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Published: November 17th 2019
“The friendly bouncer”: Waiting for the cable car.
Here are the main learning points from our time in Hakone:
1. Japanese/French fusion food is not great.
2. Having an open air hot spring bath is up there with the best experiences in the entire world
3. There is always, ALWAYS more uphill to go
Hakone is a national geopark, surrounded by mountains and within the volcanically active Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park centered on Lake Ashi. This means that you can see the mountainsides steaming from the geothermal waters, and that the whole area is known for its onsens - Japanese hot spring baths. Hakone is only 90 minutes outside of Tokyo so is a popular tourist destination, as well as being the go-to weekend getaway for locals. It’s basically the Japanese equivalent of what the Cotswolds is to Londoners, but more hilly and with more opportunity for socially acceptable public nudity.
The hotel we are staying in is set up like a Ryokan - the traditional inn that features tatami-matted floors, wooden slippers and robes to wear inside the room and our own private onsen bath on the balcony outside our room. It also has the public baths which you can go and use after a good scrub
down (there are strict rules of etiquette, of course) and soak naked in the hot water with the other bath users. Sadly I am not allowed in due to my tattoo (and therefore potential Yukuza gang membership, I am very threatening and badass after all) but Charlie has bloody loved shuffling down there in his wooden slippers and pajama outfit and then strutting his stuff in the buff around the baths.
The other noteworthy feature of the hotel is the dinner that we were automatically booked in and was included both nights; a Japanese/French fusion 6 course tasting menu. The result was a somewhat confusing culinary experience: the sashimi course was delicious, everything else a bit hit and miss (mostly miss to be fair). It would appear that the overarching theme of Japanese/French fusion food is beautifully presented tiny portions of incredibly squishy miscellaneous items served with either slime, jelly or cream (or a combination of the above). I would say I’m generally very adventurous and would eat most things, so it says a lot that most of it I could not finish. The “traditional boiled chicken in cream” was a real condemnation of French cuisine, but I don’t
think Japan fared much better to be honest. What provided rather cruel entertainment, though, was the girl at the next table trying to explain that she was vegetarian and watching her repeatedly getting brought chicken for every course (which also confirmed my decision to suspend vegetarianism whilst traveling through japan).
We’ve only had one full day in Hakone and it has been glorious. Hakone is actually featured on Joanna Lumley’s travel documentary (named, aptly, “Japan”) and she visits, clad in the most extraordinary patchwork faux fur coat, to walk the remaining stretch of the Tokaido trail (a cobbled highway built 400 years ago that linked Kyoto, the old capital, to Edo, modern day Tokyo) and goes to one of the original tea houses on the route. Due to my intense desire to learn and experience more about Japan’s rich history and culture (but mostly my secret wish to be Patsy from Ab Fab) we set off in pilgrimage to Joanna to the Hakone checkpoint with the end goal being the Amazake-Chaya teahouse.
This entailed walking up and down and up again (did I mention it’s very very hilly?), then traveling via cable car then gondola; the whole time
we were treated to incredible views of the steaming hillsides and the breathtaking snow-topped Mount Fuji in the distance (which even Charlie enjoyed despite his fear of heights). Then came the crossing of Lake Ashi, completed in style via pirate ship of course. These modes of transport, in addition to the train and the buses, are all owned by the same company and with our Hakone Freepass tickets (which we had used for the train from Tokyo) we had access to all of the above.
En route to the trail we happened upon a little wooden sign pointing up and into the forest showing a pathway, not on our map, up Mount Byobu and promising a 70 minute walk to the teahouse. Luckily I was in my activewear, so we set off up it and spent an hour climbing up steps so steep that for every half meter forward it was at least 1m upwards. Clearly the estimated time was a massive joke, or set by someone with the longest legs ever. Once we’d finally got to the top, though, the views of the mountains across the red and gold of the trees made the whole thing worth it.
Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the tea house - where we tried their glutinous rice balls (really not great) and the amazake, a warm, sweet, non-alcoholic fermented rice drink which was so mingin that we just couldn’t drink it and shamefacedly slipped out the side door before anyone noticed. The Tokaido trail back to the boat was glorious, and fortunately there was time for us to pre-eat and we smashed some gyoza, egg soup and salad in anticipation for our slimy-yet-satisfying evening meal. My legs were well and truly as gelatinous and wobbly as the food by the time we finally made it back for the last gondola home and then the schlep back up the hill to the hotel.
There is no better feeling than sinking into the scalding hot outside bath to soothe aching muscles. It is, if Ms Lumley will pardon the phrase, absolutely fabulous.
Tot: 2.953s; Tpl: 0.049s; cc: 13; qc: 48; dbt: 0.0369s; 2; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 3;
; mem: 1.4mb