Japan Trip 2010 - Hakone Happiness

This is looong overdue but Japan has always been a favourite destination for us. We went to Japan in December 2009 and 2010. Both times with another family and their critters. While all the places we went to were marvellous in their own way, we particularly enjoyed Hakone last year. Here is our itinerary, in case anyone is interested, and some of the great attractions and sights we enjoyed there.

Itinerary:-

Day 1: Arrived Tokyo Haneda on SQ overnight flight. Took train direct to Shinjuku (about a 25 minute ride).
From Shinjuku, we got on the Odakyu Romance Line and headed for Hakone! The Romance car's seats could swivel around to face the windows so that you could admire the view while snuggled up with your honey. We had 4 critters hopping around, singing songs, plastering faces to the window where they could stare at the train driver! Lucky there were no couples hoping for some Romance in our carriage. The alternative, though much cheaper, would have been a normal subway-like train, with cold metal seats.

Got to Hakone Yumoto station in about 1.5 hours and after harrassing the ladies in the tourist office (just opposite the station), we figured we were all prepped to try out the 5 different modes of transport there! But first off, we had to find our Ryokan to drop off our bags. Luckily for us, it was relatively easy to get to the Ichinoyu Tonousawa QS which was just about 3 stops from the Hakone Yumoto Station. Note: the ignoramus in us risked life and limb walking along the very arrow road to the Ichinoyu up on the other side of the road from the bus-stop. The Japanese drivers actually stopped to let us get to the place :(. It was only later on that we discovered that upon crossing the road, there was a pathway at the back which led directly to the Ryokan.



We quickly left bags at the Ichinoyu as all the critters (and ourselves) were raring to get to the Yunessun Hot Spring Theme Park! The bus ride there took about 30 minutes and we got to check out other Ryokan and small shops along the narrow road. At Yunessun, we showed our printed coupons from the Japanese version of the website which offered a pretty good deal of buffet lunch + theme park entry tickets. The buffet had good quality spread with critter favourites like Tori Kara Age, Sausages, Fried Rice and sushi while us adults happily ingested teppanyaki beef :P

While not exactly advisable health-wise, we then lost no time in getting into our swimmies and checking out the hot springs! What was so special about the hot springs was that they came in various flavours and themes! We headed out into the cold where an immersion in the coffee flavoured hot spring gave us a different kind of caffeine boost!  Then we headed off to dips in the sake, red wine, green tea and charcoal springs. My chocolate-loving critter was disappointed that there was no chocolate hot spring when we were there but that lasted all of a minute :). With outdoor heated pools with slides, what critter would not be whooping their heads off with joy?

After imbibing the outdoor hot spring delights, we headed indoors where the main pool was themed the Aegean Sea with Roman and Turkish baths. We even headed into the Collagen hot spring in a bid to improve skin tone and elasticity! Interestingly, most of the people in this hot spring before our rowdy bunch, were men!

As we did not opt for dinner at our ryokan, we stopped by the 7-eleven near the Yumoto station to get our supply of cup noodles on our way back. Do note that dining options in Hakone are limited so it is generally a good idea to go for the dinner sets, which usually are offered in Hakone accommodation. If anyone of you do decide to stay in the Ichinoyo Tonousawa QS, get the rooms facing the river instead of those facing the mountain. Not only will you be able to spot fireflies outside your window, you will not be awoken by sounds of vehicles zooming by at 5am!

Day 2: If you love Japanese breakfast sets as much as I do, then you will be gushing over the traditional fare that is served at the Ichinoyu! The sweetness of the grilled fish, paired with melt-in-the-mouth rice and accompanied with crunchy pickles was a fabulous start to the day.


The floor to ceiling glass windows in the dining room gave us a simply awesome view of the scenery outside where fall colours still dominated. It took us sometime before we actually finished breakfast, what with the generous servings we were given but move we had to, in order to continue exploring the area and its various modes of transportation!



We got ourselves the Hakone Freepass (which technically is not free) so that we could travel freely on almost all of the transport. So to do a quick summary of what we did-

  1. Hakone Tozan Railway - This was a spectacular experience. Not only was the scenery awesome, the train itself was interesting as it worked on a series of switchback systems to get up the mountain. So at various stations, the train master would get off, switch the tracks and walk to the other end of the train. The critters,  however, were shouting "Faster! Faster!" much to our embarassment. Once they had experienced the bullet train, the speed of everything else became relative to it :(
  2. Cablecar - We alighted at Gora and from there, we hopped onto the cable car headed for Sounzan where we could then take the ropeway to Owakudani. Note that the Cable car here is actually like a tram, which moves up the mountain along the cable. No dramatic moments on this ride, which was pleasant enough.
  3. Ropeway - This is actually the cable car as we know it. Offering sweeping panoramic views of the whole area, the critters were excited about the hot steaming plumes caused by volcanic activity, which made the area look like "Hell Valley". We got off at Owakudani and traipsed up to the top of a hill where we caught a great view of Mount Fuji and bought the famous "Black Eggs". These are supposed to increase your life span by a couple of years! The critters were quickly overwhelmed by the pong of the sulphuric fumes so we did not stay up there long! At the base, we slurped up some decent Ramen before continuing on to the next leg.
  4. Pirate ship - We got to Togendai via the ropeway and boarded a gaudily decorated pirate ship. Happily hopping from deck to deck, the critters were more interested in catching sight of the costumed pirate on board than actually enjoying the sights of the cruise. We took in the unspoilt beauty around the lake and alighted at Motohakone-Ko. By then it was already 4pm and the critters looked like they were drooping. We then decided to hop on a bus and headed back to Hakone Yumoto, where we again, got our supplies from the "the store and more".



So, including the bus, we did try out all 5 types of transportation in Hakone. The critters were tasked to recount the different modes and to draw them in their sketchbooks. There are actually many more intriguing sights in Hakone such as "The Little Prince Museum", the "Pola Museum" and the "Open Air Museum". If you are an art fan, it is definitely worthwhile to spend more time in this area.

The critters still talk about Hakone with fond memories, of what else but the Hot Spring Theme Park. So, if you are planning a family trip to Japan, a trip to Hakone is definitely recommended :)



Peace,
Lagoon.


Some resources we found helpful:-
About Hakone: http://www.hakonenavi.jp/english/introduction/index.html
Transport modes & sights: http://www.odakyu.jp/english/sightsee/hakone/index.html
Ichinoyu Group of Ryokans: http://english.ichinoyu.co.jp/index.html (we booked direct from the website)