Traveling with Family in Japan: The Little Prince Museum in Hakone
Joanne G. Yoshida
The Little Prince Museum in Hakone is a tribute to the famous story written by the French author, pilot, and illustrator, Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The museum itself is like something from a storybook, situated along a winding road in lush and mountainous Hakone, about 80km west of Tokyo.
The museum is in Gora, a town within the resort area of Hakone, famous for its natural beauty, onsen (natural hot springs), proximity to Mt. Fuji, and for many cultural attractions.
We stayed at the Pipe Kemuri Hotel, whose price and family atmosphere make it an ideal base from which to explore the museums and gardens of the area. After a day of sightseeing, there is a buffet dinner where you can even go dressed in your yukata (light kimono-like bathrobe) provided for use during the hotel stay. The onsen in the hotel has a rotenburo (outside communal bath) from which I saw a beautiful full moon, while my mother--who traveled from America to meet us and who was still not used to the Japanese custom of group bathing--took her shower in the room. My daughter fell asleep early the first night, and the next day was ready to explore.
Even children who are not crazy about museums will love The Little Prince Museum. Within it there is a small 'village' designed to look like France, with signs painted to look like Parisian bakeries, French food markets, and even a fade painted on one side of the building with a garden which makes you feel like you are at Versailles.
The food served in the Restaurant Le Petit Prince is French with Japanese touches, known in Japan as "Japanese-French." The restaurant offers a menu featuring fresh organic vegetables, Hakone-raised meats, and fish from the nearby Odawara harbor.
The decor has a French feel with a Japanese calm, and the service is polite and attentive. Or, you can choose a more casual meal at The Cafe Les Saint Germain de Pres. We were very happy with the mix of cultures in the cuisine and in the whole experience of the day. Not quite knowing where we were helped to situate us in the world of the Little Prince's planet.
Inside the museum, you can see illustrations from the Little Prince in rooms re-created to capture the details of Saint-Exupery's time. We looked into the author's childhood bedroom, and at a re-creation of the room from where he wrote The Little Prince.
It was my daughter's first glimpse of an actual typewriter. Drawings and letters are hung on the walls in between the rooms. Unlike a conventional museum, this one is more of an 'attraction' as you pass from one setting to the next. My daughter, my mom, and I agreed that it felt like a cross between Japan's Disneyland, Paris, and a children's museum.
My daughter had a great time posing next to a life size 2-D stand-up figure of the Little Prince in the garden. My mom and I too got completely silly as we took turns posing with our new friend. I said "Bonjour" to him as my mom snapped my pose.
Tourists walk on cobblestone roads. The day we were there it was raining. It was a nice Japanese touch to find clear plastic umbrellas in stands outside each of the small shops and outer buildings that you could take and then leave at your next stop within the grounds.
When we strolled in the gardens it brought back memories for me of being in France, also on a rainy day, with my mom many years ago. I looked around and saw here mostly Japanese children and their families enjoying their adventure.
I felt happy to be able to introduce my daughter to "Hoshi no Ōji-sama", the name she, like children who attend school in Japan, would come to know the Little Prince by.
The makers of this museum help to fulfill one of St. Exupery's wishes, when he writes that one of the purposes of setting down his memories of the Little Prince is "... to make sure that I shall not forget him." The book is available in many languages in the gift shop amidst many kawaii (cute) themed souvenirs. Oh, and by the way, you can tell your friends that you saw the Little Prince and Mt. Fuji on the same day. How utterly Japan!
The Little Prince Museum
Hotel Pipe Kemuri Group (in Japanese)
Text + images by Joanne G. Yoshida
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