It was an early start this morning, not only because I wanted to get to Hakone as early as possible but also because I needed to reserve a seat on the shinkansen to get there! So I got up at 6am and had eaten my breakfast by 7am, ready to leave the hotel not long after.
I checked out and handed over my suitcase to be forwarded ahead to Tokyo – by this point an expert at how the luggage forwarding system worked. The same man who helped me fill out the luggage forwarding form the night before checked me out and took care of my suitcase for me – it was nice to be remembered. I left the hotel and headed to the subway where I made the quick journey to Kyoto station. Quick but busy as it was only 7.30am and there were lots of people travelling to work and school.
At Kyoto station I followed signs to the shinkansen and was able the reserve a seat – not a window seat but a seat nonetheless – on the 8.33 to Odawara. With half an hour to kill before the train, I popped outside and photographed this pigeon.
When on the right platform, I took some photos of the station and surrounding buildings and was able to photograph the front of another shinkansen. I was seated in car 16 right at the front of the train.
This is what a shinkansen (bullet train) looks like.
When my train arrived, I hopped on and found my seat. It wasn't very busy until Nagoya (over an hour into the journey) so I snuck a few photos from the window seat before settling in my aisle seat and taking out my Kindle to read.
The train arrived in Odawara at 10.36, so just over two hours travel time in total. Off the train, I found the tourist information place and got an English map of a Hakone area. I got a coffee and circled things I wanted to do on the map – and could realistically do in the time I had (which wasn't very long). The main things were taking the cable car (or ropeway as they call it) up high to maybe glimpse Mt Fuji and then going on a pirate ship cruise on Lake Ashi.
So, from Odawara train station I used my Hakone Free Pass (2 day ticket) to get a train to Yamote Hakone which was sort of the gateway into Hakone. You could get various trains and buses from there. There I picked up a Hakone Free Pass leaflet which was far more helpful than the map I had as it showed all the different transport routes more clearly.
I got a train all the way to Gora – end of the line. This was quite a slow train and it seemed to go backwards and forwards, I'm not sure whether that was just for certain views for passengers or because the train going the other way had to pass by. I took about 45 minutes in total and did pass through some lovely mountain and forest scenery – although I was sat on the wrong side of the train to take any decent photos.
At Gora I took the ‘cable car’ 553 m above sea level and up a cliff side. I say ‘cable car’ but it was a funicular railway. The one I got on was absolutely packed so, again, no photos but there wasn't much to see outside but trees anyway.
At the top, I waited a little to let the rush die down and ate the sweet bun I'd bought back at Hakone Yamote station – it was basically a bread roll with sugar on, but pretty nice anyway.
Then I joined the short queue for the ropeway – or what I would call a cablecar! This ropeway was in three parts and took you up inline with Mt Fuji, although nowhere near that high, then meandered down through the trees to Lake Ashi.
I was very fortunate in that I was first in like for a new ‘car’ and picked my seat first. I went for one at the front corner. I think I picked well and the views were stunning.
I did even catch the slightest glimpse of Fuji but it was very much hiding in the clouds. I could just about make out a snowy sloping side, but I'm not sure even my camera could capture what I could see with my eyes – it should be in this photo, below, but I understand if you don't believe me. How does a mountain of that size just hide anyway?
I took a short break at the next ‘station’, taking some photos outside the building, before making my way to the next cable car.
I wasn't on first this time but still a decent view out the front. This time the cable car went down, down towards the lake but no less stunning views.
It stopped halfway but I'm not sure what was there – no one got off but two people got on.
As we got closer towards lake Ashi, one of the pirate ships become visible docked near the building we were heading into.
So when I hopped off the cable car I went straight to join the queue for that exact pirate ship.
I was about 20 minutes early for the next departure but it meant I was near the front of the queue and when we got onto the ship I could claim a good spot. Which is exactly what I did and then didn't move until we docked in Motohakone.
This other pirate ship docked next to us before we set sail.
But soon, we were off!
The boat took about half an hour to cross the lake and get to it's first stop. We passed the stunning mountain scenery surrounding the lake (although no more glimpses of Fuji), small fishing boats and the famous Hakone shrine torii gate by the lakes edge.
I got off at the second stop on the boat, Motohakone, rather than staying on the boat for a round trip. Here I walked for about ten minutes around the edge of the lake to the same torii gate as seen from the pirate ship.
Random German restaurant?
It was fairly quiet at the waterside torii gate, in a lovely setting surrounding by massively tall pine trees.
Behind the gate were some stairs which I climbed, then crossed a road, then climbed some more stairs to get to the top and to Hakone shrine.
Here there were a bunch of smartly dressed people having their photos taken – pesky tourists getting in the way. I assume the couple had got married, although I have no concept of what Japanese weddings are like.
So anyway, I snuck past the wedding crowd and had a look around the shrine. Particularly admiring all of the dragons on the spring water well, I was used to seeing just one in this kind of shrine but here there were eight or nine.
I didn't stay for too long as it was nearing 4pm by this point and I wasn't really sure how long a bus to near my ryokan would take. I took a slightly different route through a wooded and lantern lined path rather than along the lake edge, back to where the boat docked, also where the busses stopped.
I worked out which bus I needed to get and had the name of the bus stop noted in my Inside Japan guide. My bus map didn't have all of the names of all of the stops but I knew there would be a lot before mine. I had no trouble getting off at the right stop and could see the ryokan from the stop so that bit was actually super easy!
The ryokan is a very old one, featured in an old ukiyo-e print by Hiroshige which was exciting for me as a Hiroshige fan.
It was far bigger than I expected, completely different to the four/five room minshuku's I had stayed in. This ryokan had four floors, a restaurant, an onsen (hot spring spa) and even a gift shop. I was told the dinner times, where the bathrooms were, where to put my shoes etc. and even given a map of the place – that's how big it was. Then I went up to the second floor to find my room.
Even the room was huge, well it had several rooms really – a porch, then a small room with bedding wardrobe, then the main room and then a small room with a sink, a table and windows. The view outside was of the river and the bridge next to the ryokan. Not bad at all! It was 5pm at this point and I had chosen 6pm for dinner so I just rested during that time. It had been a busy day.
During my resting, I tried on the yakuta provided for me. These are simple kimonos designed for just wearing around the house – rather than outside – and can also be used as pajamas. A lot of my hotels, and the minshuku in particular, provided these but I'd been pretty lax about actually wearing it. But as it was my last night in a traditional Japanese hotel, it seemed only right.
The above photos I took on my phone (clearly in the first one!) but the one below I took using my camera's self-timer.
I went up to the fourth floor restaurant at 6pm and sat down in my designated spot. Unlike in the minshuku I had stayed in, this dining hall had actual western tables and chairs.
Dinner was in three courses but with many parts to each – well, except the dessert which was just sorbet but that didn't need to be over complicated! There was no shortage of food and tasty things to try, I was well and truly stuffed after all of it. Therefore, after dinner I just sat still for a long time!
The walls of the ryokan were adorned with ukiyo-e prints. Hokusai's Great Wave was near my room.