Thursday, July 12, 2012

[JAPAN TRAVEL] Hakone, discovering outside Tokyo

When I was browsing information of "What to do in Tokyo?", I found out that it was not an easy task. Since I had been to Tokyo twice in the past 10 years, many of the common tourist-y places had been pretty well covered. I had extra few days to myself but a very amount of budget to spend. Besides, I was also on a personal mission - testing my Japanese language ability. After ten years I realized that the Japanese is already at par with other countries at picking up English as second language. Surprisingly, while I was very happy to use Japanese language in this trip, I found more people using English quite fluently. 

Even before arriving in Tokyo, I was already impressed by the quality of English use in Japanese websites. When you are traveling to a country that English is not widely spoken, you need to make sure that you have as much information as possible in hand. It is something I learned; ever since I started traveling many years ago. I am sure everyone would like to less the hassle of being worried all the time, especially risking on getting lost in a foreign country (although I don't mind of getting lost!!!).

Knowing that I was going to stay in Machida-city and wanting to experience onsen, I managed to find a good website recommending a place that is not too far from Tokyo. Hakone was added on to my to-do list, upon arrival in Tokyo. I was about to go to Hakone alone, however my two dear friends, Ne-san and Yuri-san were able to clear off their schedule to spend time with me. Actually the journey from center of Machida to Hakone is only about an-hour-ish, depending the type of train you take. Both of my friends came separately to meet me at the train station in Machida. All three of us purchased an Hakone Freepass by Odakyu line at the station. Although three of us had different return destinations, the system for Hakone Freepass by Odakyu enables you to customize your start and end routes differently. I was indeed impressed with the flexibility. Purchasing the freepass was a breeze, plus the price were also quite reasonable, knowing the route and journey.
Regardless of the starting or end point of the trip, here is the journey route for Hakone adventure: Hakone Machi (Lake Ashi cruise)- Togendai - Sounzan (Ropeway) - Gora (Cable car) - Hakone Yumoto (Train) 

The freepass will allow you to use all type of transportations available in Hakone. My friends and I did a reverse journey of the Hakone pass route because the crowd was quite heavy considering Golden Week (GW). Before arriving in Hakone, we made a stop just before Hakone Yumoto for lunch. It was a small station, but upon alighting from the station I could immediately see a food heaven. It was fun to see the variety of snacks and food available. One of my favourite Japanese food is soba, so for that lunch I had the opportunity to taste one of the best cold soba.

Upon arriving at Hakone Yumoto station, we were informed that the waiting time for us to get on Togendai-Sounzan (ropeway) was more than 2 hours (someone was on a heller shouting the information!!). So, three of us hopped on a bus - going straight to Lake Ashi. After about 45 minutes of adventurous bus ride (you'll feel like the body of the bus will somehow scratch the side of buildings or any retaining wall because the road was so narrow), I was welcomed by the great sight of the lake ashi and its surrounding. With the weather was on our side, everything I saw was just majestical and too beautiful. Next, we embarked on a watery journey crossing lake Ashi - it was some sort of a pirate ship (wohooo~~~). 

Although I didn't manage to see cherry blossoms, the range of beautiful colours displayed by trees and plants was enough to mesmerize my first experience of Spring. Upon arriving at Togendai, we boarded the ropeway. Climbing up, I started to see smoke gazing out from different land area. It was Owakudani - still an active volcanic soil of Hakone. If not due to limited walking ability, I would have gone to the extend of climbing up further to the smoky area. Here at Owakudani, aside from the sulphur-y smell, it is also famous with 'black eggs'. Everywhere you'll see shops selling black hard-boiled eggs - somehow the sulfur of the volcanic area is causing the thick black coat of boiled eggs. Give it a try!!!

Going to Gora, another half journey of the ropeway, gave me an opportunity to view Fuji-san (Mt Fuji). Earlier, I was not able to view the spectacular sight of the iconic peak of Japan due to cloudy sky. That was my first experience to see Mt Fuji from such a close distance, despite of limited visibility. 

Slightly just before the last cable car departed, we managed to join the crowd heading back to Hakone Yumoto station. It was getting dark and we had missed the last bus going to the area where many famous hot spring are located. Seeing many shops selling souvenirs, my friends asked me if I would like to skip onsen and just do souvenir shopping. Immediately my respond was, "I was not looking for souvenirs". So, we decided to take a taxi and head to a nearby onsen (about 7 minutes from the station). 

Of course nothing can beat the excitement I had when I first entered an outdoor onsen. Read more of my onsen experience in this entry, [Japan Travel] Experience Onsen in Hakone.

Due to heavy crowd, a significant amount of time was spent for queueing and super-speed walking. In the end, we missed our dinner; hoping that we could comfortably enjoy dinner while riding romance car for our returning journey. Instead, there was an incident that had stopped speed train service in one of the rail track. It was already 10pm when we arrived at the Hakone Yumoto station. It was almost empty, but we could see few stranded passengers waiting for the local fast train heading out from Hakone.

I bid goodbye to my friends when the train reached my station. It was indeed an experience - a day of girlfriends outing. Japanese hospitality is surprisingly tough to beat; my friends continued another hour of train ride to their destination. For those who has more days to roam the beauty of the land where sun rises, go to Hakone and spend a night or two there.

Don't forget to check out more information on Hakone from Odakyu line website: Hakone Freepass

What Say You?


Hakone would be one of my destinations when I get to have my Japan Tour.

You should @lizabaker, especially if you are in Tokyo.

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