Hopping it in Hakone - Switchbacks, funiculars, cable cars, pirate ships and buses.

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August 11th 2009
Published: August 11th 2009
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28th of August and there I was sitting on the bullet train sipping my English tea and eating a raisin bun (how I miss these pleasures) waiting for the trains departure bound for Odawara and onwards to Hakone for a full day of adventuring!

It turned out to be a rather hectic but serene day all at the same time starting off with a jolted off the bullet train in Odawara because I had it in my mind that I had a 55min journey when in fact it was only 35minutes. Lucky I managed to jump off the train before the doors closed thankfully avoiding a serious backtrack! Once off the train I managed to successfully hack in Odawara for good on 2 hours beginning with an epic foreign exchange mission (Note to self don’t spend all your cash in Shibuya after 3pm cause it’s a flipping mission)! What should have taken a maximum of 15 minutes turned out to be 45 minutes of serious patience practicing on my part. It turns out that proof of hotel reservation was useless without a room number when trying to complete the forex red tape. Slight challenge, providing a room number, when you are only due to check in some 5 hours later! The bank lady was very sweet and obliging and happily called the guest house to get my room number but what I expected to be a 2 minute phone call ensued as a 20 minute exchange of a record number of “hi,hi’s” until finally instead of a room number we were given a room name (thankfully that sufficed cause for a moment I was waiting for her to turn me away) so we could finally close the transaction and I could be back on my way!

With a few more Yen in my pocket I headed to check out Odawara Castle, which was really lovely and then I headed back to the station to catch a connecting train to begin my day’s transportation adventure to Hakone Yomoto and onwards to hopefully catch a glimpse of Mt Fiji!

I, by pure accident, landed up sitting in the last car of the 1st train of the day which was transporting me from Odawara to Hakone Yomoto. It was such a win being in the last car with the conductor cause the conductor was a real old school Japanese conductor who added much value to our trip between the towns, he was awesome! The trip between Odawara and Hakone Yomoto, coupled with the cool conductor, was a really beautiful trip that takes maybe 40minutes. Once at Hakone Yomoto its strait onto the switch back train headed for Gora, again I did well to sit in the last car of the switch back train with the conductor because it was the best spot to truly take in the switch-back train experience! Switch back trains are just brilliant and I think the conductors of the train have as much fun as the passengers while strutting across the platform swapping sides at each switch back interchange, like peacocks in mating season. Another fun filled, close on an hour’s train ride through some more stunning scenery and onto the next vehicle, the funicular.

The funicular takes you up a steep slope to the gondola cable car station. The cable cars are the gateway to “the view” of Mt Fiji so I was getting very anxious with the unsuitably cloudy and rainy weather that looked set in! The gondola ride was fun but sadly the only scenery me and my fellow French travelers were taking in was the inside of a massive cumulonimbus cloud and as a result illusive Mt Fiji remained just that! It’s still cool to ride the cable car irrespective of the thick gray cloud lining.

On completion of the cable car ride I mentally slipped into my Kiera Knightly role (whatever) and made my way to the Pirate ship, not unlike the Back Pearl in the Pirates of the Caribbean, pity Johnny wasn’t present to keep me company though ;-)). While super touristy the Pirate ships that glide you along Lake Ashi are so great and they add a unique slant to a regular boat ride! Coupled with the cool boats the scenery was really beautiful to say the least!

From Pirates of the Caribbean I walked onto the Hakonemachi-Ko doc onto what could quite easily have been the set of the Dirty Dancing movie (sorry about the comparison but hey that a classic movie right there)! Again it was a bit of a bummer that the weather was mis but in a way it was a blessing to be honest because it drove the masses away and made for a nice peaceful and tranquil walk around Hakonemachi-ko. [I
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Feeding the birds
believe it can be quite unpleasant when the droves of clear sky, Mt Fiji spotting tourists and locals descend in good weather!]

After a fairly busy morning of transportation hopping I began a lovely unwinding session with a walk towards Hakone Sekisho a sort of outdoor diorama, in situ, of an old Japanese Check point. From here I took the muddier but more scenic path along the Ashi to catch a glimpse of Hakone-Jinja’s red (well I’d say orange) torri that are perched on the banks of the Ashi at Moto-Hakone and once my lovely destressing walk was completed I decided that it would be silly to spend the night in Moto-Hakone as planned cause there was no guarantee that the following days weather would be any better and while Moto-Hakone is a very quaint town it seemed like a much better option to rather head back to Hakone-Yemoto and take it from there. Lucky pay phones are as numerous as camera bearing Japanese so I manage to patch a quick call through to Moto-Hakone Guest House (where I was booked to stay for the night) and with a little artful negotiation I managed to get the lovely Japanese lady on the other end of the green pay phone to waver the 70% cancellation fee and I was then on my sixth mode of transportation for the day, a regular commuter bus, heading back to Hakone-Yamoto.

