Oct. 7- 8, 2014
Hakone is famous for its hot springs, natural beauty and Mount Fuji. Less than 100 kilometers and about 90 minute train ride from Tokyo, makes Hakone a popular one day trip among visitors to escape the hustle and bustle of the capital city and enjoy the change of scenery.
Mount Fuji is Japan’s highest mountain at 3776 meters high with near perfect cone-shaped, has been worshipped as a sacred mountain in centuries. It’s an active volcano that erupted last in 1708. More than 200,000 people climb up to its summit every year during summer months. Unfortunately, bad weather prevented us from getting even a glimpse of it.
To get to Hakone, you could take a Shinkansen train to Odawara station or the Odakyu Romance car from Shinjuku station to Hakone Yumoto station. We took the 90 min ride on Romance car for added costs of 900Y per over regular train fare. Why it’s called Romance car, I have no idea. It looks like a regular train, with comfortable seats and plenty of leg room. Other type train offers a glass vista dome for better viewing. However, I found nothing scenic on our way to Hakone so not having a vista dome made no difference.
We boarded Odakyu Romance car from Shinjuku station, departed at 7:30am and arrived in Yomoche station around 9:00am. Limited food and beverages are available on the train if you did not bring any food with you on board.
An economical, convenient way to explore Hakone is by circling the region (going clockwise or counter-clockwise), a course called Hakone loop using Hakone Free Pass which allowed us unlimited ride on the Hakone Tozan line, Hakone Ropeway, cable car, boat and bus. The pass, valid 2 or 3 days, is available from any Odakyu Railway Office in Shinjuku, Odawara or any Odakyu line station. We bought 2-day pass from Odawara stn which cost less for it did not include return train ride to Tokyo.
We wanted to start sightseeing upon arrival at Yomoche stn, without the burden of our luggage, so we have them delivered to our next destination in Kyoto. I arranged it with the concierge at Hyatt Regency Tokyo, and cost less than $20 US. This practice is quite common, and highly recommend for convenience. Carrying only backpacks for our overnight stay in Hakone allowed us to start sightseeing as soon as we arrived at Hakone Yomoche station.
You can complete the Hakone loop course in one day, starting at 9:00am to 5:00pm. Just follow signs where to go next, or the crowd to the next ride or attraction. Each stop has extra attractions to visit such as museum, wine tasting, onsen baths. You definitely need to spend a night or two to have time for other attractions and/or activities.
OUR COURSE CLOCKWISE ON HAKONE LOOP
To Kojiri, near Togendai by bus.
Old road are lined with cypress trees, and believed they were planted in the early 17th century.
Pirate boat cruise on Lake Ashi
Lake Ashi was formed in the caldera of Mt. Hakone after the volcano’s last eruption 3000 years ago. There are 2 sightseeing boat companies, one start from the southern shore and the other from the northern shore of the lakes and takes about 30 min to get from one end to the other. As you cruise, and if you’re lucky you will get to see a breathtaking, priceless view of the lake with surrounding wooded mountains and Mt Fuji on the background on a clear day. Unfortunately, it was overcast the day we cruised Lake Ashi.
Hakone ropeway, for an exhilarating ride up the mountains.
From a distance we could smell a foul strong odor and see some smoke, and knew we were approaching Owakudani an area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone some 3000 years ago. Today, much of the area is an active volcanic zone where sulfurous fumes, hot springs and hot rivers can be experienced. Had it been a clear day, this place would have given us a good view of Mt Fuji.
Popular items for sale here are black eggs. The egg’s white shell is blackened by sulphur when cooked in naturally hot water and believed to prolong one’s life by seven years when eaten. I was looking forward to eating the black eggs thinking it would taste like the Chinese century eggs, that I like, but it tasted just like a regular hard-boiled eggs. Another irresistible item was their black ice cream, but other than the unusual color tasted just like green ice cream.
Cable car to Gora Station.This was a good place for us to end our sightseeing, as our hotel is about 10 min away and offer free pick up from here. Our plan was to complete the course the next day when we leave for Kyoto.
To experience traditional Japanese lifestyle consider staying in a Ryokan. Their rooms have tatami floors, futon beds, onsen bath, and rates often include breakfast and elaborate 10-12 course kaiseiki dinner. Cost, however, is not cheap averaging between 15,000 to 25,000 Yen per person. We did not stay in one as most Ryokans were already sold out.
Check in at our hotel, Hakone Hyatt Resort & Spa was quick and easy. A room with a view, awesome! Facing the mountains, it would have afforded us a good view of Mt Fuji if it were not raining that day!
Yukata, is a casual summer kimono worn by both men & women, and provided by the hotel to all its guests. Guests could wear it at public places during happy hours, breakfast and dinner in the restaurant. We took advantage of free drinks offered during happy hours from 5:00pm -7:00pm. They served all kinds of alcoholic drinks & champagne, but no appetizers. We ordered a plate of cheese sampler to go with our wine, and after our 2nd glass of wine headed for the Onsen bath.
Brochures were left in our room explaining guidance and proper use of Onsen bath. There are separate indoor onsen baths for men and women. Guests must wear Yukata when entering the Onsen facility. Swimwear is not allowed, which means guests go butt naked. We must first cleanse our hair with shampoo & our body with soap, rinse before dipping into the pool. Ahhh, the hot water feel so good, and soothing. It is recommended one don’t stay longer than10 min each time, rinse our entire body with cold water, then go back again. Repeat up to 3x. The therapeutic effects of the Onsen bath was awesome, all our body aches and pains are gone.
Oct. 8, 2014
Hotel provides free shuttle to Odawara station where we were to board the Hikari Limited Express train to Kyoto, but was not able to use. Its schedule starts late at 11:00am, and since the trip takes 1 1/2 hr would have made us late for the 12:00pm Hikari train departure.
Hakone Tozan train
Instead, we took the Hakone train back to Odawara (included in our Free Pass), thereby completing the Hakone Loop, and made it to the station with plenty of time to spare before boarding the Hikari Limited Express train.
Hydrangeas along Hakone Tozan Railway line are in full bloom around mid-June, hence during this period, it is referred to as the “Hydrangea train”. The scenic route is taking the train from Yumoche stn to Gora station.
As we visited Hakone in early October, we missed the peak season for hydrangea blooms but caught a glimpse of some on their way out.
KYOTO: last stop in our 8-day tour of Japan.