Travel Log: Hakone, November!

Posted on 06.01.2015

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Sorry this is late, I realized I’ve forgotten to post about the places we’ve been visiting while we’re here (that are NOT in Tokyo proper).

We wanted to take a trip for my birthday (read: use the Mamiya somewhere gorgeous), and had initially planned to hit Kyoto for ‘fall foliage’ season. Well, the hotels were all SUPER overpriced and mostly booked out for the dates we had, so instead, we splurged and got a more expensive hotel for one night in Hakone. Hakone is a city that is very close to Tokyo, known for its natural hot springs and beautiful scenery (this is a THING in Japan).

When we were searching for a hotel, there were only a few requirements: must have a private onsen so us tattooeIMG_8876d gaijin could relax in peace (together), and must have private bathroom. Also, not over $250 a night. So we got it down to two choices: a Ryokan that had a TINY private onsen IN the hotel room, or a western-style place that had a private onsen that you could reserve. Although we generally prefer Ryokan, we opted for the larger private onsen option (the western place) and ended up booking a room in an apparently very expensive, very well-known hotel. Well-known as in, John and Yoko stayed there, along with the Emporer’s family? We didn’t know this when we booked the place, but you know what? It was awesome, and I’d gladly stay there again. It was called the Fujiya Hotel. HIGHLY recommend!

at the open air museum

at the open air museum

We did ONE night in Hakone because it’s close to Tokyo, and we could make 2 days out of one night, as long as we left early enough. So we left early on the morning of the 17th, stayed the night, and came back on the 18th. It was a good first introduction to Hakone, but I definitely plan to go back.

When we got in, it was starting to get cloudy and threaten rain, which lowered the amount of daylight hours we had left. Japan does NOT do DST, so in the winter, it’s going to get dark around 4pm. This being November, we got this light until about 4:30 or so, and then had to head back. No HUGE deal, since we had the onsen booked for 7pm, but it still lowered the amount of time we had to run around and do things on the first day. 2 nights MAY have been a better idea, but as I said, we splurged.

yes, I've seen it.

yes, I’ve seen it.

The Open-Air museum was the first place we visited on the first day and was absolutely excellent. Our hotel was in the center of Hakone at the Miyanoshita station, so most places were pretty accessible by train. I was only slightly annoyed to have to walk up a HUGE hill to get to the station. But whatever, John and Yoko stayed at our hotel, so who cares?

<<< At least 2 of my friends have asked me in the past few weeks if I’ve seen this, and the answer is yes. However, I did NOT climb to the top, but instead set up my camera and tripod on the lowest level and proceeded to lay on the floor, taking photos upward, as Mark climbed the stairs. The light wasn’t that brilliant as you saw the sky in the last photo, but that’s nothing Photoshop can’t fix later.

You have to pay an admission fee to enter the Open-Air museum, but I promise, it’s worth it. It’s a great walk, tons of great art, and actually kind of empty, for this being a booming tourist town in Japan, close to Tokyo.

IMG_8939So after dipping our feet in the VERY warm foot bath (these are in a few places in Hakone: definitely try them at least once and make sure to leave the skinny jeans at home, so you can actually pull your pants up), we headed back to the hotel, got some sushi near the station, and then hit a convenience store on the way back to the hotel to prepare for our night in. We bought alcohol and snacks, of course.

A lot of these tourist towns shut down when it gets dark, and if there aren’t a lot of visitors, some places may close early. So when the sun goes down, it’s best to just head back to the hotel and relax on that extra-comfy bed and watch some Japanese TV. Our onsen booking was for 40 minutes at 7pm, so we went on down and enjoyed the private hot bath for our allotted time, and then went back up to our room to lay around in the  hotel-provided Yukata, stream a movie on iTunes in bed, and fall asleep.

Going to bed super-early means you’ll wake up super-early, too, and thankfully the US is still awake when I can’t sleep. I had a really long WhatsApp conversation with my sister at 4am when I woke up, which got me through that part of the morning where I have to wait until it’s an acceptable hour to wake Mark. This day, that time was 7am. We had a lot to see before catching a train when it got dark.

IMG_9069The first thing we did was take the train up to the cable car, which took us to the ropeway. Apparently a lot of people go to Hakone because there are SO many different types of transportation to take. Apparently in Japan, a lot of people are totally into trains. You will see trainspotters with their huge cameras at the end of a lot of train tracks when you come to visit. They’re collecting photos of train models. While we are not those people, we actually took quite a lot of the transport options, as sometimes it’s the only way to go. For instance, we were just taking the ropeway up to Owakudani, since that was the only real way to get there without a car, and we went over a hill, and BAM: there’s Mt Fuji. So much better than taking a bus to the top. We didn’t know you could take a bus, but the station had a lot of tour  buses parked in the lot.

IMG_9097Owakudani is famous (or well known) for being the spot to eat the sulphur eggs: these eggs are hard-boiled in the sulphurous waters that sit below Hakone, and their shells turn black because of it. Apparently, eating one of these eggs adds 5 years to your life. We bought a bag of 5 for 500Y and ate them while sitting in the above-mentioned lot, with a fantastic view of Fuji, just over there. The eggs are really no different from normal boiled eggs, they just have black shells. Nothing creepy about that.

From Owakudani, we took the ropeway down to the only place: the end of the line, which put us on the shore of Lake Ashi. From there, you can take a nice hike around, or take the PIRATE SHIP across. Clearly, we opted for a pirate ship ride.

As a note to tourists who may only travel to Japan once: if you end up here, and want to ride the pirate ship, maybe spring for the ‘first class’ ticket. The normal ticket price is for ‘second class’, and everyone buys this, which means you’ll be stuck on the top level trying to take photos with effectively EVERYONE ELSE on the ship, while looking over to see the 5 people in first class standing around on their side with a TON of space and elbow room.

the view of Fuji from Owakudani station

the view of Fuji from Owakudani station

We took second class because we didn’t know any better, and spent the whole time on the top deck getting elbowed by everyone taking photos of the view from the boat, I guess. The views weren’t really impressive enough to take 45 photos of, but ok. Vacation.

The boat docks at two locations, and we opted for the further one (and first one), which drops you near the Hakone checkpoint. This is a really interesting piece of history to check out, as it’s old Japanese custom to stop at all of the checkpoints on your way from one place to another. It’s not exactly exciting, but interesting to see. This station had some really great models and the original buildings were intact, so you could see what people did on a daily basis.

From there, we had the bright idea to WALK over towards the shrine. We really didn’t quite understand how far away it was, and we ended up getting a bit lost. However, we made it around to ALMOST get to the shrine before we decided we were just totally wiped out. We wanted to see the Ancient Cedar Avenue, but somehow managed to walk around some gardens, up and behind it, so we came across a small inlet from the lake and ended up at the end of it. I still took some photos, but by then we were almost too tired to even bother walking to the station.

IMG_2269We finally got to the station and were too done to even walk over to the shrine, which may have been another kilometre or so. We found out it was closed anyway, and that sealed the deal for us to just call it a day and go on back home. We hung out at the bus station at the second dock and caught a bus back up to the station, then took the train back to the hotel.

In truth, there were a lot of things we wanted to do, but just didn’t have the time for. We really wanted to see Gora park, Sengoku-kogen, and some of the other museums and gardens. But in a day and a half, I think we got a lot done. We’ll definitely go back, and may or may not stay at Fuji-ya again, depending on the pricing! It was apparently the most expensive time of year to be there, so maybe it’ll be more affordable in the spring?

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Posted in: Japan, life, travel