Hey everyone! I'm back with another Japan post. Just before I start, I wanted to let you know that I'm bumping my posts up to three times a week, so there will be a little bit of change in posting schedule. So, Hakone! This trip was one of the biggest adventures and possibly one of my most favourite parts of our trip as a whole. I first spied Hakone in a travel brochure that I picked up in a Travel Agents, more for the pictures and as a means to satisfy my Japan wanderlust than for research.
We planned to go on a Sunday, figuring it would be relatively quiet and we were right. Hakone is outside of central Tokyo and out into the mountains, so we took a train, which is part of the Hakone Free Pass - a pass that allows you to travel from Shinjuku to Hakone, around Hakone for two days and back to Shinjuku, for about £30! We just bought it from the Odakyu Line section of Shinjuku station. If you are going to do that, though, make sure you leave with plenty of time as Shinjuku station is massive and confusing.
As we sped there, we could see the houses visibly shrinking in height as we moved away from the centre, until we reach Hakone Yumoto, Hakone's main train station, surrounded by trees and a towering mountain covered in greenery.
Hakone is a tourist spot for foreigners and Japanese, so finding our way was easy and transport is excellent thanks to the Free Pass. Still, all that convenience didn't make Hakone any less wonderful and overwhelming. Everything gave off a faint vibe of the house from My Neighbour Totoro.
To begin with we wandered around the Hakone-Yumoto area, taking in the tiny, climbing streets, hidden shrines, and the 'main street' of shops and noodle places. The houses here twisted with greenery that we hadn't yet witnessed in central Tokyo. In fact, it's the kind of vibe i've never witnessed, everything felt like a Ghibli film.
However, I had big plans and my Hakone Free Pass, so we ventured over to Lake Ashinoko on the bus, twisting up and down the mountainside on tiny roads. Once at Ashi, we took a glorious pirate ship across the lake to get a better look at the shrine gate in the water, and the towering mountains of the shore. From the other side, we were supposed to take a ropeway car over Owakudani Valley , higher up the mountain, but due to the Level 2 Alert, the area was cordoned off for everyone. It's a shame because it looked so beautiful. Instead, we got a bus to the top, to the cablecar atop, and took in the highest views we could get considering the circumstances. I will spare you the relatively generic landscape photos, but I did get a shot of the tiny edge of Owakudani valley, and the steam that was constantly emanating over the edges of the mountains.
We then headed down the mountainside in the cablecar and stopped in a terrifyingly traditional but thankfully friendly restaurant for bowls of hot ramen, before hurrying off to make our check in time at a traditional Japanese Ryokan (inn). I want to go into more detail about the Ryokan so I am saving that for another post, but suffice to say it was pretty fantastic!
The next morning we headed back to the Lake Ashinoko area to visit the glorious Hakone Shrine, it's gates gleaming and imposing in the dappled sunlight of it's tree-shroud. Here, we washed our hands in the fountain, watched them bang the drums and took in the surreal surroundings. Heading out of the shrine, we found a teeny food place that sold Peach flavour ice cream, so we both strolled back around the lake's shore with one in-hand for one last trip on the boat.
We found Hakone in June to be the perfect slice of 'summer holiday feeling', strolling in the glorious sunshine, eating ice cream, watching Dragonflies dance through gardens and ducks paddle in the patches of shade. We were virtually alone as westerners and even the Japanese tourists were scare, so we spent a lot of the trip strolling on our own, with no crowds or stress. There was so much more I didn't get to see, and writing this now already fills me with a longing to go back and explore all the paths I missed whilst we did the traditional tourist route.
If you liked this post, check out the Japan tag for more of my adventures and tips, and let me know what you thought of this post below - isn't Hakone dreamy? Would you go? Is there somewhere else with cool shrines that I can add to the bucket list?