Overnight in Hakone

After four days in Tokyo, we checked out of our cute little hotel and took the train out of town.  Our destination: Hakone, a cute little town with onsen (hot springs) in Kanagawa prefecture and the gateway to the Mt. Fuji region.  The timing was perfect: as much as we enjoyed Tokyo, after the first four days we were ready for a little break.

P1150763

The “Romance Car” is a 90-minute service from Tokyo’s Shinjuku station to the town of Hakone Yumoto.  It isn’t particularly romantic but it has forward facing seats as opposed to the subway car that is used for the local service on the same line.  The best part of the Romance Car is that it looks vaguely like a Boeing 747.

P1150759

You can sit in the nose area and have this fantastic view for the whole trip.

P1150649

Arriving in Hakone Yumoto, we found it to be a charming, quaint town.  A small river flows through it and it is easy to walk from the train station to just about anywhere in town.

P1150747

Our hotel, Hotel Senkei, was a traditional Japanese inn complete with hot springs bathing facilities just a ten-minute walk from the station.  Nestled into a hillside, the Senkei is quiet and charming.

One overall observation with travel in Japan – an observation which held true at the Senkei – is that English isn’t that widely spoken.  Not that I expect people in other countries to speak in my language, but with the large number of non-Japanese we encountered, both in Tokyo and even here in Hakone, I was a little surprised that there aren’t more people in the tourist industries who speak languages other than Japanese.

That’s not a problem, though.  Between Tawn’s few words of Japanese and a good game of charades, we were able to communicate reasonably well with almost everyone.  There were only a few times – I had a problem with my train ticket to the Narita airport, for example – when we felt a communication barrier.  In that case, I felt like the person working the ticket gates genuinely didn’t want to help me.

In either case, what is there to do in Hakone?  Well, seeing Mt. Fuji is the main thing and it was my objective.  You can buy a “Hakone Free Pass” which isn’t free but which allows you to travel on all the different types of transportation in the region.  And what a range it is!

P1150653

First, you take a cute two-car train about twenty minutes up the mountain.  (This isn’t Mt. Fuji, just another small mountain above the town.)  Then you transfer to a funicular railroad (above).  This leads to the “Hakone Ropeway“, an aerial lift that carries gondolas over the summit of the small mountain and down to the shores of Lake Ashi.

Hakone Ropeway

This is what the view from the Hakone Ropeway is supposed to look like.

P1150689

When we arrived there at 4:30 on Monday afternoon, this was the actual view. The entire lake and mountainside was socked in with fog.  It reminded me of San Francisco.  So, no Mt. Fuji.

P1150665

Along the ropeway’s path you cross a large sulfur mine – the so-called Valley of Hell – that really is aptly named.  You can see where they’ve stripped away large portions of the mountain and there are large yellow deposits of sulfur.  Oh, and it smells like rotten eggs, of course.

P1150691

When we arrived at Lake Ashi, it was also socked in.  We had just ten minutes before the finally ship of the day would sail to the far end of the lake, a thirty minute journey that normally affords nice views of Mt. Fuji.  Incongruously, the ships are decorated like pirate ships.

Why Tawn was eating an ice cream, I don’t know.  It was very chilly on that dock and we stayed inside the boat for the whole trip.  At the far end of the lake we boarded a bus, completing the circuit back to Hakone Yumoto.

Exhausted, we returned to the hotel and changed into our yukata, the traditional Japanese robes one wears when lounging about the room.  We had already been asked of our preferred dinner time and we chose the latest we could – 7:00.  This video shows highlights from our entire Hakone trip but a large portion of it shows the elderly Japanese housekeeper who lays out an elaborate dinner spread and tries to explain to us how to eat it.

To say that the meal was elaborate is an understatement.  There were some dozen individual dishes, each prepared with great attention to the presentation.  They were delicious and beautiful and by the end of the meal, we were truly satisfied.

P1150728

We had a lacquered tray of five little amuse bouches.  Sadly, I can’t tell you what they were, only that each was tasty and fun to eat.

P1150725

We had sashimi, pickles, potato salad and something in the green jar that I can’t remember.

P1150727

The main course was shabu-shabu, beef and vegetables boiled in water and dipped in a sesame sauce.

P1150736

Twenty minutes after we started eating, the housekeeper returned to serve tempura, the lotus root rice, and a cold pork dish.  The miso soup in the corner had these tiny clams in it, smaller than my smallest fingernail.  The tempura was a new experience: instead of being dipped in a heavy batter, it had just a light egg wash.  The inside was a scrambled egg, one pouch with a scallop and the other with a shrimp.  The theme was “sakura” – cherry blossoms – and so the little decoration is meant to evoke a sakura in full blossom.  The other thing I learned is that with really good tempura, you’re meant to sprinkle a little sea salt on it.

