This past weekend I traveled with a friend to Hakone (箱根、はこね). Though views of Mt. Fuji are spectacular from various points around Hakone, the weather didn't cooperate with me to get any pictures of Fujisan. Though the cloud cover and mist still provided plenty of photographic opportunities.
Though this isn't a travel blog of any kind, I thought I might mention my thoughts from our experience in Hakone for anyone planning to visit (and offer a brief photo tour below).
First of all, I researched a few websites for ideas of places to go, things to do, hotels to stay at, and travel information (such as fares and timetables). So, if you are going to Hakone, these may be helpful:
Hakone Travel Guide - http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5200.html
Hakone Navi - http://www.hakonenavi.jp/english/ (The Japanese site of this one actually has a lot more information - use a translator!)
Rakuten Travel - http://travel.rakuten.co.jp/en/ (English) and http://travel.rakuten.co.jp/ (Japanese). The Japanese site has more hotels and ryokans than the English one does, so I often find better deals through the Japanese site, or I go directly to the hotel's website.
My friend and I used the Hakone Free Pass for the weekend, as it cost about the same as we would have spent on all the fares. The "typical" tourist loop, includes going from Odawara Station (小田原駅) to Gora Station (by train/bus), then taking a cable car from Gora to Sounzan, the Hakone Ropeway from Sounzan to Togendai, and a pirate ship (ferry) from Togendai to Hakone-machi and Moto-Hakone. Though, since we live in Shizuoka, we saved time by taking a 50 minute bus from Mishima to Moto-Hakone.
Our Saturday afternoon was spent at Yunessan, a water park/onsen on the way to Gora station. The place is huge and confusing to navigate but there are many baths, pools and some water slides. One part of the park requires swimsuits and the other part is the typical onsen, (they call it the "naked zone"). If you want to try out the "doctor fish" (fish that eat away dead skin on your feet), they also have a fish foot bath you can use for five or so minutes (there were long lines when we tried it).
The regular day pass is about 4000 yen for adults (around $40 U.S.) but since we only went for the afternoon (1 to 7 p.m.) we used a discount coupon for 2000 yen off (found on the Japanese site for Yunessan). Though I can't always read all the Japanese on websites for places, I usually try to see if they have any discount coupons, as English versions of the sites often don't. Look for: クーポン (kuupon, coupon).
Sunday, we took the bus from Yunessan to Gora, to start the typical tourist loop. The cable car took us from Gora to Sounzan, at the top of the mountain.
Here at Sounzan.
Next, on to the Hakone Ropeway. The lines were long and though the cars leave every minute, we still had to wait awhile.
Off to Owakudani, the first stop, 8 minutes away.
Looking out over the infamous sulfur pit and Owakudani.
Owakudani is known for its black eggs. They are regular eggs boiled in the hot, sulfurous water (which turns them black). Legend goes that they add seven years to your life. I didn't get a picture of the eggs, but here's one with a famous mascot:
There were people everywhere, and everyone filed slowly to look at the sulfur springs. I had to wait to grab a shot without a bunch of heads in it:
Down the ropeway to Lake Ashinoko:
Once we arrived at Togendai, we had to wait half an hour with a crowd of people for the pirate ship to transport us across the lake. Once they let us get onto the ship, though there was plenty of room, people still ran and shoved in front of us and cut us off in order to get a good seat.
By the time we got to Hakone-machi, we were both pretty exhausted and just wanted to sleep. It was also quite cold and so staying outside didn't sound too appealing.
In hindsight, though the trip was partly enjoyable, and relaxing at Yunessan was nice, I probably wouldn't go to Hakone again on a weekend. Or, if I did, I would take the buses around instead of the typical cable car, ropeway, pirate ship loop. They run regularly, every 15-20 minutes, and would be a good way to avoid the crowds. Granted, the ropeway is definitely something to be done at least once.
Have you been to Hakone? Any tips to make the traveling easier (things you might not find in travel guides?)