Hakone is a town in Ashigarashimo District in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. Hakone has been designated as a Geopark by UNESCO. It is located in the mountainous far west of the prefecture, on the eastern side of Hakone Pass. Most of the town is within the borders of the volcanically active Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, centered on Lake Ashi. Hakone is one of Japan’s most famous hot spring (onsen) areas and rich in unspoiled nature.
Part of my third trip to Japan is to stay in Hakone and enjoy what the locals do. I am so excited to share the things that i enjoyed at Hakone. I previously published a blog about our Capsule Hotel experience in Tokyo. After the capsule hotel experience, we checked out around 7:30 in the morning to be able to go to the train station and purchase tickets to Hakone. After securing our tickets, we had ample time to have breakfast at the station. Some of the restaurants were still closed but there were already restaurants who were open.
We stumbled upon a Tachigui translated as “eating while standing”. This is one of the Japanese custom which started around 1600’s. This style of eating was born to meet the need of the people to eat quickly. The original tachigui meal is soba, you just have to slurp until just before your train leaves, soba tachigui restaurants are usually found clustered on a platform. The dilemma always is that most of the ordering machines are in Japanese language so you just have to rely on the photos in the machines (if they are available) or ask assistance from the staff or other customers who knows how to speak English.
We passed by this bakery at the train station and bought pastries and drinks.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Our journey to Hakone began when we boarded the Romancecar.
From Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto, we took the Odakyu Limited Express “Romancecar” which we traveled for 85 minutes. We paid exrra surcharge to be able to have a comfortable, reservations only, Romancecar.
The Romancecar is spacious and comfortable. JT opted to buy fresh sushi from the grocery he found at the train station and ate it while enjoying the scenery going to Hakone.
As for me, i enjoyed a Kirin drink while enjoying the comfortable train ride to Hakone. I only had one can and i regret that i only bought one because this drink is really good.
After 85 minutes, we arrived at Hakone and we were welcomed with a 10 degrees weather!
THINGS TO DO IN HAKONE:
Upon arrival, we immediately check in and left our luggage at the hotel. Our first and only agenda on that day was shopping at Gotemba Premium Outlets.
We used Hakone Free Pass by Odakyu Railways. It is a discount pass for exploring Hakone. It provides unlimited use of Odakyu-affiliated buses, trains, boats, cable cars and rope ways in the Hakone area and discounted admission to selected tourist attractions on two or three consecutive days.
The Gotemba Premium Outlets (御殿場プレミアム・アウトレット?) is an outlet mall located in Gotemba, Shizuoka, Japan, near Mount Fuji. It was opened on July 13, 2000 and contains over 200 stores. The mall is managed by Mitsubishi Estate Simon Co., Ltd., a joint venture between Mitsubishi Estate and Simon Property Group.
Our first agenda was actually to have a late lunch at Gotemba and we were so happy to see a big food court that offered lots of Japanese food and desserts.
We resumed roaming around after our late lunch. There are 205 stores to check out in the 44,600 sq meters area of Gotemba Premium Outlets. We set a meeting place and time for us to meet and then off we explored the place separately.
After too much drooling and shopping, i enjoyed a hot cup of coffee to keep me warm on a very cold Gotemba weather. The Seattle-based coffee company is a hit in Japan as i see Tully’s almost everywhere and the reason for it is that it has overseas licensing agreements in Japan where its brand name is used for Tully’s coffee houses in this country. Tully’s Coffee is well known for once following an expansion strategy of opening stores adjacent to those of the considerably larger coffee chain Starbucks, also based in Seattle.
After coffee, we met up with the Hakone Troop to have a cup of ice cream before going to the bus station heading back to our hotel.
If you are lucky, you can also take a glimpse of Mt. Fuji in Gotemba. Gotemba Premium Outlets has a fantastic view of Mt. Fuji too.
We stayed at Hakone Tent which is located at Gora. This is just three minutes by foot from Gora Station. In this town, the stores close early, good thing that we were able to buy wine and whisky at a store near Gora Station minutes before they close. We ordered and took our dinner at the common area. We were also allowed to bring in beverages and food free of charge.
We have a very cozy hotel lobby where travelers like us also enjoyed lounging and drinking.
It was such a fun and relaxing night after 3 days of traveling and jumping from one city to another.
What we like about Hakone Tent is that it has a private Onsen bath. An onsen (温泉?) is a Japanese hot spring and the bathing facilities and inns frequently situated around them. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsens scattered throughout all of its major islands. Onsens were traditionally used as public bathing places and today play a central role in Japanese domestic tourism.
The legal definition of an onsen includes the requirement that its water must contain at least one of 19 designated chemical elements, including such minerals as iron, sulfur, and metabolic acid, and have an average temperature of 25 °C (77 °F) or warmer at the point of release. Stratifications exist for waters of different temperatures. Major onsen resort hotels often feature a wide variety of themed spa baths and artificial waterfalls in the bathing area utaseyu (打たせ湯?).
Onsen water is believed to have healing powers derived from its mineral content. A particular onsen may feature several different baths, each with water of a different mineral composition. The outdoor bath tubs are often made from Japanese cypress, marble, or granite, while indoor tubs may be made from tile, acrylic glass, or stainless steel. Particular onsens may also promote the special mineral composition of their waters, together with the healing properties these may have.
Hakone Tent has 2 onsen baths. This is the one that i tried. Public Onsen baths do not allow people with tattoos to dip but Hakone Tent allow it.
