Thursday, March 29, 2012

My Bubble: An Unfinished Business In Hakone

Like I said yesterday, 5 days in Tokyo is just too short and effectively having only 3 days for sightseeing and some shopping, we had left the must-do trip to Hakone to our last day in the city.  Our flight out of Haneda International Airport was close to midnight which gave sufficient time to go to Hakone and return straight to the airport to catch our flight.

Hakone is about 100km from Tokyo and is a popular destination for the Japanese as well as foreign tourists.  It boasts Mother Nature's natural beauty in abundance from hot springs to warm rivers and lakes to sulphur vapored valleys and mountainous landscapes of fauna and flora.  It is also one of the favorite spots to view the white snow-capped Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan.  Witnessing the majestic beauty first-hand is awe-inspiring that you can in fact define it as sublime.

We had purchased the minimum 2-day Hakone Free Pass by Odakyu Railways at Shinjuku Station for a discounted rate of ¥4100 per person due to the Chinese New Year Promotion.  We had been lucky as the promotion was just one shy of expiring and we would then had to fork out ¥5000 instead.  The Hakone Free Pass is a discount excursion ticket valid for 2 or 3 days depending on your choice and it offers ticket-holders unlimited transportation to and around Hakone.  It is really more economical even if we didn't have 2 days on hand to spend sightseeing there.  We can ride for free on 7 modes of transportation in the area from buses to the cable cars (Hakone Ropeways) and trams apart from the round-trip train ride from Shinjuku Station to Hakone-Yumoto Station via Odawara.  If you opt to take the limited express (bullet) train called Romancecar, there's an additional charge of ¥870 per person but you will definitely reach faster and non-stop into Hakone-Yumoto Station within 85 minutes instead of our 115 minutes.

On arrival into the station, we jumped straight onto the Hakone-Tozan Bus that took us on a 40 minutes ride to Motohakone-ko, one of the 3 points to take the Lake Ashi sightseeing cruise as recommended in the brochure that came with the free pass.  We visited the Hakone-jinja Shrine with its iconic vermilion torii gate standing right in the waters of Lake Ashi.  Witnessing the abundant and large cedar trees lining the parth to the shrine, we immediately abandoned our initial plans to walk the 2km Ancient Cedar Avenue where large cedar trees lined the old Tokaido Highway since 1618.  Well, you see one cedar and you've seen them all.

Although a couple of friends informed us that it snowed the day before when they visited, it was fortunately a bright sunny day with clear skies that day although the gusts of cold winds did make us shiver.  We walked back along the lake edge path to the pier to catch the pirate ship for our 40 minutes cruise.  The sight of Mount Fuji forming the backdrop on the other side of the lake drew many excited oohs and aahs from all the tourists onboard.

We landed at Togendai-ko on the other side of the lake to take the 20 minutes ropeway ride to the hell valley called Owakudani, located 1044 metres above sea-level.  Hiking along the 30 minutes nature trail, you will be treated to doses of volcanic sulphurous fumes and smells.  This place is popular for the Black Egg, a local specialty of hard-boiled eggs in the bubbling hot springs selling at ¥500 for 5.  Our brochure stated we could try at no charge but we didn't find any.  RM20 for 5 hard-boiled eggs ... I don't mind not trying!  Instead we checked out the souvenir shops and enjoyed free unlimited tastings of their wide varieties of mochi, Japanese rice cakes made from glutinous rice with traditional and other funky fillings.

By the time we had enough of Owakudani, it was already passed 1pm and we had not even covered half of Hakone!  As we were supposed to head back to Shinjuku Station no later than 6pm, we sped up our movement a few notches.  But the next stage was not meant for us to complete as recommended.  The 10 minutes ropeway to the next station at Sounxan was closed for maintenance which means we have to backtrack to Togendai-Ko and take the bus on the longer route.  That threw our flow of sightseeing of course  and I don't have that much time to spare in the first place.  As we will have to ride the Hakone-Tozan Train and Hakone-Tozan Cablecar from the opposite direction and faced a number of zig-zagging around, we decide to call it quits.  We hopped on the Hakone-Tozan Bus back to Hakone-Yumoto Station and by the time we caught the train back to Odawara it was already pass 5pm (oh that's because we did a little quick shopping at the station).

Anyway, looks like there is still so much unfinished business in Hakone for us.  We missed the 1.2km scenic panoramic area between Sounzan Station and Gora on the uphill ride on Hakone-Tozan Cablecar.  We also missed visiting the Hakone Gora Park (a French-style rock garden), the unique Hakone Open-Air Muzium (exhibition of various sculptures in open grounds) and several popular Onsen (hot-springs) along that route.  We also failed to ride the Komagatake Ropeway to enjoy the sights at the peak of Mount Komagatake.  Our plans to visit the Odawara Castle Donjon on our return trip to Odawara also did not materialised.  Shoot!!!

Well, looks like we have every reason to make another trip or several trips to Japan. [*wink wink*]  Feel free to check out my collection of photos while we were in Hakone.

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