Today I woke up at 5:30. I didn't even set an alarm, but the sun streaming through the windows woke me. I thought of sleeping a bit more, but I wanted to leave at 7. However, as I was getting ready, I remembered that while Tokyo was a big city, most things weren't open 24/7. I checked online, and as it turned out the ticket office where I could purchase the Hakone Free Pass only opened at 8. I should have bought the ticket the day before, and it did occur to me at one point, but I promptly forgot. It turned out that the one hour delay was a good thing, because my stomach was a bit all over the place. It was complaining over the mixture of random foods I've been eating.
The night before I decided to take my backpack on the excursion instead of my usual bag. My backpack was actually one that was specifically designed for travels with a laptop, and it was what I would usually use to carry it around. Many people questioned why I took a laptop, and that was because I couldn’t upload videos from my camera any other way. A strange restriction, as with the WiFi on my camera I could transfer pictures, but not videos. Also, I could do a lot more on my laptop, than just on my phone. However, my backpack needed to be repurposed for the excursion, and I took out everything that I used on planes, and instead filled it with what I needed for an excursion. I also took a light blanket I got in Turkey, that was specifically for use as a beach blanket, but would also be good in case I needed to sit on the ground somewhere. I was going to an onsen, but as people were naked there, I didn’t need my bikini. What I did put in was a raincoat, as they promised rain. I hoped it wouldn’t come true, or just be very light, as if it was too cloudy, then I wouldn’t see Fuji-sama. A nice light rain would have been welcome to cool things down a bit.
I gathered everything, and set off to the station. It was very sunny and hot already, even though it was just 8am. However, in the distance I spotted some dreaded black clouds. Hakone was quite a way away, so I hoped it would be clear there. I did think of rescheduling, but that would have completely upset all my plans. I scheduled some things for specific days because it was a weekday or the weekend, so that would have meant totally reworking everything, and I just wasn’t prepared to do that. Thus, I hoped for the best, and walked on. I decided on a different route to the station than what I looked up, and it actually turned out to be longer, so I vowed never to go that way again. There were a lot of people on the streets going to work in the typical Japanese office attire. I remembered that it was on the news a while ago that in spite of the heat Japanese salarymen refused to wear short sleeved shirts and no tie, so the president himself appeared in such an attire to show that it was okay. Business women also didn’t wear short skirts, but very nicely cut longer skirts, and often not straight, but fuller skirts, not unlike 50s America. In Hungary, during the summer sometimes offices tried to keep women from wearing sandals, but most people just ignored that policy, and companies ignored them not keeping the policy. At one of my workplaces it was brought up once, and then my colleague said that then we’ll protest the rule and stop working. As about 60% of the company was women, the men quickly shut up.
I found the Hakone ticket office at Shinjuku station easily enough, thanks to the guys at Ninja Food Tours showing it to me. I would have hated to try to find it in the massive station. It was actually not far from the dango place. When I stood in line to get my pass, I also noticed that they sold many other passes as well. Therefore, if you are planning a trip outside Tokyo, it would be a great idea to check if there’s one that suits your plans. As I wanted to return to Japan for sure, I made note of it for next time. Most of the passes would only be available for foreign visitors, so a passport was required. In fact, in Japan it was good to keep a passport, as all sorts of tax-free shopping was also only available, if you had your passport.
As I waited in line for the ticket, luckily a new ticket window opened up and I was guided to her. She asked me a few questions, but didn't even ask for my passport. I guess I'm very obviously not Japanese. I did have to fill in a form though. Now it wasn’t clear to me from the website what train was included in the ticket. The Romancecar wasn't, but it could be added on for 1000 yen. I chose that option, as it got into Hakone half an hour earlier than the express. With the ticket I got an information booklet.
