Day 6 – Hakone
We got up early on Day 6 and checked out of our hotel. We really enjoyed staying at the New Otani Tokyo and can recommend it. After a taxi took us to Tokyo station, we boarded the Shinkansen to Odawara. The train stations are very modern, very efficient, and used by everyone. And of course the Shinkansen travel at speeds up to 200 mph, making it a preferred choice over air travel for short and medium distances. Unlike air travel, you don’t have to check in or arrive early. You can literally arrive 10 minutes before your train is scheduled to depart, walk through the ticket gates, and walk on.
Here is the inside of a green class car, along with our little lego people. My wife brought along 3 lego people, one for each of the grandchildren, and took pictures of them at places we visited, and then sent them back home with Whatsap.
At the tourist office in Odawara, we purchased a Hakone Freepass. This is rather expensive at 4000 Yen each (about $40), but it covers your transportation to and from Hakone, as well as all bus and train service within the greater Hakone area. It also covers the boat cruise across Lake Ashi. We took the bus up to Hakone-Yumoto station, and then three stops further to our Ryokan, the Yamanochaya. The bus dropped us and our luggage off on a very narrow winding steep road, hot and sweaty, with no idea of where our rhyokan was. Lucky for us, a woman at the bus stop, despite very limited English, called our rhyokan on her phone and got directions for us to walk there. The walk was up the steep, narrow, winding road 75 meters to cross a one lane bridge over a beautiful river, then up a very steep narrow drive. That was crazy and a little bit dangerous. In retrospect, we should have taken a taxi from the Hakone-Yumoto station.
After we dropped our bags, we hopped back on the bus and took it up to Lake Ashi. Lake Ashi, sometimes known as Lake Hakone, is a crater lake formed as part of the caldera of Mount Hakone, and is known for its views of Mount Fuji. The weather was somewhat clear, but the views of Mount Fuji were limited. It kept disappearing behind clouds and haze. You can just see Mount Fuji poking above the hills in the photo below.
After grabbing some lunch, we visited the Hakone shrine, which was one of the highlights of this part of the trip. Shinto Red lanterns lead up a path into an old growth forest. Some mist and the lighting through the trees give it a magic effect.
Before entering the shrine, it’s customary to clean your hands and your mouth with ladles of water. Note the guy forming the spout. He looks like a Japanese wart hog.
Temples typically have two guardians, one to the right, one to the left. The one to the right generally has an open mouth, the one to the left a closed mouth. This guy looks pretty fierce.
Next, we made our way back to the port and took the next boat up to Togendai. We saw these two women walking together on our way back, and I had to have a picture. Note the angle of her hat. You do not see many Japanese women like this, in colorful outfits, expressing this much personality through their dress and attitude.
The boats on Lake Ashi are pirate ships (I have no idea why), and take about 35-40 minutes each way to traverse up and down the lake. The scenery is beautiful, but this is probably the one thing that I wouldn’t do again. It takes quite a bit of time, and since we only had one day in Hakone, I wish we had used the time to visit the Hakone Museum of Art, which has quite a nice sculpture collection.
After our cruise, we caught the bus back to our Ryokan, and got ready for probably the best meal of our entire trip to Japan. The meal was served in our room. Ann and I donned Yukatas, which are more casual robes than Kimonos, and sat on the floor.
After this incredible dinner, we bathed, both in our own private onsen (see below) and for half an hour, in a large bath outside. A very relaxing way to end the day.