A Day Trip to Hakone
When I decided to take a day trip out of Tokyo, Hakone seemed like the perfect choice. Located about 80 kilometers from Tokyo, this quaint town in the mountains is famous for its abundance of onsen, traditional Japanese hot springs. This, and the possibility of seeing Mt. Fuji rise above Lake Ashi on a clear day, had me immediately sold.
I woke up on Monday, the day I’d planned to visit, happy to see that the remnants of the previous night’s typhoon had blown over and the sky was bright blue, nary a cloud in sight. All the better for a possible glimpse of Mt. Fuji!
To being my trip, I purchased a Hakone Free Pass at Shinjuku Station. This 5,000 yen pass includes round trip transportation from Tokyo to Hakone, use of all modes of transportation once in Hakone (and there are a lot of them), and discounts at some area attractions.
The two hour train ride from Shinjuku Station to Odawara Station, in Hakone, was an uneventful, slightly boring ride that served to get me to the real starting point. At Odawara, I transfered to a smaller train for about twenty minutes, and then at Hakone-Yumoto Station I changed to a tiny, two car toy train. The red cars and velvet interior made it seem like something in a children’s book from a bygone era. Switching back and forth up the side of a mountain, the forty minute journey was exciting and gave me my first views of the scenic area.
The toy train drops you in Gora, a small town dotted with tourist shops and an overpriced restaurant or two. I decided to keep going up, and flashed my Free Pass to board the Hakone-Tozan cable car. More of what I would consider a funicular, it travels 214 meters up the mountain to Souzan, where you transfer to the Hakone Ropeway.
I told you a lot of transportation was involved.
I boarded the cable car, with the sun bright in the sky, excited at the prospect of finally arriving and happy that weather had held this long. The car ascended slowly toward the bright, blue sky, bringing me further into the mountain rage. At the peak of the rope, almost to Owakudani, we crossed into a valley.
A valley covered in thick grey clouds.
The clear, blue sky was visible in every direction. Except where Mount Fuji supposedly stands.
I crossed my fingers that the clouds would soon pass and disembarked at Owakudani, the volcanic valley about halfway to Lake Ashi. I could smell the sulfur almost immediately after stepping out of the car, and could see steam rising from the vents.
I walked the short distance to the sulfur vents and bought some of the famous kuro tumago, or black eggs. The eggs are hard boiled in the hot springs and eating one is said to add seven years to your life. A pack of five costs 500 yen. I gobbled down two before heading back to the cable car to continue my journey.
With the winds picking up and the clouds getting darker, I gave up any hope of seeing Mount Fuji as the cable car descended toward Togendai and Lake Ashi, and instead focused on the beauty of the large body of water below.
Because it was included with the Free Pass, I hopped on one of the sightseeing ships for a cruise around the lake. The kitschy looking, full scale pirate ship offered narration in Japanese and English.
The boat docked at Hakone-machi and I jumped on a bus back to Hakone-Yumoto. The small town was bustling, but I was here for one thing. Onsen.
I arrived and the woman at the front desk pulled out a card explaining the rules in English. I nodded in agreement and paid my 800 yen admission fee. The woman looked at me with concern.
“No bathing suit,” she said.
“Hai,” I answered. Yes.
“Naked.” Apparently she was still skeptical that a Western foreigner would be willing to undress in public. I nodded and went to the locker room.
After undressing and washing, I walked outside. The afternoon sun was golden and low in the sky, steam rose off the pools, and birds chirped in the background. The onsen were nearly empty and I relaxed in the hot water for nearly an hour. There is something marvelous about being naked outside.
With a clear mind and 14 years added to my life, I headed back to Tokyo. Mount Fuji? What?