P1150731

We were so busy taking pictures that the housekeeper was probably wondering if we were ever going to eat.

P1150733

Not only did I have to take pictures for this blog, but we had another Flat Stanley traveling with us, this one from Monterey, California.  Of course, Stanley wanted to try some Japanese food, too!

P1150742

While Japanese meals don’t usually include dessert, we were served some of the wonderfully sweet local strawberries with a dollop of whipped cream.  The perfect way to end the meal.

After dinner, we went downstairs to the hot springs.  Hot spring baths, or onsen, are a central part of Japanese culture.  These mineral rich waters are said to be good for any number of ailments and I think the simple act of relaxing in a tub of hot water is a good stress-reliever.

The hotel had both indoor and outdoor baths.  The single outdoor bath alternates days for men and women.  Both sexes had their own indoor bath, though.  Japanese baths are the great leveler: everyone is naked and young or old, skinny or fat, the baths make you realize that we are all pretty much the same.

There were signs and cartoon instructions in both Japanese and English making sure the two important rules of Japanese bathing were observed: First, you clean yourself thoroughly before entering the hot springs.  There are little stools and shower hoses in a row and you sit down and scrub yourself until you are pink.  Second, your little hand towel must never be put in the bath water.  You can put it on your head, use it to cover your face, set it on the side of the bath – but don’t put it in the water.

P1150743

While we were being scalded in the onsen, the housekeeper took down the table and set up our futons.  These were not as comfy as the ones in the Ueno hotel but we still had a good night’s sleep after the day exploring, the filling meal and the relaxing bath.

P1150750

An elaborate breakfast was served bright and early the next morning as light spring rain fell outside the room.

P1150751

Boiled tofu and seaweed, fish cake, pickles, rice…

P1150752

and a poached egg (served, oddly enough, a bit cool) in a thick soy sauce.

Checkout time was 10:00 and we were packed and ready to head to the station, re-energized and eager to return to Tokyo for a few more days of exploring.

Here’s a video of the meal:

0 thoughts on “Overnight in Hakone

  1. Brings back fond memory of my vacation to the Mt. Fuji area a few years back: the pirate ship, similar hotel, and hot springs experinece.  What tops it all, and definitely way surpass everything are the exotic dinner and breakfast in the hotel room.  Very beautfiul and romantic, almost feel like watching a honeymoon movie.  That is what life is about, isn’t it? 

  2. Oh my! I can’t believe how much preparation went into one dinner meal. All of the food looks really good. I would have loved to try the tempura. It sounds really amazing!I’m sorry you didn’t get to see Mt. Fuji!

  3. wonderful and educational. Loved all the pictures, each one of them with its own story. Tawn was so great in the explanation of the various part of the room and the dinner service.Thank you Chris.

  4. The video was wonderful! I feel like I need to see it all first hand. Of course the food pics were great. I’m not a big fan of pickled anything but it looked so tasty I might be enticed to try it.

  5. @stevew918 –  Very true, Steve. It was one of those “I wouldn’t do it very often but when I do, I’ll sure enjoy it” types of meals.@TheCheshireGrins –  Yes, the preparation and attention to detail is amazing. At first I balked at the room price, even though it included the meals. Once I saw how elaborate the meals were, I realized they were definitely a good value.@ZSA_MD –  You’re welcome. I’m worried that my entries are becoming too “educational”! =)@ElusiveWords –  Matt, you and your boyfriend would have such a good time there, I’m sure.@murisopsis –  The nice thing about Japanese style pickling is that the food doesn’t end up too salty or briny. They are just lightly salted and still crisp.

  6. Cute video tour! :o) I like how you play the host and Tawn is the loveable tour guide. :o) Video could have gone kinky. Hehe. I kid!But looks like you’re definitely enjoying your time. I’m very envious. I feel like there are so many trips that it’ll be hard to remember all of them!

  7. Sounds like a really relaxing trip. Everything is so beautiful from the scenery to the exquisite food presentation!! Even two basic strawberries looks so fancy. 😛

  8. That looks amazing! Love the video. U should be a travel guide. U have the voice for it. Tawn is so cute too! PS: I saw you met up with Taro and he brought u to some good eats too..I’ll have to hit up too next time I’m in Tokyo.

  9. That looks amazing! Love the video. U should be a travel guide. U have the voice for it. Tawn is so cute too! PS: I saw you met up with Taro and he brought u to some good eats too..I’ll have to hit up too next time I’m in Tokyo.

  10. You said, “One overall observation with travel in Japan – an observation which held true at the Senkei – is that English isn’t that widely spoken.”
     
    I think Japanese on average are not clever in learning foreign languages. This is not because they are not clever. This is because of their mother tongue Japanese is poor in sounds. They have only five vowels. I have learned some Japanese by self-study before.
     

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s