Wednesday 11 January 2023
Today we leave Tokyo and spend two weeks making our way south west to Fukuoka. First stop, Hakone, which overlooks Mount Fuji. It’s a rather transport heavy day as we notch up 4 trains, 2 buses, 2 cable cars, 2 funicular railways and a pirate ship.
Bullet Train to Odawara
After two local trains to Tokyo Station, we board the bullet train to Odawarawa, where we pay to leave our suitcase overnight at the tourist information office. Here we also purchase Hakone Free Passes. These cost Y5000 (around £30) each and provide 48 hours ofunlimited use of all the various transportation options Hakone has to offer.
Hakone Tozan Railway
We transfer to the Hakone Tozan Railway for our journey to Gora. Actually, it’s two trains; after 4 stops, we must swap to another train at Hakone-Yamato. We select a forward facing seat, and set off up the mountain. Not the best decision, as we soon reach a switchback. Once the driver has run from the front of the train to the back, and the conductor vice versa, we set off again, this time in the opposite direction. After two more switchbacks, the train makes it to Gora, which is at an elevation of 541 metres.
From here, we continue to Sounzan via what the Japanese call a cablecar, but I would describes as a funicular railway. This 10 minute journey takes us to an elevation of 740 metres. Even the platforms are at a slant, which makes disembarking tricky, as we climb to the exit for the next stage of our journey.
The Hakone Ropeway is, theoretically, a 4 km gondola ride from Sounzan to Togendai over Owakudani crater. As part of the line is under maintenance (and let’s face it, who wants to ride a poorly maintained cable car over a volcano?) we must take a replacement bus for the first leg of the journey to Owakudani. This is rather disappointing as we miss the most dramatic part of the trip where the car passes through the sulphurous steam belching from crater of the volcano.
At Owakudani Crater, we get our first proper view of Mount Fuji. We’re lucky to have chosen a lovely day for our visit and apart from a little bit of cloud, we can see the volcano in its full splendour.
All around the ropeway station at Owakudani sulphurous steam bellows forth from the volcano below. Which makes for some spectacular scenery, although the smell is somewhat less spectacular.
The place’s USP is hard boiled eggs which have been cooked in the steam, thus turning the shells black. Obviously, we can’t resist purchasing some eggs (¥500 for 5). The old man also has a black ice cream.
We eat our weird picnic sitting on some black egg shaped stools watched over by Hello Kitty who is hatching from a black egg.
After the obligatory selfie with the black egg sculpture, we board the Hakone Ropeway which will take us down to Tendegai on the shores of Lake Ahinoko.
The 30 minute downhill cablecar journey takes you tonLake Akinosho, offering views of both the lake and Mount Fuji along the way.
Hakone Pirate ship
From here, you can take a pirate ship ride across the lake. I’m not sure what the significance of the pirate ship is – did pirates used to frequent inland glacial lakes? But it’s definitely a pirate ship, complete with cannons and a treasure chest full of life jackets.
Hakone Pirate Ship sails from Togendai on the north of the lake to the south shore, stopping at Hakone-machi (where you can visit Onshi Hakon Koen for views of Mount Fuji) and Moto-Hakone (where you can visit a shrine with a torii gate rising from the lake).
As we get views of both Mount Fuji and the torii from the ship, instead of disembarking and completing the full tourist circuit by bus, we decide to stay on the ship for a partial reverse loop, returning to the north of the lake for a second cablecar and funicular ride.
The nearest station to our hotel is at Owakudani, part way down the funicular line. An announcement states that there is no way to cross the line here, so to ensure to exit the correct side. So we at the mercy of Google maps (and my navigational skills). Luckily, neither let us down. All we have to do now is walk for 15 minutes down a narrow, winding road with no pavement to reach the hotel.
It’s surprisingly remote and there doesn’t appear to be any buildings around, but we obediently follow the blue line. When we arrive at the hotel, I think we’re mistaken as it looks very industrial. It also looks very deserted. Just after we complete our mountainous walk, taking our lives in our hands on the windy pavementless roads, the shuttle bus from the station pulls up. The hotel runs a regular free shuttle from the station – who knew? Obviously not us!
Wisterian Life Club
It’s a massive hotel, but totally deserted. It’s a bit like checking in to the Marie Celeste.
From our room on the 6th floor we have a balcony with a pretty cool view across the mountains.
It turns out that the ‘industrial’ look comes from the fact that the hotel is built on a series of hot springs, with machinery regulating the emissions. The building is split into two wings, each with its own series of hot spring baths. Our wing has 9 hot springs (5 for men and 4 for women). So while the old man is catching up on his candy crushing, I go to investigate the baths.
The room is like Dante’s Inferno. The springs bubble away into their respective pools. There’s also some spring powered showers and a sauna. As I have the place to myself, I figure it won’t hurt to take a few photos.
Dinner at Yunessun
As our hotel is in the middle of nowhere and the restaurant is closed, we ask the receptionist where to go for dinner. He says there’s only one restaurant within a half hour walk of the hotel; Momoji in the Yunessun Building. To reach it you must follow a passageway round the back of the hotel. Five minutes later you emerge at Yunessun, which turns out to be a hot spring/shopping mall combo. It also turns out that a set meal at Momoji costs £100 a head.
On the first floor we find a convenience store with a dine-in area. Here, you can purchase ready made meals from the chilled cabinet and they will microwave them for you. It’s not exactly haute cuisine, but my spicy tofu noodles are actually quite tasty. And they certainly leave us with plenty of change from £100!