Saturday, February 10, 2007

Japan Winter Trip - 26th Jan 2007 Hakone

The Heart-robbing Mt Fuji & Picturesque Lake Ashi in Hakone
A trip to Tokyo without making a special excursion to Hakone(箱根)which offers a romantic view of the snow- topped Mt Fuji is not complete. In fact, such excursion provides a great one-day escapade from the hectic, ultra-modern Tokyo if you are nature-lover like me. :)

Thanks to my buddy Lee Booi for telling me about this great place.
She and her hubby are currently based in UK and has recently posted a good entry on Zurich. Check it out at http://leebooilim.blog.co.uk/.

An unromantic ride to Hakone.... Be smart take the Romance Car!!!
As early as 8:00am, by using Akasuka line we commuted to Higashi-nihombashi and hopped onto Shinjuku line that eventually brought us to the famous Shinjuku station. Shinjuku station is a major sub-way and train interchange which is super complex and confusing. It has many countless exits and luckily the direction signs are clear and helpful. The moment we got out for the subway we are swamped by human flows from all direction. Miraculously we found ourselves to Odakyu Railway station and bought ourselves two Hakone Free Passes for 5500Yen each.

As we are much of the budget traveller, we gave the Romance Car Limited Express train a pass which turned out to be a big mistake. The Romance Car also reminded me of the memorable 2-hour Romantic Ride connecting between Lucerne and Interlaken that crosses scenic Swiss hills and lakes. A little bit of sneak preview for my up-coming blog on 2004 Europe Autumn trip this March 2007... ;)


Romance Car in Hakone-Yumoto Station

Back to Hakone ...

At around 8:56am, we took the Odakyu Express Train(小田急电车) from Shinjuku(新舍) to Odawara(小田原) and eventually to the gateway of Hakone - Hakone-Yumoto (箱根汤本). Although it was Express Train, it took us 2 hours to arrive at Hakone-Yumoto as the so-called Express Train made 20 stops along the way. Nonetheless, such ride reveal the invaluable opportunity for me to closely observe the little towns away from Tokyo and the life of Japanese there .

Get Your First Souvenir Stamp at Hakone Yumoto Station (~11am)
Just before the exit at the Hakone-Yumoto station, there was a little table with brochures and mostly importantly the first Hakone souvenir stamp. Luckily, we flipped through the Hakone Coupon Book that we were handed at the Odakyu tourist counter and noticed about the designated page to collect stamps from eight major toursit spots in Hakone. Each of these stamps is actually the logo of the mean of transportation connecting between two tourist spots. So make sure you ask for this book ... :)

Hotsprings!!! Hotsprings!!! Hotsprings!!!
From Hakone-Yumoto Tozan Bus Stop No.3, the 40-min ride to Moto-Hakone-ko(元箱根港) was full of surprises. The bus traversed through natural cedar forest and intermittently made stops at small village/town offering exquiste hotspring bath to tourists who patronize this area or those who are seeking the thrill of being naked in front of strangers and enjoying the therapeutic effects of mineral-packed hotspring water. Cozy huts offering a relaxing retreat into the well-preserved mother natre could be sighted from time to time. A heaven indeed...
Wonder whether I tried the hotsprings? ;)


Hotspring Spa Resort in Hakone

The Huge Lake Ashi and The Majestic Mt Fuji at Moto-Hakone-Ko.
As Tozan Bus travelled downhill towards Moto-Hakone-Ko from Kami-Hatajuku, the mighty Lake Ashi became apparent. Alighting from the bus and walking towards the harbour slowly unveals the shy but majestic Mt Fuji hiding herself in the midst of clouds and moutains around Lake Ashi. According to the local, it is 50% chance that Mt Fuji is not seen from Lake Ashi because of the thick clouds. But luckily God is at our side when Stanley and I were there!

A picture speaks a thousand words. Since I posted 9 pictures below, I will let them speak the next 9 thousand words about Lake Ashi and Mt Fuji. To me, the opportunity to see the symmetric snow-topped Mt Fuji fulfills my childhood dream and the experience to submerge myself in the serenity of Lake Ashi was simply breathtaking.


Top: Mt Komagatake which offers good Mt Fuji view.
Below: Lake Ashi with good view of symmetric snow-topped Mt Fuji


Top: Pirate Ship Ride in Lake Ashi. It is covered by the free pass.
Bottom-left: Two beautiful dogs by Lake Ashi.
Bottom-righ: Mt Komagatake view from Lake Ashi

Left: Am I dreaming? Is that Mt Fuji?
Right: Ancient Cedar Avenue is just 5 min away from the harbour
Even though the Pirate Ship stops at Moto-Hakone-Ko harbour before continues it cruise towards Togendai (桃源台), I recommend that you make a casual walk to Hakone Machi via the 2-km Ancient Cedar Avenue.

Tip: Travel to Hakone-en by bus (covered by the pass), then take ropeway up to Mt. Komagatake. Sadly, the ride up is not covered by the free pass. I suspect that the view at Mt Komagatake is much better than that in Owakudani because it offers scenic view of Lake Ashi and Mt Fuji.