At 2015, around half (56%) of onsen operators banned bathers with tattoos from using their facilities. The original reason for the tattoo ban was to keep out Yakuza and members of other crime gangs who traditionally have elaborate full-body decoration.
However, tattoo-friendly onsen do exist. A 2015 study by the Japan National Tourism Organization found that more than 30% of onsen operators at hotels and inns across the country will not turn someone with a tattoo away; another 13% said they would grant access to a tattooed guest under certain conditions, such as having the tattoo covered up.
With the increase in foreign customers due to growing tourism, some onsens that previously banned tattoos are loosening their rules to allow guests with small tattoos to enter, provided they cover their tattoos with a patch or sticking plaster.
At an onsen, as at a sentō, all guests are expected to wash their bodies and rinse themselves thoroughly before entering the hot water. Bathing stations are equipped with stools, faucets, wooden buckets, and toiletries such as soap and shampoo; nearly all onsen also provide removable shower heads for bathing convenience. Entering the onsen while still dirty or with traces of soap on the body is socially unacceptable.
At Hakone Tent, since they are private onsens, they provide towels and soap inside the onsen bath.
It was a great experience. It helped me relax my sore feet and back from too much walking and travel. Another item in my bucket list was ticked!
After the Onsen experience we settled at our rooms. It was a traditional ryokan room. A ryokan (旅館?) is a type of traditional Japanese inn that originated in the Edo period (1603–1868), when such inns served travelers along Japan’s highways. They typically feature tatami-matted rooms, communal baths, and other public areas where visitors may wear yukata and talk with the owner.
A typical ryokan has a relatively large entrance hall, with couches and chairs where guests can sit and talk; a modernized ryokan often has a television in the hall as well. Guest rooms are constructed using traditional Japanese methods: flooring is tatami, and doors are sliding doors. Even if the inn uses hinged doors for security, it usually opens into a small entrance way where guests can take off their shoes before stepping onto the tatami floor, which would be separated by a sliding door. Many ryokan rooms also feature a porch or balcony, also set off with a sliding door.
It was a beautiful ryokan experience. I was dead tired after the Onsen bath and slept like a baby with a 4 degrees weather at Hakone.
Woke up energized and ready for another day of adventure.
We took a bus to Hakone Ropeway.
The Hakone Ropeway service operates at approximately one-minute intervals, and the 30-minute journey from Sounzan Station to Togendai Station, which nestles on the shore of Lake Ashi, allows visitors to take in such spectacular views as the crystal-clear blue waters of Lake Ashi, the rising volcanic fumes of Owakudani and the grandeur of Mount Fuji on a fine, sunny day.
The place has a distinct sulfuric smell. We will never miss lining up to have a taste of the famous black egg. Black eggs (黒玉子 kuro-tamago) at Owakudani. Boiled on site, their shells are a mottled black due to a chemical reaction with the sulphurous water, but the inside is quite tasty. According to Japanese legend, every one you eat will add seven years to your life. 5 eggs (and hence 35 years) will set you back just ¥500.
The highlight of this place is that we were able to see the majestic Mt. Fuji. It was surreal! Beautiful is an understatement. We were so lucky to take a glimpse of this natural wonder.
From there, we took a ride at the Hakone Sightseeing Ships. The Hakone Sightseeing Ships, decked out like Disneyland versions of pirate ships, sailing across the lake from Togendai to Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi.
It was a short, calm and scenic ride. The sun is up but the weather is really cold. Most of the people just stay inside the ship to avoid the cold temperature outside.
Lake Ashi (Ashinoko) offers beautiful views of Mount Fuji but only on a clear day. As many tourists have found out, a visit to Lake Ashinoko does not guarantee a view of the mountain. The lake is crisscrossed by cartoonishly decorated “pirate ships”. I guess, we were lucky to be able to see Mt. Fuji that day.
We strolled and was in awe of the beauty of the surrounding. Every corner was a delight to our eyes.
Our next stop was Gora Park. This park is a 5 minute walk from Gora Station and a 2 minute walk from Hakone Tent.
Gora Park (強羅公園, Gōra Kōen) is a western style landscape park located on the steep slope above Gora Station. It is a relaxing place to unwind and enjoy the scenery and views of Hakone.
Gora Park is primarily a French styled landscape park featuring a large fountain and a rose garden.
The park also has two greenhouses, one housing a tropical botanical garden while the other contains a flower garden. There is a restaurant overlooking the main fountain, as well as the Hakuun-do Chaen teahouse.
In the Crafthouse visitors can take part in craft activities such as glass blowing, glass etching, pottery and dried flower arrangement. Activities range in cost from 1000 to 5000 yen and take from 30 minutes to an hour to complete.
Our last stop of the day was to grace the opening of the newly opened Fuma Ninja Cafe. They serve delicious Soft Serve, hotdog, steamed bun, coffee and tea.
After we had a fun time at Ninja Cafe Fuma, it was time to get our things from Hakone Tent and continue our Japan adventure in another city.
It was one of the best trips i have because i ticked off 3 items in my bucket list—Onsen Bath, Ryokan and see Mt. Fuji. Hakone gave me a different thrill and adventure that is distinct from all other Japan cities. I should say that a Hakone trip is a must for any adventure-seeker and wanderlust traveler. What is more exciting about this trip is that i traveIed with good friends who are all as adventurous as i am. I can’t wait to share more of my Japan trip to other cities.
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