Faye had a day off today, giving us a whole day to ourselves with no constraints on time so we decided to head out of Tokyo and have a travelling day. First to Shinjuku on the ordinary train and then we booked tickets to Hakone Yomoto on the Romance Car (I can’t think of anything less romantic than a pensioner and her pregnant daughter travelling together but perhaps it has a different meaning in Japanese), Luckily we got the last two tickets for the next journey though, sadly, we were seated four carriages apart because of the lateness of the booking. I was very impressed to see that before the cleaners exited the train they turned the seats so that as the train was changing direction passengers were now facing the direction of travel and could also turn the seats themselves if they were in a large group and wanted a different formation, e.g, four seats facing each other, for their journey. Unlike the ordinary commuter trains this express train, as does the bullet train, allows food and drink on board so, as well as being much faster and having panoramic windows enabling fantastic views and making the journey feel much shorter than the 90 minutes it took, we had the added luxury of a trolley service. Interestingly, and also very charmingly, the trolley lady and the conductor (as do the conductors on the commuter services) always turned and bowed before they left each carriage. I have found that the Japanese people have a very strong work ethic and seem very keen to take on any job, however menial (not that working on a train is menial but it applies to a lot of other jobs here), do it to the best of their ability and take real pride in what they do. This goes a long way to keeping whatever service they are employed in running very efficiently.
Now for the exciting part of the trip (involving bus journeys up steep winding mountain roads, pirate ships, old trains that climb mountains and cable ropeways that hover over foggy volcanic valleys). On the bus journey to Moto Hakone I was very impressed to see some of the mountainous area that Faye had traversed when she did the Oxfam Trail Walk many years ago.
One of the most iconic symbols of Hakone is the grand floating Torii gate, possibly more famous than the shrine itself. Sitting on the edge of Lake Ashinoko and accessed (yes, you guessed correctly) by yet more steps.
One of the best preserved parts of old Hakone is a path lined with tall cedar trees. It was the original path used during the Edo period where travellers mainly walked on foot between Tokyo and Kyoto.
To me, Hakone was remarkably Swiss looking with wooden type houses, or perhaps it was just the biting cold here. With both of us with runny noses from the cold (TMI?) and Faye’s iPhone losing power, again because of the extreme cold, at least we found a 7 Eleven to buy tissues and an iPhone portable charger.
Next we embarked on one of the several brightly coloured pirate ships from Moto-Hakone to Togendali-ko (commercialised i know but I really enjoyed it) and crossed the lake.
Once off the pirate boat it was onto the cable car and ropeway though first I had to answer the call of nature (TMI again!) and (sorry for the toilet humour) came upon the funniest sign I had seen in a while and, believe me, there are a lot of them in Japan.
Still smirking at this, I went to get into the cable car only to find myself in hysterics at another sign. Is it just me??
Journey on the cable car was amazing, especially seeing the steam rising from the hot springs as we went up the mountain. Halfway up the sulphurous odor assaulted us but that was nothing to what we experienced when we reached the top though, somewhat surprisingly, we seemed to get used to the smell of sulphur quite quickly.
Mount Fuji was barely visible on the way up but we managed, well Faye did, to get some better shots from the top though visibility was quite poor all day.
Ōwakudani (the Valley of Hell) is a volcanic valley with active sulphur vents and hot springs created 3,000 years with the eruption of Mount Hakone. Much of the area is an active volcano zone with hot springs, hot rivers and sulphurous fumes. It is very popular with tourists for its scenic views and Kuro-tamago a local specialty of eggs hard-boiled in the geothermal waters of the hot springs and blackened by a chemical reaction. The boiled eggs smell slightly sulphuric. The healing effects associated with the iron-rich waters may be unproven but it is said that consuming the eggs is said to increase longevity. Eating one is said to add seven years to your life. (I read somewhere that you may eat up to two and a half for up to seventeen and a half years, but eating a whole third is said to be highly unadvised but have no idea if this is true or not .. I suspect not!!)
Next, we were back on the cable car to go back down the mountain but had to stop half way and get onto the funicular railway which went at a worryingly steep downwards angle down to Gora.
Then it was onto another train to get back to Hakone Yumoto, a lovely interesting area where we found a very traditional restaurant and where I had my first taste of Japanese Curry and very good it was too. Was interested that the only notice board in the place was advertising Laphroaig and Johnny Walker!
Dinner over, we headed back to book our return journey on the Romance Car, alighting at Machida to catch another train to Shimokitazawa and a refreshing walk to Setagaya Daita and Faye’s apartment. All in all a long but really lovely day.