On the fifth day of our trip to Japan my boyfriend and I left bustling Tokyo for peaceful Hakone, a mountainous area west of Tokyo famous for hot springs and Mt Fuji views.
In the morning, we bid farewell to Asakusa and successfully navigate our suitcases through the morning rush. At the Tokyo station we’ve boarded shinkansen Kodama to Odawara. There we’ve change super-fast and comfortable shikansen for slow local Hakone-Tozan Line to Hakone Yumoto. We’ve just missed the bus that would take us to our ryokan (Japanese inn) in Tonosawa. Because we would have to wait for another one for quite some time, we decided to take the taxi. After a short ride, we arrived to our accommodation. Again, we arrived too early to check in and our room wasn’t ready yet. We left our luggage in the lobby and went out to explore the area.
The plan was to visit Ōwakudani, a volcanic hot spot full of sulphurous springs. Unfortunately, the volcano just started to woke up from its dormant stage. The Japanese agencies sensed its increased activities and closed the area for the safety reasons. We went for a plan B and caught the bus to Hakone-Moto by the Lake Ashi (Ashinoko).
Moto-Hakone is one of the places where you can observe the Mount Fuji. But, the Fuji-san, as it is sometimes nicknamed, is known to be a shy mountain. In spring, it is often hidden behind the clouds and fog and shows only for a limited amount of time. The day we’ve visited Moto-Hakone wasn’t fully clear. We didn’t have a high hopes to see the Mt Fuji. When we were walking at the promenade by the lake my boyfriend all the sudden stopped and said: “Look, Mt. Fuji.” I was like: “Yeah right.” Then I turned to to where he was pointing and I saw the famous mountain. Despite the visibility wasn’t the best, I saw it!
As our plan was to visit Owakudani, we didn’t really have any plan what to do and see in Moto-Hakone. We’ve just wandered around the sleepy town, along the banks of the lake.
We’ve walked the cedar avenue, a section of a preserved old road between Moto-Hakone and Hakone-Yumoto. The path is surrounded by the majestic cedar trees that are claimed to be more than 350 years old. Walking on this ancient road was nice, but the whole experience was a bit spoiled by the traffic noise from the very busy modern road that runs just next to the cedar avenue.
Following the cedar avenue, we’ve arrived to the parking area and quickly discovered it belongs to the Onshi Hakone Kōen. We’ve strolled around this lovely Japanese garden once used by the imperial family. We’ve enjoyed the peacefulness of the place while admiring the lovely views to Mt. Fuji and Lake Ashi.
At the centre of the garden we’ve found a western-style observatory. There was a cafe, which was closed and an exhibition. Unfortunately the panels were in Japanese. We haven’t understand a word written so we’ve just admired the old photos and maps.
When we’ve returned to town, we’ve spotted a 7 eleven convinience store. We went there to buy some drinks and snacks, but we ended up buying sushi boxes. We took the food to the banks of Lake Ashi and had a lunch with the view. After chilling by the lake for some time, we’ve slowly return to the bus station, hoping we’re waiting at the correct one – the one that would take us back to Tonosawa. Luckily, we did and we safely arrived to our ryokan.
Ryokan is traditional Japanese inn and when staying there, there are some rules to be obeyed. We had to leave our shoes in the lockers by the entrance and wore slippers provided in the lobby. After a kind introduction to the house and the things we should be familiar with while staying there (e.g. onsen rules), we’ve received the keys to our room where our luggage had already waited for us.
Our room was decorated in Japanese-style, with futon beds and tatami floors. We had lovely view to the river and own private onsen – a tub filled with hot spring water. The onsens are very popular in Japan, but when visiting, there are some rules that need to be respected: no swimsuits, separate baths for males and females, no tattoos allowed etc. As I wasn’t ready to soak nude alone with complete strangers and my boyfriend wished to have an onsen experience, the private onsen was a compromise. How glad I was, we come to it. Soaking our tired muscles in the warm water felt amazing.
After we’ve had enough of soaking, we’ve dressed in yakuta (informal kimono) provided in the room and prepare ourselves some green tea. In the evening, we’ve attended a Japanese dinner at the dining room of our ryokan. We didn’t know what to expect and were pleasantly surprised when our food arrived at the table. They served us a hot pot, rice and a bunch of samples of different dishes served in a tiny bowls. Sampling the food I have never tried before was an interesting experience. Most of it was good, but some as for instance pickled plum, wasn’t. Reacher for new experience and with our bellies full, we returned back to our room to relax and enjoy the onsen.
Very early in the morning, right before the dawn, the noise woke us up: the sounds of an animal walking on the roof. After we’ve started talking, the noise stopped. I guess, the animal got scared and left. We went back to sleep, but my boyfriend who was still suffering some jet-lag, couldn’t fall asleep. While I slept like a baby bear in the mid of the winter, he called his parents via Skype (in Slovenia was a mid-day) and caught up with them.
After I (we) woke up next morning, we went to the Japanese breakfast… but that’s the story for the next post…