The last day of our trip, we got up early and enjoyed the hotel onsen one last time. We decided to go the bus route directly to Hakone-yumoto station (rather than cable cars and trains), no transfers and a little less time overall.
At Hakone-yumoto station, we had about 3-4 hours until taking the Odakyu Romance car back to Shinjuku station. Since it was still rather early, we walked to another temple and shrine behind the station, across the river. Between the Fujiya Hotel and the Temple, there is a small “park,” well, more like short hiking path (~15 minutes) that takes you through some woods. It is sort of scenic, so it was fun. This is not in Google Maps, so we sort of found it as we were walking around the temple and saw a large sign behind the cemetery, deciding to check it out. We walked back across the river, and strolled down the main street in front of the train station, where we found the Hakone Folk Craft “Museum,” which is run by the city and free to the public. We saw the sign on the door saying it did not open until 10 am, but peered through the window. The older man on staff saw us, and opened early! We felt so bad, but he enjoyed talking to us, and explained many things about the wood crafts that are a cultural property of Hakone; it is called Yosegi Zaiku 寄木細工, or Hakone marquetry, and it is very intricate. It was really interesting and we ended up to purchase a small decorated wooden puzzle box.
By this time, it was only 10 am, but since we had a long day ahead of us, we decided to go ahead and have one last soba lunch before heading home. We went to Hatsuhana Soba restaurant はつ花新館 across the bridge from the train station; it had a gorgeous view of the river (and it was air conditioned). My husband got the tempura zaru soba set and I got a regular zaru soba set. It was delicious~~ for dessert, we headed back towards the train station and got a coffee soft serve from the little coffee shop on the main street… this was also incredibly delicious since they roasted their own coffee to make the soft serve.
Of course, I had one last onsen manjuu before leaving. I also stopped by the shop inside the station to pick up omiyage for my colleagues. Although due to volcanic activity, they were not making the “black eggs,” I picked up small manjuu with custard filling that were made to look like the famous black eggs. Another perk of the Hakone free pass: a discount at the train station shop!
This was the end, as we boarded the Odakyu Romance car and transferred to the subway back to the airport. Overall, a very fun weekend trip.
On Day 2, we actually got to do some real sightseeing and relaxing. We got up early and took a nice walk to Lake Ashi 芦ノ湖 (Ashinoko) and took the bus down to Lawson for coffee and a snack. While waiting for the bus to return uphill, we walked through the pampas grass field across the way. Since it was still early, I soaked in the hotel onsen (again). By the time we cleaned up, we decided to start heading out to explore. Unfortunately, due to the volcanic activity, they were not selling the famous “black eggs” which are rumored to add seven years to your life. We took the ropeway (gondola) roundtrip, despite the cloud cover and fog. From there we took the cable car down to Gora Park– admission to Gora Park is FREE for Hakone Free Pass holders (another reason this is a good deal!). We walked about and enjoyed the flowers and scenery; at the end of the park is Gora station, where the sightseeing train starts, so we took it a few stations to a popular soba restaurant for lunch. My husband got the Tororo soba (grated nagaimo, Japanese mountain yam known for its somewhat slimy texture and health benefits) and I got the tempura zaru soba set. Of course, there was also a stop for a manjuu snack, and we were given some mushroom tea as well.
From here we made our way back up the mountain to Lake Ashi, where the sightseeing ship departs. We walked to the Hakone shrine (it has a torii at the edge of the lake). It was really quite nice, but very popular. Heading towards the ship’s port, we took the cedar trail which was rather breathtaking. Many beautiful tall trees line the path, which surprisingly was not very crowded considered the crowds other places. It is not a terribly long walk and very flat, so I definitely recommend taking it. Arriving at the ship ticket office, we upgraded to the “first class cabin”– our Hakone Free Pass includes economy tickets on the half hour sightseeing ship ride, but for 400yen you can ride in the less crowded section. WORTH IT. The regular area was crammed with many people (mostly trying to get the best view from outside), but the first class section was fairly empty with both an outside standing area and an inside seating area. We easily walked both inside and outside without worry. It was very nice!
Before we boarded the ship, we had a half hour to burn. We noticed some girls sitting by the concrete dock with a set of 3 beers and some sausages. What was this we wondered? So we set off to find the place where they got these… inside an innocuous looking tourist building is a Hakone craft beer and (mostly fish/seafood) sausage shop. We certainly could not turn down the promise of craft beer, so we split the trio tasting set and went back to the edge of the docks to sit. There was a pilsner, red ale, and a weizen, all of which were pretty good.
On the ship, the loudspeaker announced various historical and cultural facts, but mostly we just enjoyed the views (even if they did not include Mt Fuji due to the clouds). To finish off the day we took a short walk along Lake Ashi at Togendai Port before heading back to the hotel to relax.