I found the train easily, as I just had to walk straight down to the right of the ticket office, put my ticket through the reader to activate it and the train was on the left. When I sat down I got an aisle seat, but there wasn't anyone on the window seat, so after a while I just scooted over. A feature of the Romancecar is that it has huge windows, so that was nice, as I could observe the outside better. I found the seat itself very comfortable, and had a nice relaxing 90 minutes. There was some background chatter from the other excited passengers that were looking forward to having a fun day. Most of the schedule involved sitting on public transport, so it was a good change from yesterday's walking. My feet were hurting still, so I was glad to have a rest. Most people said that you would need 2 days to do the round trip, but I carefully planned it for one. I did want to pass up most of the extra sights. There was an open air museum that only looked interesting if you had a partner to take pictures with. The geological museum I gave a pass as I was never a big fan of geology. I wanted the day to be rather about enjoying Japanese nature and an onsen at the end of the day.
As I was waiting for the train to start, I went through the information packet I got. Sadly, most of it was in Japanese. There were English bits, but not all. I've read that the Japanese tourist office was trying to get more foreign tourists into the country, and especially the countryside. However, a key element of that should be better English literature.
We arrived to the last stop in Hakone station, and I changed trains to the Hakone - Tozan line. That runs with a very special car, and NHK World did a feature on that train. It’s a special train in many ways. The train uses a special type of rail designed for mountain railways. It uses 3 switchbacks, when the train reverses direction in order to climb the 445m height. It’s not uncommon to feel the pressure change, and my ears popped too. In the NHK special I also saw how there are three breaks built into the train, one of which is a manual break, so it’s very safe. There are newer, and older cars, and when I got on, I saw that it was an older car. It had a certain charm to it. Finding the train was actually very easy, as the train left from the opposite side as to where the Romancecar arrived.
Talking on the train was a bit harder, though, as the train itself was very loud. As we sat on the train, it started to rain, which was sad, though also interesting, as we climbed higher the mountains were surrounded by white clouds hanging onto their edges. At that point I knew I wasn’t going to see Fuji-sama that day. That saddened me, but it also gave me motivation to return some day and do the trip again.
We changed onto the cablecar, and I had to show my Hakone Pass again. It went from Gora Station to Sounzan Station on a very steep slope. The car itself was very modern and comfortable. As we waited for it to start, I noticed the multitude of people and languages I could hear. Beside Japanese, there was Spanish, English, German, and I saw Europeans, probably Southern Americans and Northern Americans, Indians and people from other parts of Asia. It was like the whole world was visiting Hakone. The train quickly rose on the steep slope, and soon we were exiting the train.
geological museum is, and people were wondering about the site in the air filled with sulphur. Frankly, sulphur makes my stomach turn, so I didn’t hang around for long. It was quite a sight though. It looked like mines, and I do know that there used to be sulphur mines in Japan, and some of the equipment did look like they were doing some mining now. Sulphur is used in gunpowder production among many other things. I remembered gunpowder, as a Korean drama titled Hwajung took partially place in Japanese sulphur mines.
I asked my companions if they wanted to go on, and so we did. The second leg of the ropeway journey was supposed to have a view of Fuji-sama, but with the clouds hanging so low, it didn’t. That was again a bit sad, but the view was still amazing of the lake. It was hard to do a video, as my small camera kept focusing on the raindrops on the glass.
Karatto is a very nice place and I highly recommend it. I even wrote a very nice review for them. While I was eating, I was chatting with my mum, so it was almost like we were having lunch together. I enjoyed my lunch so much, I wished I could have eaten more, but the karaaGe plate I ate was so perfectly proportioned, I was completely full. When I paid, with a card, I might add, I exchanged a few sentences in Japanese, with this older man, and I was very happy about it. First time ever!
Inside I walked on those lovely bamboo mats, and I went straight to the women’s bath. I followed the sign for woman, and found the changing rooms. There was also a place to dry your hair with a could of hair dryers, and toilets. So I got naked and put my stuff into one of the lockers. I could put the key around my wrist, and I went to wash myself down. It was a bit weird to sit down on a little stool with my naked body. I’m very germophobe, but I pushed that part down and washed myself. I think I should have used the bucket and not the shower-head, but the bucket seemed too complicated.
