Since we arrived in Japan, the mountainous Hakone area has been highly recommended as a getaway destination for the hot springs and views of Mt. Fuji. Hakone is in the Kanagwa prefecture of Japan and is about 1h40 mins train ride from Shinjuku, Tokyo. I recommend taking the “Romance car” / Odakyu Limited Express as it is a lot quicker than the local trains or buses and is really reasonable for the distance of travel. When we got to the station, we unfortunately couldn’t take the Romance Car from Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto station as it had a maintenance problem that day, so we bought a Hakone Free Pass and traveled with the local train. The Hakone Free Pass is a great way to get around, all rides and travel within the Hakone area will be covered by that pass. If presented at some restaurants or museums, they will discount you on the total price charged.
From Shinjuku we caught the train to Hakone-Yumoto which is where we then caught the scenic train, Hakone Tozan Train to Gora. This is where we booked accommodation so from here we would base ourselves to tour around. Although we didn’t have much time away, we managed to fit a lot in with the two days we had.
At Gora Station, we decided the legs needed to get moving after sitting most of the day so we walked up to our accommodation. I didn’t realize how steep this little town is. Gora is in the north of Hakone area and is literally on the side of a very large mountain. We certainly got a workout on our way up the super steep hill. It was lovely walking through the streets though, getting a good view of all the little houses and the spectacular mountains around us soaking up the last few rays of sun for that day. There was another way to get closer to our accommodation, the Hakone Tozan cable way! We decided after our walk though, we had worked hard for an evening drink and a sweet treat which made it all worth it in the end!
After arriving at the accommodation and checked-in we took a stroll to a nearby hotel, the Hakone Hyatt Regency Hotel. This 5-star hotel is certainly worth a visit and if you can afford it, most definitely a stay! We were lucky enough to join the guests in their lounge area with their grand fire place keeping everyone warm from the cold outside. A coffee and cake for starters which were literally the prettiest, most delicious chocolate mousse and ‘two hearts’ that had ever touched the taste buds! To finish off, we had a cocktail each which were outstanding!
Back at our accommodation, a traditional Japanese style venue or Ryokan, Hakone Gora Onsen Karakara, we had a traditional Shabu Shabu for dinner. This meal is thinly sliced meat and vegetables that one adds to boiling water. Our water was slightly flavoured which made the dish “oishii” (delicious)! The dinner came with miso soup, rice as well as a few tempura and green tea on the side.
After much debate, we plucked up enough courage to dress up in our “yukata” and “hoari” which is traditionally used in an onsen environment. Because we were staying in this kind of accommodation, we were allowed to walk around the hotel in this attire during our stay. Remembering of course, the ‘outside’ slip-on shoes that we had to take off when entering any other room such as the dining hall, onsen or the room which we stayed in. The yukata is a gown like form of clothing, always wrapping the left side over the right hand side – the other way is seen as dressing for the dead / funeral. Tie the yukata with the “obi” (belt) and then put the haori (jacket) over to keep you warm.
The Hakone area is renowned for their hot springs (onsens) and volcanic activity. The onsen is a traditional manner in which women bath together and men separately. The onsen was a great experience! Once entering into the dressing room, one has to get completely naked. Shoes in their pigeon holes and clothes in a draw or basket. A towel is provided in the room for you to take with you which can be hung up inside the onsen area. In most onsens, you will not be allowed in if you have a tattoo. Once you have washed thoroughly in the designated wash areas, you can slip into the hot bath. I was lucky enough to be the only one in the onsen at that time but usually these will be full with other women. The men and women hot springs are kept separate. Onsens use water from the natural hot springs, there is no form of heating as this is the water from the hot earth around the volcanic rocks in the area. The onsen water is high in minerals and is said to have healing properties for aches and pains, cuts or diseases for example. Some onsens will have different healing properties than others due to the volcanic nature in that area. Because the onsen water is so warm, it is difficult to stay in for too long.
Feeling completely relaxed, we then went to bed on our Japanese style beds or “Futon”. Surprisingly, these were very comfortable! No more back problems 🙂
Early to bed, early to rise for day 2 of our adventure in Hakone. Keep a look out for this post in the next week!