Blog 3: Hakone- what’s that smell? Well, it’s in a semi-active volcanic region with a tour trail (good for hiking etc) with lots of craft villages, an open air museum and of course the hot springs.
Tokyo stn to Odawara (about 40mins on JR line- using that JR rail pass again), but then catch the local line to Hakone. Purchased a 2 day ‘Freepass’ (mistake, but more of that later!) for Y3900 each. Caught train and arrived around about 11ish. Dropped bags off at a small office in stn (Y600 each bag to deliver to hotel, but do it before 1pm). Had a few rucksacks etc with us so sought out the left luggage office (across road from stn). This was full, but a small office next to the Tourist office obliged for a few hundred to look after belongings until 4:30pm. Back to the stn for the ‘switchback’ up to Owakudani –‘the Hell valley’ (stopping at Gora for the fernicular/cablecar train to Sounzan, then cable car/ropeway). The view of the side of the mountain exposed by a volcanic blast is quite something, with the sulphur deposits visible and steam venting. Got off at Owakudani and ate at the 'sky' restaurant. Reasonably priced. Then walked up to the boiling pools (try the black eggs, cooked at 95ºC in grey, murky bubbling pools). The smell, although not overpowering is constantly present (big signs stating ‘poisonous gases, do not linger’ are quite prominent!!). Back down to Hakone, pick up luggage and bus to Hotel (look out for ‘Woody Woodpecker’ on the buses, sign of the freepass services!!).
Hotel Kowakien (with its own hot pool-Onsen) built on the side of a lovely wooded hill/mountain overlooking the valley but expensive place to eat (I’m not tight but paying £30 each for a meal, drinks extra - that was the cheapest, is a bit much). There was a mini-mart next door, so we went and bought loads of finger food (crisps, cakes, snack foods such as trayed sushi etc pop and of course beer for me). The kids loved it! Paula was a bit put off (but we could eat well at lunch time tomorrow). Up early (we had pre-paid for all breakfasts prior to depart, so no trouble here!) and off to see the sights. Bus to Lake Ashi, ferry then cable car back up to Owakudani (more sight seeing and souveniers). Train/cable car etc to Miyanoshita (ate at an Italian- La Bazza, turn left out of stn and walk about 0.5km keeping to the left side of road- you can’t miss it) which was very nice and reasonably priced. Back up to the stn (a small inn with a ‘foot spa’ caught our eye just 20m from the stn) and up to Chokoku-no mori to visit the open air museum (some art indoors, lots of sculptures outdoors). This is a good half day (all attractions close early at 5pm so be aware!!!). If you head to the lower part of the gardens, feed the Koi carp for Y100 a cup of food (honesty box). It kept the kids amused for 30mins (but it’s a drain on dads finances!!). It was boring at first, but once outside the sculptures and fish made up for it (sorry to the artisans reading this!!). With 10 mins until closing we approached the Picasso exhibition (and a foot spa!). Well, the foot spa won. It was so relaxing with feet in 45ºC water with lemon zest perfuming the water (buy a towel to dry your feet for Y150, it makes a good souvenier!).
Back to hotel. Didn’t get to try the Onsen experience, but the bath in the hotel room (it’s not for bathing in- no soap allowed!) was relaxing. Shower off the grime and then soak in the tub. The hotter the better (I now know what lobsters feel like!!). Had a walk around the gardens, which were beautifully landscaped. These 2 days went so quickly, but acted like a battery recharge (after the hectic time in Tokyo).
Morning, and oops! The freepass has run out (2 days does not equal 48hrs!!). So we winged it down to the stn on the bus (just flashed the cards at the driver). I’m sorry, but Y600 x 4 = £12!! But it was an honest mistake (honest!!). Paid the train fare to Odawara (Y300). Then onto Kyoto (Blog 4).
Note: Hakone from Tokyo (romance car for those with a little more cash-Y870 for a single on top of the freepass price, from Shinjuku stn) is possible in 1 day (and be able to see all the sights, travel the train, cable car ferry etc.). 2 nights was a good break. If you pay for the individual stuff, then you would be looking at Y6300 for a round trip (plus small discounts at attractions), so the free pass is good value. We could have found a nice restaurant in town (more travelling/walking etc. so remember wear good stout shoes), but think of the kids!! You could get sausage and chips at the mini-mart (plus hot dogs on sticks etc..) and a wide variety of convenience foods.
There are about 40+ attractions (spas, museums, scenic spots, gardens, amusement/sport facilities), many restaurants etc.. A good 1 day (from Tokyo) will get you around the area, but a 2 or 3 day visit would be more suited for the adventurous/outdoor active type of person.
Arrive before 1pm and leave your bags at the Hakone Baggage Service (Y600 per case) which get dropped off at your hotel, leaving you free to enjoy some of the local amenities.