Hakone (箱根) is a mountainous area west & less than 100 km from Tokyo, and part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. We had planned a full day for enjoying Hakone as it is famous for its hot springs, natural beauty and the view of nearby Mt. Fuji, something totally different from the busy Tokyo city life.
We bought the Hakone Free Pass from Shinjuku Station (JPY 5,000 each, about S$77) which includes the round trip from Shinjuku to Hakone on the Odakyu Railways, unlimited use of selected trains, cablecars, ropeways, boats and buses, as well as discounted admission to selected tourist attractions in the Hakone area. The ticketing staff asked if we wanted to upgrade our Shinjuku-Odawara free-seating seat to the “Romance Car” limited express train for a surcharge of 870 yen per way. The difference between these 2 modes of transport is: 1. “Romance Car” seats must be reserved when you book your ticket, so you are guaranteed a seat for the entire journey, 2. “Romance Car” is about 30 minutes faster than the normal Odakyu Railway. Anyhow we didn’t upgrade our ticket in the end. 😛
We took the 9.01 am train departing from Shinjuku & reached Odawara Station about 1 hr 40 min later. The station was packed with tourists given that it was Sunday and start of the Golden Week in Japan. We had to transfer to another train to get to Hakone-Yumoto station to start our Hakone Round Course tour as suggested on Japan-guide.com. By the time we reached Hakone-Yumoto Station to take the Hakone Tozan Railway to Gora, we were shocked at the amount of people queuing up for the railway – it was horrendous! So I decided I might as well take pictures of the station while waiting. 😉
I read that the Hakone Tozan Railway (箱根登山電車), Japan’s oldest mountain railway since 1919, is a treat for more than just railway fans. It is a sister railway of the famous Rhatische Bahn in Switzerland (no wonder I had a very “in Switzerland” when I saw the train :p). The small trains wind themselves through a narrow, densely wooded valley over many bridges and tunnels, stopping at small stations along the way and changing directions at 3 switchbacks. However, perhaps because of the long wait to get onto the train, & the train was packed like sardines when we managed to get in, I couldn’t really enjoy or admire this 35-min train ride.
Finally, we reached Gora Station at about 12.30pm, more than an hour after we reached Hakone-Yumoto! -_-“
Our initial highlight for this day trip was to go to Hakone Green Plaza Hotel‘s hot spring which boasts views of Mt Fuji from its outdoor baths. However since we weren’t the hotel guests, the hot spring baths were only available to us from 12-3pm. It would be very rushed for us to reach there by 2pm & still enjoy the baths till 3pm, so we had no choice but to give up this plan. Instead, we decided to have lunch at one of the restaurants at Gora, explore Gora Park & then visit one of those family-run hot spring hotels.
The restaurant was quite crowded but luckily we didn’t have to wait too long before we were ushered to a table for 2 on the second floor. I had my first soba here, & surprisingly I like it hehe. I had always associated soba with cold noodles, hence I never bothered to try till this time, I saw on the menu that they have hot Yasai Soba (JPY 800, about S$12.40) so finally I had my first soba! 😛
We were very full after this meal, so it was good that we had to walk uphill to the Gora Park (強羅公園, Gōra Kōen, free for Hakone Pass holders), located on the sleep slope above Gora Station. We were greeted with beautiful flowers & plants upon arrival at Gora Park & indeed a good choice to come here to relax & unwind. 🙂
It was a bright & sunny day, good for photo-taking with the beautiful landscape in the park, but not so great for someone like me who perspires easily hehe. So after a good 45-min, we proceeded to our next destination – hot spring hotel near the Gora Station for some relaxing hot bath! 🙂
The Yoshihama hot spring (薬師の湯 吉浜) is very small with just 1 hot bath with water temperature at 64.8 degrees! They separate the female bath & the male bath since you have to go into it naked (if you do not already know Japanese hot spring culture). But probably because it is more like a family-run business, there were only 2 of us & we felt like it was our own private bath, for an admission fee of JPY 1,050 each (about S$16.20), including a small bath towel for each of us. At first I was quite scared to enter the bath as it was really too hot but after advancing with care, I got used to the temperature & it was indeed a relaxing bath! We both felt refreshed after soaking in it for about 15-20 minutes.^^
I shall continue the rest of our Hakone day trip in the next post soon. =)