Friday, November 14th, 2014
From Tokyo, we made the short journey South to the Hakone region. Hakone is part of the Fuj-Hakone-Izu national park, and is famous for its hot springs and beautiful scenery. The area is very well set up for tourists and we bought a pass which enabled us to travel on all types of transport in the region for two days.
The first hotel we stayed at, is probably best described as a cross between a traditional Japanese ryokan and a western hotel. We didn’t sleep on mats or eat in our rooms, but otherwise it was pretty Japanese. In our room we were provided with what was essentially a pair of pyjamas – there was a Japanese name which I can’t remember – and were informed we can wear these everywhere in the hotel, including the restaurant! They took one look at Dean though and rushed to find him the largest set they had. We started off by heading to the private bath or onsen in the hotel. The huge tub was fed with hot spring water and overlooked a stream and autumnal looking hill opposite. Very relaxing, although Dean just complained about the heat. We embraced the ryokan spirit and headed to dinner in our jammies. Dinner was included in our room rate and was a seven course Japanese meal which was delicious.
The food was a real highlight at this hotel as breakfast was again a huge Japanese affair and kept us going past lunch (the boxes at the back are two layers!).
We travelled from our hotel to the Hakone outdoor museum on the mountain railway. The museum was a sculpture park, with art from around the world, including some Picasso and Henry Moore pieces. Although not all the art was to our taste, it was a really beautiful place, with the backdrop of the mountains providing a nice contrast to the art.
From here it was one stop further along the railway to Gora park, a landscaped garden up a hill. Some of the trees were starting to turn brown, so it was again a scenic place to walk around.
It was then time to switch onto our next mode of transport. The leaflets described it as a cable car, but I’d call it a funicular. We were then meant to switch to a ropeway (actually a cable car this time) but part of it wasn’t running so we then piled onto a bus which crawled up the mountain behind a huge queue of cars waiting to get into the car park at our next destination – downer! Our next stop was Owakudani, a very geothermally active area, with steamy pools all around. The sulphur smell was pretty overpowering as soon as we got off the bus and there are signs warning you not to stay too long in the area due to the toxic gases! You can buy eggs which have been boiled in the pools and turn black from the iron oxide. To get the raw eggs up and the cooked eggs down, they even have their own special cable car!
One surprising highlight of this stop was that we had a great view of Mt Fuji. We were hoping to see it further up the mountain, but here we just turned around and there it was! The top disappeared again pretty quickly behind some clouds though.
From here, the cable car was running, so we continued on to lake Ashi, where we were just in time to jump on the next departure of the traditional Japanese erm pirate boat (?!) that would take us to the lakeside hotel we were staying at that evening. Again from the lake and from outside our hotel we had some great Fuji views.
All in all, Hakone was a great place to spend a couple of days. Definitely a change of pace from Tokyo and it’s set up to make travelling around the area super easy.