In my awe-filled dwaal earlier in the day I totally forgot to stop in at the open air Museum (an artist’s Mecca with sculptures by Rodan and my favourite, Miro ,set against the amazing Gora hill side). I had hoped to try and stop in there on my way back down the mountain but sadly trying to establish how to transfer buses in order to get there and all this with only 30minutes before closing time didn’t seem worth the expense so I opted, rather, for some more distress chill time...yet another unbelievably memorable trip, this time to Tenzan Tojikyo Onsen.

Hakone is famous for its abundant natural hot springs and as a result there has been a proliferation of Onsen (natural saunas) in the area. I was so excited that I was going to have the time to bask in the luxury of an Onsen in Hakone and what was even better was that the trusty tourist info lady pointed
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Japanese Macaque
me in the direction of Tenzan Tojikyo Onsen, an outdoor Onsen at that! Tenzan Tojikyo Onsen is set against the hillside just above the valley and it is just the most magnificent spot. Once you remove your shoes you are ushered towards the woman’s bath house where you pass through a curtain into what can only be described as the most magnificent rosewood patio. In the centre of the patio is the main bath flanked by wooden lockers on the one side and the wooden wash area on the other. Sitting in the main bath you could look out onto a rocky outcrop from where the steaming hot spring water spurted out of the ore and run down into two outdoor rocky pools sheltered by the most amazing array of shady foliage.

Like in any public bath the etiquette is to start off in the wash area. This wash area was unlike any I have seen before, you sat on a very large duckboard type floor, with a barrel shaped bucket in front of a big wooden table and instead of a tap you pushed one of the numerous wooden recesses on the fringe of the wash table and
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Japanese Macaque
the hot spring water was then dispensed into your barrel and you could then continue the washing ritual before actually enter the Onsen baths. The whole initial experience had a real historic, surreal type feel. Perhaps it was the setting or just because sitting there in the bath house undertaking the ritual made real one of the many images I had congered up, in my mind’s eye, of Japan.

Once I had washed away the product of the day’s travels I was finally ready to indulge in the utmost relaxation and stress relief. Lying there under a roof of green foliage and open sky listening to the water falling into the rock pools, interspersed with bird calls, was just the type of late afternoon that I was craving! No amount of description can do this experience or location any justice it was pure magic and does mean visiting a Jimjil-bang will never be the same again!

I emerged a couple of hours later, rejuvenated and ready for the rest of the evening’s proceedings! Once back at the station I decided that rather than hakking in Hakone for the night that it made more sense to catch a late
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Japanese Macaque
train to Kyoto so that I could have a full two days there. Since this was a spur of the moment change in plan I had no idea what time trains were available to me, if any, but I took my chances and managed to secure a ticket bound for Kyoto at 8:07pm....well secure is a strong word...


I was thankful for the 25minutes I had to spare before my train to Kyoto so I took the opportunity to actually eat something hitting a local ramen shop to devour some food. It only downed on me that I had eaten just about nothing all day once I was devouring a massive meal of Ramen and Donkas at a wolfish pace! And I mean wolfish since I managed to still have 15 minutes to spare after my grub was polished off. Nothing finishes off a good meal better than a cup of tea so I headed to the Starbucks, placed my order and somewhere between deciding whether to add a 3rd milk to my tea or not I happened to glance down at my watch and realise that 15 minutes to spare had turned into 2 minutes and those high speed trains take punctuality to a new level!

It was apparent that two milks would have to suffice and next thing I was charging through the station tea in one hand, rolly luggage bag, tickets and passes in the other but my sprint was in vain cause I quite literally watched as the doors of the Shinkansen closed leaving me on the platform and my bad still making the journey up the escalator. With a bit of an embarrassed chuckle (cause I would hate to imagine what the onlookers thought of my mad train dash) I waited for my luggage to reach the top of the escalator just to escort it back down the escalator in the opposite direction now bound for the JR ticket office rather than Kyoto. I smiled very sweetly and apologised profusely for the 4th ticket change while telling the very obliging ticket man that the JR rail pass was the best addition to their list of tourist services (to which he just smiled at me blankly) and 5 minutes later ticket in hand me and my cup of tea were sitting on the platform this time waiting for the 8:45 train to arrive all fingers crossed that I would find a place to sleep in Kyoto for the night cause I wasn’t entirely sure I was up for sleeping in Kyoto station till 8am!

Day three of my Japanese adventure ‘funfully’ completed!

Additional photos below
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Odawara Castle - a cloudy viewOdawara Castle - a cloudy view
Odawara Castle - a cloudy view

looking out towards my next destination

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