Ancient Cedar Avenue (~15min)
Ancient Cedar Avenue was once the major Tokaido Highway to Hakone area. To provide comfort to travellers in both the hot summer and the cold winter, cedar trees were ordered to be planted by Edo Shogunate. The reasons to make this walk are two folds: To engross oneself in the beuty of ancient cedar trees and to immagine oneself as a traveller walking towards the Hakone Checkpoint at the end of the avenue, i.e. Hakone Machi.

Left: Cedar trees are planted along Tokaido Highway
Right: The Unique Cedar Twin-tree
Hakone Machi
At the end of cedar avenue, the entrance to Hakone-machi is just another 5-min of walk. We passed by a little but well-maintained Japanese garden and eventually Material Musuem (300Yen) with two Edo era mannequins standing at the entrance of the museum. Skipping the museum and on the way towards Hakone Checkpoint, we came across something very very interesting!!!

The biggest black sugar cracker in the world (At least from what I have ever seen)


Left: Material Museum with two Edo era Mannequins
Right: The rest house between Material Museum and Hakone Checkpoint.


Left: The smaller black sugar cracker (280Yen)
Right: Lake Ashi view from Hakone-Machi.


Left: The biggest Black Sugar Cracker in the world
Right: Posting with Edo era Checkpoint Mannequine

This rest house ran by a polite old lady at Hakone-Machi offers Japanese beverages at affordable price. It also offers a good range of Mt Fuji painting postcards (80-90Yen each). No doubt, I bought two of them as I am keen postcards collector.

Hakone Checkpoint
At the Hakone Checkpoint, woodern fences with watch tower stationed with officer can been from afar. From the way we dress, no doubt the fierce officers stopped us for thorough checking fearing that we are harmful.
At the end of the checking, we were granted two clearance passes after paying 2000Yen as toll collection to the Edo Shogunate. The above description would be applicable if we are travellers during Edo era. Today, the check-point is just a mere replica of the ancient building with live performance during weekend. The entrance fee to the check-point is 500Yen.

Two harbours in Hakone Machi
About 400meters away from the check-point, we arrived at the first harbour. The moment we entered the harbour complex, we were welcomed by smiling faces offering samples of Japanese muachi and local delicacy. We walked towards the ticketing counter and realized that only modern speed-boat embarks from here. In addition, the Hakone free pass does not cover modern speed-boat ride.

Hey, why is the Pirate Ship ???

We explored further down the town and 200 meters away from the first harbour is the second harbour. So, if you are travelling on your own here without following any guided tour, make sure you go to the second harbour for the Pirate Ship ride.

In fron of the Pirate Ship Harbour is the Noah House. Ark of Noah?! How come there is a house that is named after the famous biblical Ark of Noah? Perhaps, the owner is a faithful Christian? :)

Noah House has unique architecture and a wide variety of souvenirs and Japanese snacks are sold here. Spotting a couple of refrigerator souvenir magnets really thrilled me as I have been requested to get a few of them from Japan and until then I had not came across any in Kyoto or Nara. Without thinking much, I got 4 magnets at 300-350Yen each.

House of Noah

Taking Pirate Ship from Hakone Machi to Togendai
When a green Pirate Ship approached the harbour, the crowds waiting at the harbour were transformed into pirates lining up in queues to enter the battle ship. Pirate of Carribean? Captain Jack?

At 1:50pm sharp, a loud hon was made signalling the embarkment of the Pirate Ship into the sea full of mysterious challenges. It first headed towards Moto-Hakone-Ko. Together with us are crowds of pirates both females and males from Taiwan, Korea and China. He he... no no.. they are not pirates. They are tourists following guided tour. Nonetheless, they are very excited about the pirate scultures on the deck and were grabbing every opportunity to take photos of the scultures.

Hey!!! What about my share of my beer? Hey, where is my meat? Ha ha ha (Voices from my fantacy of being Captain Jack :P)

At Moto-Hakone-Ko, most of the tourists alighted from the ship. So, one advantage of not travelling on guided tour is that you have all the time on your own and there is no need for you to squeeze with people and always on the rush. :)
Guess what we did and experienced after the tourists left the Pirate Ship at Moto-Hakone-Ko??? The whole ship is all mine!!!! Our show began !!!
Let's post with Mr Captain Big Belly! :P
Dude, do you see a land in front ? Let me help you with my binoculars. :P



Left: Entering Pirate Ship: Right: Another Pirate Ship on the way to Togendai

Left: Red Archway (What is called? Any idea?) Right: Let's me help you to look for land in front

The Pirate Ship that I took from Hakone Machi to Togendai


Left: Where is Captain Jack Sparrow? Right: The Angelic Lion

Left: Posting with Captain of the pirate Right: Other Sight-seeing Ship at Togendai

Tip: If you don't have much time to kill, the Pirate Ship from Hakone Machi to Moto-Hakone-Ko is sufficient as in the middle of the ride between these two towns, you will have closer look at the Majestic Mt Fuji. So, make sure you are not too engrossed with the artificial pirates sculture but rather spend your moment enjoying the beutiful scenery the ride offers.

