Hakone

When I was trying to decide where we should go on the way from Tokyo to Kyoto, a few options came up. Two came up repeatedly in my online research – Kamakura and Hakone. The latter appealed more, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend two nights in such a removed location. Once I discovered there was a festival in Tokyo on March 18th that happens only twice a year, it seemed meant to be – we left our luggage at the hotel and went off to Hakone with just daypacks for an overnight adventure, planning to return to Tokyo for the festival (and our luggage) and one last day in the city before taking the bullet train to Kyoto.

Anyone Googling Hakone can easily see what the appeal is, but reading about it or planning it cannot compare to actually experiencing it. One of the things you do in and around Hakone is just get to Hakone…via several different modes of transport. You pay for your “Freepass”, and that gives you the right to take all different transports in a certain zone. A map is here for reference.

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We took the train (the “Romancecar”) to Hakone Yumoto.

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I took a gamble on this bottled beverage, hoping for tea rather than coffee, and was happy to find my guess was right – but disappointed by the misnomer (weak, milky tea to me does not rate as “pungent”).

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Alex drank beer from the loveliest can ever. ‘Twas the season of the cherry blossom, and even if the trees were not yet bursting into bloom, there were blossoms all over (hanging from the ceiling of Starbucks, twined throughout vending machines, on packaging for food/drinks/candies, etc, etc, etc.)

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We arrived at Hakone-Yumoto.

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Then we took the Hakone Tozan train up the mountain. It zig-zags up the side, with the conductor hopping out at key points to flip a switch and change the direction of the train/configuration of the rails, so you gradually climb up on a series of switchbacks. You don’t really understand what’s happening when you start moving backwards the first time…until you see the tracks you were just on below you, and then mentally work out the design. Here is (a model of) the train!
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At that part of the hill, you take a cable car further up the hill several stops.

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At the top of THAT part of the hill, you take a “ropeway” vehicle over the valley to the next hill over.

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And then you crest that second hill.

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And then, if you are very fortunate to have a clear day, as we were (and it was only this clear 2 days out of our 10 days in Japan), all of the sudden you get MT. FUJI front and center.

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The chorus of oohs and aahs seemed pretty universal, in English, Japanese, and the multiple European languages I thought I heard in our 20-25(ish) occupant car.  Then you are at the top! Which is Owakudani. Which we didn’t know much about, except that we might be lucky enough to “get a glimpse” of Fuji from near(ish) there. We hoped we wouldn’t miss it. HA!
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The thing about Owakudani is that it would be super cool in its own right, even if Fuji wasn’t meaningfully looming over the place. It’s an active volcano as well, with geothermal vents pouring out steam everywhere.

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When you walk up the path, you are cautioned about this.
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I’d say I have a “delicate bronchus”, so I pulled my scarf up over my nose and mouth. In addition to wandering about the steam vents, people do one key touristy thing at Owakudani: eat eggs boiled in said vents. The shell becomes black (the white stays white). They are selling them by the cartload at quite a reasonable price.

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And that is the explanation for all the super cute black egg/cat paraphernalia both around the “park” and in the store. I loved it all.

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We did figure out that the black cat was the official Hakone mascot, though this label didn’t help much with that process. Context clues, people, context clues.

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The informational signs at Owakudani were pretty great too.

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Alex loved the eggs (he’s an egg fiend) and the IPA we found in the cooler at the store (Mt Fuji beer!)

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I loved the happy times with the confectionery.

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I did have the presence of mind to snap a shot of our bag of eggs.

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I then devoured eggs like a street urchin, deprived of protein as I had been in Tokyo since the start of the trip. While sweeping up the shells to toss out, it occurred to me that I hadn’t taken a close-up shot of an actual egg. Alas. Hunger wins every time.  Full of eggs, we ate some black ice cream and headed back to the ropeway, leaving “Big Hell” behind.

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We finished its route, which deposits you at the bottom of the hill, on the shore of a lake. Where you hop on a “pirate ship” and go for a cruise. So we did.

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We were pretty wiped out by this point, so we just enjoyed sitting in the cabin of the historic ship and riding down to the far end of the lake and back. There were some nice views of Fuji down there too.

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Then we got back to the dock and asked about the bus to our ultimate destination: the Venetian Glass Museum. (There are more than a dozen museums in and around Hakone, but given how much of your day is spent just travelling to Hakone, and how early everything closes, we decided to focus just on one museum). We discussed (and by that I mean pointed at a map and played charades) our destination with the bus driver, who seemed really confused by it and possibly unconvinced of its existence. Then we boarded anyway, kept an eye on the stops we were passing, and determined we were going the right way. Considering all the headrests on the bus had advertising for that museum, we were fairly confident we’d get there eventually. I am so happy we decided just to see this one museum rather than rushing through 2-3 total that day, because it was one of the most magical art/nature experiences I’ve ever had (ever). Post dedicated to the Venetian Glass Museum coming soon!

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