Japan (3): Hakone

Transport: Bullet Train and JR Train
Accommodation: Ichinoyu Honkan
Currency: Japanese Yen (¥)

Welcome back!

This is the third and final instalment of my Japan series – click here to read part one (Tokyo) and here for part two (Kyoto).

DAY ONE 

After a wonderful few days in Kyoto, we hopped on the bullet train and arrived 2 hours later in Odawara. Here, we transferred to a local train to Hakone Yumoto station. This journey is not included in your JR pass but it was only an extra ¥310; however, to get to the hotel from the station cost either ¥730 by taxi or ¥100 by shuttle.

In Hakone, we had decided to stay in a ‘ryokan’ which is a traditional Japanese lodge. We had experienced some traditional accommodation during our time in Kyoto but this ryokan was definitely something to write home about.

At the entrance, we were met by the friendly concierge and given detailed instructions and tips for our stay. We were also given traditional Japanese clothing and slippers to wear, which really enhanced our experience!

By the time we got to our room, we were seriously overexcited. The room itself had three sections, separated by sliding paper doors. The first section was like a mini lobby, where you could leave your shoes and your luggage. The second section was the main bedroom, with traditional tatami flooring, futon beds, a low coffee table and a lovely tea set. The final section was a little living room with table, chairs, sink and fridge. We got changed into our yukata and slippers and spent the afternoon brewing matcha and rooibos tea.

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The hotel has shared bathrooms (rather than en suites) but this was no real inconvenience to us, especially as there were a range of Japanese and Western style toilets to suit tourists.

Most people come to Hakone for the hot springs and a ryokan is a great place to stay if you are interested in enjoying the famous Japanese onsen. Some rooms in this ryokan come with a private onsen but, if not, you can use the public (single sex) onsen or book to use a private onsen for a half an hour slot (free of charge). One thing that Ginny and I realised only a few days before coming to Japan, was that the onsen was not like a regular hot tub. The main difference between a hot tub and a traditional onsen experience is that you have to go in the water butt ass naked..! You might think that you can just wear a swimming costume once you get in there but, through our research, we realised that it was actually culturally inappropriate to do so.

Although the onsen is single sex, we weren’t entirely comfortable with the idea of stripping off in front of one another (or anyone else for that matter), so we decided to book in for a private onsen and go in one by one. This worked out perfectly, because it turns out that the water is actually so hot that staying in there for more than 15 minutes at a time is tricky without feeling like you’re going to pass out! In any case, the water is said to have amazing healing properties and it certainly did soothe our tired and aching bodies.

After our afternoon of relaxation, we made our way to the dining hall for dinner. Dinner is a set menu which comes with the price of your room and, unfortunately, they are only able to provide one type of meal – this means that it can be tricky for vegetarians. However, there were multiple courses in this meal so I was able to work around my dietary requirements by eating the fish fritters, sushi, salads, pickles and fish shabu shabu. Dinner finished with some kind of ice cream/ sorbet and, all in all, we went to bed feeling rather full!

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DAY TWO

The next morning we woke to the sounds of the babbling brook running past our window (yes, seriously) and made our way back to the dining hall for breakfast. This was another traditional multi course menu of Japanese porridge, dried fish (surprisingly delicious), raw egg, rice, omelette and mushrooms.

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After breakfast, we left the ryokan for a day of sightseeing around Hakone. The biggest mistake we made in Hakone was failing to buy the Hakone Free Pass at the train station the day before. This pass costs ¥4000 and, at the time, it sounded like a ridiculous amount of money; however, this pass covers all public transport in Hakone, as well as the tickets for the main tourist attractions.

We took the long bus journey from our ryokan to Lake Ashi (¥1020) and hopped on the Hakone Ropeway (¥1888). This is a cable car journey taking around half an hour, which offers unparalleled views of the lake, Mount Fuji and the geothermal springs. Unfortunately, only the first section of the cable car was open but I would still say that this is very much worth doing, if you’re interested in seeing the best bits of Hakone from the air.

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After the ropeway, we took the Lake Ashi cruise (¥1888). This cruise takes around one hour and stops at three points around the lake. We didn’t exit the ship at any time during the cruise but instead explored the different levels and admired the incredibly beautiful scenery. Lake Ashi was formed 3,000 years ago from a 6km wide volcanic crater, which filled with water over the centuries.

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After the cruise we took the bus back to the ryokan (¥1020). Our time in Hakone was fleeting but unique and unforgettable; it was the traditional Japanese experience we had been waiting for, before returning to the quirky hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

Hakone is only a short distance on the bullet train from Tokyo, so it makes a lovely weekend break if you need a little respite from the fast paced city vibe. The temperature in Hakone is much cooler than in Tokyo – we found that we were back in our winter wardrobe of hats and gloves during these few days, but the fresh mountain air is worth the chill!

Thanks for reading,

~ Plane Emoji

P.S. don’t forget to buy the Hakone Free Pass.

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