremony, we ate sashimi from local tuna, and departed to a flag-maker’s studio to create a symbol of a prosperous fishing season. We made two flags: one to dozo (give) to our hosts at Kichijo School, and one to return with us to Farmington, an emblem of the close relationship we have forged with host country.

Later, some enjoyed a traditional onsen, while others walked in the hot-springs area. Following the spa, we traveled to Yasuko Nagase’s ’96 “share-house,” and hiked into the hill above the beach, surrounded by temples, bamboo, and ocean views. We were treated to a feast of local foods, and helped prepare takoyaki,  (a savory cake-pop with octopus inside–quote from Mia Gergis!). After dinner, we played a game about Sustainable Developing Goals.

Following an early and abundant breakfast on Wednesday morning, we attended the tuna auction, and watched opening bids. After learning about the auction and bidding process, we headed to a cooking class to learn how to assemble and decorate nerikiri, a traditional Japanese sweet consisting of white beans, boiled rice and sugar. Nerikiri is served with matcha tea; the sweet bean paste complements the bitter tea.

That afternoon, we took a bus, a train and a boat to Yokohama, where we spent some time shopping and exploring the area, including Chinatown.

A happy and tired crew traveled back to the Nishi-Ogukubo station to meet host sisters back at Kichijo School.

Sara Baltser and Marley Chang offer their reflection on their experiences:

Sara Baltser:

Today was our first day at Miura beach. After spending a couple of hours traveling from Kichijo to Miura we finally arrived at our destination. Very soon after getting off the bus we were able to witness traditional dancing in front of a shrine in the village due to a festival that celebrates success in the fishing industry. After that we went to a workshop that taught us how to paint flags, and we ourselves got to paint two flags in order to celebrate our time in Japan. Later we got cozy in a traditional Japanese restaurant, that served us delicious fish and rice and well as Miso soup. After lunch we enjoyed a scenic walk in Miura as the weather cleared up and the sun was shining bright. Of course one of the most memorable events of the days was a dip in the traditional hot springs of Japan, which some of us took the opportunity to enjoy. To end this busy and wonderful day we had a feast together in the share house, enjoyed each other’s company and even learned how to make takoyaki.

Chakkirako Festival

Japanese feast prepared by our hosts Yasuko Nagase ’96 and her husband Brian


Marley Chang:

On Tuesday and Wednesday, our group was fortunate enough to go on an overnight trip to Muira Beach, where we stayed at a sharehouse owned by a Porter’s graduate, Yasuko Nagase. After the two-hour bus ride from Tokyo to Muira filled with laughs, music, and plenty of snacks, we got off the bus and immediately went to a shrine for the Chakkirako festival. This festival is special to Muira and is a celebration where young girls dance and chant prayers for a prosperous fishing season. After watching and experiencing this beautiful tradition, we were split into two groups, and my group went to a local traditional seafood restaurant first for lunch. After arriving, we took off our shoes before climbing a set of stairs, where we were greeted by a beautiful dining area, complete with low tables and legless seats on the floor. After being seated, we were immediately served hot tea, miso soup, and a beautiful bowl of sashimi and rice. Though I do not eat seafood for ethical and dietary reasons, I was able to overcome my personal limitations, making sure to try pieces of each different kind of fish and seafood; however, I ended up giving out most of the fish to my friends– I didn’t want any of it going to waste! After our delicious meal, we walked to a tiny shop, where we were able to paint our own Tairyobata, a flag typically displayed on boats when returning to ports by fisherman to indicate a successful and big catch. My group came together as we discussed which colors to use and where, as well as switching spots and swapping brushes in order to ensure everyone had equal opportunities to paint the flag. It was an amazing bonding moment, especially at the end when we were able to step back and admire our work! We then reunited with the other half of our InterMission group and traveled to Jogashima Island, where we were able to walk around and explore a park on the island. After taking many photos, we finally made our way to the sharehouse, where we checked in and dropped off our bags before heading to a traditional Japanese hot spring. After spending an hour enjoying the relaxing hot water, we returned to the sharehouse, where we enjoyed a delicious meal, played a game related to the UN’s SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), and finally, went to made our way back to our rooms to the futons set up on the floor. All of us were exhausted from our full day, and fell asleep very quickly!

On Wednesday, I set an alarm for 6, so I could have time to myself to watch the sunrise and eat breakfast before the rest of my InterMission group woke up. After helping prepare breakfast, eating, and packing up our belongings, our InterMission group traveled via public bus to the Misaki Seafood Regional Wholesale Market, which was essentially a wholesale auction for tuna. This experience truly opened my eyes to the size and value of tuna fish and sparked a discussion between a few of us within our group about the seafood industry and the ethics behind seafood consumption. We were all amazed at the size of the fish, and how much each fish was selling for. After leaving the fish market, we went on to have a lesson where we learned how to make traditional Japanese red bean sweets shaped like chrysanthemums! After snacking on our beautiful creations and drinking matcha tea, we took another bus, a train, and a boat to Yokohama, where we were able to explore and buy lunch in Chinatown. Though I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my time and the activities we’ve done in Japan, I was grateful to have an hour just to wander and explore with my friends by my side. Lastly, we took our final few trains and arrived back at Kichijo, where we parted ways for a night in with our host families.

Path leading up to the share house

Shoes off at the door!

View from the bluffs at Jogashima Island


Tuna auction

Our nerikiri creations!

Riding the boat to Yokohama