I went to Hakone while back. It was some holiday, ah yes, the autumn equinox, so we had a three day weekend… for the second week in a row… if it weren’t for the insane work hours, I could love working in Japan!
We could go to Hakone in about 2 hours from Tokyo on a ‘not so expensive’ train. For 5500 yen we could get the ‘Hakone free pass’ and use all the trains, boats, ropeways, and whatever in Hakone as we wanted for three days. You can buy the Hakone free pass anywhere on Odakyu-line, so you can get it at Shinjuku if you are coming from Tokyo. If you have more money, you can also take the Hakone ‘romance car’ ロマンスカー and get there faster. The train is not at all romantic; I think this is another case of katakana gone wrong.
Hakone is famous for onsens, or hot spring baths as they are usually referred to in English. Hakone is also known for wooden boxes that are like puzzles to get open. I wonder if the box thing has anything to do with the fact that the first character in Hakone (箱根) means ‘box’…
On the way to Hakone, you can stop at Odawara castle. The area outside the castle has actually be converted into a mini-zoo, and apparently there once was an amusement park for children there. Entering the castle will give you a quick history lesson about the area and the role of the castle.
Once getting to Hakone, a definite tourist spot is Owakudani、 also known as 地獄谷, hells valley. The place is steaming with geothermal fumes… and reeks of sulfur. It stinks, but, this is the stuff that creates so many onsen in the area, so we must be thankful. Heh.
At Owakudani, and about every store around the area… you can purchase black eggs. These eggs are boiled in the onsen like waters, and this turns their shells black. It is said that if you eat one of these eggs then it will increase your life span seven years. Bonus!
Anyway, there were many cool things in Hakone, the springs, the rope way, the second steepest train ride in the world… it doesn’t feel steep when you are riding it though. For more information about ‘the Hakone trip’, check out JNTO’s site.
Riding the ropeway was interesting. I expected it to be a little bit more raw… however it was more organized than the subways. I was very impressed. The view was great, and on a clear day you can see Mount Fuji.