Once I was clean, went outside to the pools. The atmosphere was beautiful. It was in an area surrounded by stone walls. There was a main pool with white water built from rocks. It was under a canopy of leaves, which with the rain was really great. I headed to that pool first. I was very careful getting in with the different rocks, and once I found a nice place to sit in, I relaxed and spent some time just enjoying the warm water and the quiet. I wasn’t the only foreigner in there, so at least I didn’t stand out. In fact, some of them had tattoos, and I have read before that this was an onsen that allowed them. The water wasn’t too warm, it was actually very comfortable. I looked around, and observed the little statues scattered about. There were also wooden areas to sit down and cool down a bit. Outside there was no drinking fountain, but there was one by the washing area, and some people filled their water bottles from there. Once I felt the tension in my back ease, I got out to explore the other pools. There was also a small wooden house, which I suspected to be the sauna. I went in, and it was, and as expected, too hot for me.
Outside there were two pools side by side. I got into the one on the left, and it was hotter than the first pool I went into. I spent a few minutes there, but it was getting too hot. The pool beside it seemed even steamier, so I only put my hand in, and it was too hot even for that. It was a shame, as that pool went into a cave. Instead, I tried the small pool in the corner, and it smelled of sulphur, but not too much. That was actually delicious for my back, and it had a cute statue in the corner. I stayed there for a while, but then I was itching to try the last pool, where quite a few of the foreign girls were also bathing. I listened and determined they were German. That pool wasn’t too hot, but it wasn’t that special. I went back into the sulphur one, but it was getting a bit too much, so I chose a place where I could just sit in from the waist down. As I was sitting there, I started up a conversation with an Asian-looking girl, but she turned out to be actually Australian. She had quite a number of tattoos. We chatted about all sorts of things, but at a low tone to not disturb the other bathers. She was travelling with her boyfriend, who was enjoying the men’s bath.
After a while we both decided to get going, and I cleaned up, dried my hair, and got dressed. I checked with reception when the next bus was coming, and I had some time. So I checked out the little gift shop they had, and also had a lie-down in the rest area. A cute thing was that since we were barefoot, and the toilets had tiles, for each toilet there was a special toilet slipper that you could slip into. I found that so Japanese, as they are so good at paying attention to these little things.
Outside I barely had to wait in the little waiting area, and the bus came. As it went down to the train station, it started to rain again. However, when I got to the station, it stopped. A couple of people were in a hurry, so I figured the train would go soon. I reached the platform with my Hakone Pass, but the train there was a Romancecar again. A man was selling tickets for the train to go to Odawara, the main station, where people could get onto the Hakone Express. However, I was getting hungry, and was ready to take the Romancecar back all the way to Tokyo. I was supposed to use a machine to get that ticket, but with all the menus I got a bit confused. The guy stepped over to help me, and he pressed all the buttons for me. He was a lifesaver, as the train was about to leave in a few minutes. I thanked him, and quickly hopped on. I found my seat while the train was already pulling out of the station. I relaxed into my seat. I was very thirsty, so I waited for the trolley to come. I got a bottle of water there. The price wasn’t so bad, 130 yen. A bit more expensive than in the shop, but not exorbitant. I chatted with my mum on the way back. There was barely anyone in that cart.
Here is my original plan, if you want to give it a try:
7:19 - 9:16 Shinjuku Station to Hakone-Yumoto Stn.
9:37 - 10:16 Hakone-Yumoto Stn. to Gora Station
10:21 - 10:31 Gora Station to Sounzan Sta.
10:33 - 10:57 Sounzan Sta. to Togendai Station
11:20 - 11:45 Togendai Station to Hakone Sightseeing cruise
12:00 - 13:00 Old Tokaido and Hakone Checkpoint
13:00 - 13:45 Hakone Checkpoint museum to Hakone Shrine
13:45 - 14:45 Hakone Shrine
14:54 - 15:10 Hakone Shrine to Amazake-chaya Tea House
16:10 - 16:28 Amazake-chaya Tea House to Tenzan Onsen
16:30 - 18:10 Tenzan Onsen
18:20 - 20:35 Tenzan Onsen to Shinjuku Station
19:16 - 21:34 Tenzan Onsen to Shinjuku Station