As we were arriving at Togendai, other types of Hakone Sight-seeing Cruises can be seen parking at the Togendai Harbour. Unfortunately, the harbour is undergoing face lifting. Another misopportunity for us is the ropeway from Togendai to Owakudani was undergoing major recabling engineering and we were whisked to Owakudani in local bus.

Lunch at 极乐茶室 "Utmost Pleasure Restaurant", Owakudani.
The view of Mt Fuji at Owakudani was simply perfect! Unlike the view at Lake Ashi where the lower part of Mt Fuji is blocked by hills surrouding Lake Ashi, the view here is more complete. Occasionally, clouds will float by forming additional heaven-like touch on the view. At other instant, the sun-lit Mt Fuji takes the center stage radiating the Goddess-like purity to her admirers. Whether you are nature lover or a techno gig, the enchantment Mt Fuji would surely capture your heart with her beuty deeply imprinted in your mind.

Different views of Mt Fuji at Owakudani

What could be better than sipping a cup of hot sake and enjoying Japanese lunch at Owakudani while letting oneself be mesmerized by the beuty of Mt Fuji? No wonder the restaurant we had our lunch is called "Utmost Pleasure Restaurant". Contrary to your thought that the meal must be expensive, we only spent 1400Yen each for our lunch there. :)


Left: A glass of hot sake Right: Pork Katsu Rice with Miso Soup

Owakudani
Continuing our journey after the splendid lunch, we casually hiked up to the hell valley called Owakudani. The valley was formed due to volcanic explosion before christ. Today, this valley became a popular spot due to its unique landscape often obscrubed by sulfuric smoke released from the ground from time to time. Ironically, the unpleasant sulfuric smoke (smell like rotten egg) does not hinder thousands of tourists each year to try out the famous black eggs sold there. Unfortunately, when we were there a Japanese couple beats us by getting the last pack of 6 black eggs. Sob sob..


Left: Me at Utmost Pleasure Restaurant with Mt Fuji at the back.
Right: On the way up to Owakudani


Left: Sulfuric water flowing down the stream. Right: A small wooden bridge on the way to hell valley

Left: Archway at Owakudani Right: Black Egg Shop

The natural black egg cooker (boiling hot spring water)

Left: The table used for cracking black egg Right: The unique landscape at Owakudani

More photos on Owakudani Mountain (1050meter)
Heading back to Hakone-Yumoto via Sounzan & Gora
At Owakudani Ropeway Station, we collected our 3rd souvenir stamp and took a cable car towards Sounzan (早云山). As we descended towards Sounzan, we could see Mt Fuji bidding farewell to us for far. Sad we were but leave we must. Sob sob....

Left: Snow-filled Souzan Hill Right:Mt Fuji from afar
At Sounzan, we collected the 4th souvenir stamp and eventually took the single-track funicular down to Gora. At Gora, Stanley being too tired forgotten about his tripod. Before we boarded Hakone Tozan Bus back to Hakone-Yumoto, Stanley noticed about his missing tripod. After much search around the train station but in vain. Eventually, he approached the ticketing counter but the officer could not understand what he meant. We were quite panic as the tripod is quite expensive. Eventually, Stanley got hold of an officer that could merely understand him. Through a series of hand-language and simple english communication exchange, finally, the offer validated Stanley is the rightful owner of the tripod left in the funicular car. The tripod was kept in the station after the driver picked it up earlier. Thanks to the helpful station officers at Gora! We salute your help and professionalism.


Something small that I didn't miss ... :)
At Gora station it was really cold in the winter after the sun retired to the west. We were supposed to take Hakone Tozan Train from Gora back to Hakone-Yumoto but unfortunately there was a major railing engineering work. As we were waiting for the bus to start, we were queuing up in line. Normally, in Malaysia the passenger will be sitting in the bus with the engine running.

Japanese are really environmental-savy population. The bus engine is only ignited minute before it starts it journey. So, what happen to the passenger queueing outside the bus in the cold winter? They provide this...


The Super Big Heater ;)

Travel Tips & Summary
Highlight:
Lake Ashi, Mt Fuiji viewing at Moto Hakone-Ko lake front, Ancient Cedar Avenue, Hakone Checkpoint, Pirate Ship from Hakone Machi to Togendai, Owakudani & the black egg, Lunch at "Utmost Pleasure Restaurant", Gora Park.

Tips:
Get the Hakone Free Pass issued by Odakyu Electric Railway in Shinjuku station. For just 5500Yen, you can board on all transportations without additional charge. For quicker and more comfortable access to Hakone from Shinjuku station, I recommend the Limited Express Romance Car with additional 870Yen for one way. The pass can be purchased at the automatic machine.

Don't forget to grab the free Hakone Coupon Book for souvenir stamps from the Odakyu Sales/Tourist Counter at Shinjuku station.

1 comment:

gary said...

I JUST LOVE YOUR ADVENTURE IN JAPAN.

Just for knowledge sick....
can u email me abt the total cost in RM for your marvelous trip ( all from start to finish?

( if possible breakdown of each day spending ... so i roughly know that DAY one wil be RM Xxx)

garyteh@gmail.com

Thank you in ADVANCE !