Once we arrived back to the hotel, of course one more soaking in the outdoor bath was in order. I donned my yukata again and relaxed Japanese-style. We finished the evening by enjoying some more craft beer (different company, but also located in Hakone).
For Umi-no-hi (Ocean Day, a public holiday in Japan) 海の日, I took a trip to Hakone 箱根, a mountainous area outside of Tokyo (~1.5 hours or so). It is an area, where if the weather were to be clear, you can get beautiful views of Mt Fuji (富士山). Alas, the weather was a bit overcast and there was some fog, so no Mt Fuji viewing for us. At first I was a bit disappointed, but then I realized that the overcast weather was actually perfect for walking around– it was so cool and refreshing in the mountains, but when the sun comes out it gets hot and muggy, the clouds blocking the sun were really nice. So it was a good trip nonetheless.
From Okinawa, I flew into Haneda airport, where I caught the Keikyu line and transferred at Shinagawa station to the Yamamoto line, getting off at Shinjuku station. At Shinjuku, I bought the “Hakone Free Pass,” which basically covers all your transportation for the rest of the trip! It is a great deal (you actually save a lot of money), and makes travel super easy. I saw some tourists paying individual fares at each bus, train, cable car, gondola, etc, but those costs add up fast. The Hakone free pass pays for itself with just one round trip course to, from, and around Hakone, let alone if you wander around more. So, if you decide to take a trip to Hakone yourself, I suggest you check out the free pass.
To get from Shinjuku to Hakone, I took the Odakyu Romance Car, which I reserved a month in advance online. I was able to get a seat at the very back (front?) of the rear observation car so I got a great view out the rear-facing window. I sat next to grandparents and their grandchild, and we chatted a bit, and of course they wanted pictures with me. As soon as the train started moving, all the families started breaking out the bento and beers; the very image of train travel in Japan. The food trolley came by and I got the snack set with iced green tea… the first thing I had to eat all day. The train wound through the city and then the countryside, until we reached Odawara. Many people got off at this stop (including my new friends), so we said our goodbyes. The train continued to Hakone-yumoto station, the last stop.
At Hakone-yumoto station, it was time for lunch so before continuing on the rest of my journey to the hotel I booked by Lake Ashi, I shoved my suitcase in a coin locker and decided to explore for a bit. The town around the station is not very big, and obviously somewhat touristy, but it was cute and nice.
Since one of the things to eat in Hakone is soba, I decided to try the soba shop on the 3rd floor of one of the manjuu buildings; it was very modern and clean looking inside. I decided to make it easy and ordered the fuku-buku set 福福セット which was the recommended number one lunch. How can I go wrong with the recommended set, after all it was zaru soba (cold dipping soba)? It was excellent, so I am glad to have made that choice. Plus it came with momen tofu and azuki jelly, and some other small bits on the side. The shop lady complimented me on my Japanese, as I suppose being in a tourist area, it is not often you see many foreigners speaking much Japanese. After the meal, lunch comes with a free manjuu. Manjuu is another important food for Hakone, especially since it is an onsen area.
After lunch and a bit of looking, I figured it was time to head the rest of the way to my final destination. From here, you can take either the bus or the sightseeing train up the mountain. I chose the sightseeing train, where I would need to later switch to a cablecar and then either a bus or gondola. The sightseeing train was cute, but rather crowded. It takes you through beautiful greenery, and even the hydrangea (あじさい ajisai in Japanese) were still in bloom. It has 2 switchbacks, so the trip is not so short. At Gora station, it was time to change to the cable car tram up the mountain (again, you could take the bus from here). So onto the cable car, again somewhat crowded, although quaint. At the top station, I decided to wait until my husband joined me the next day to take the gondola, and ended up on the bus up towards my hotel. At this point, it had been a rather long day, so I checked in and went up to my room on the 5th floor. There was a gorgeous view of where Mt Fuji would be if the clouds cleared. After settling in a bit, I decided to take a bath in the hotel onsen to relax, so I changed into the yukata in my room. The onsen in the hotel was small but nice after a long day of traveling.
After a refreshing bath, I realized I forgot to stop at a store and buy snacks/drinks for the room, so I decided to walk partway down the mountain to the Lawson ~1.5 km away. It was a healthy walk, but all down hill; I caught the bus coming back up (covered by my free pass!). I noticed later that I was not the only one in my hotel that made a Lawson stop. I was lucky to find craft beers made in Hakone (Pilsner, Pale Ale, and Red Ale varieties); although I discovered the next day that there are a few more craft beer breweries in Hakone (maybe we need to take another trip and visit all of these…). My husband arrived and it was already dark, so we drank and ate instant ramen in the room, ending our first day.
I will continue the trip to Hakone in second post. More soba and manjuu to come!