Hakone: the short-cut... steps down the hill
It was cloudy when I left Tokyo. The temperature slightly chilly as I left the hostel after breakfast to catch the early shinkansen train to Odawara from Tokyo Station. I took the Hibiya Line to Ueno Station, transfered to the JR Yamanote Line to Tokyo Station. Seconds before the train stopped at Tokyo Station, I heard a phone ringing. I looked at the man in a suit next to me. He checked his phone. It wasn't him. It can't be me. I always put my phone on vibrate mode. The phone continued to ring. People were looking at me, clearly annoyed. Embarassed, I frantically tried to locate the phone in my bag to silence it, but the train stopped. Shit. People were getting off and this was my stop as well.
Hakone: town bridge and river
I ignored my phone ringing, picked up my luggage, got off the train onto the crowded platform, and found an empty space where I answered the call. But the ringing stopped. I missed the call. It was a private number. I couldn't return the call. Oh well. Must be a long distance call.
I found the shinkansen platform easily - I was becoming a pro at finding my way around the train station - where I can take the train to Odawara. It only took about 35 minutes than the expected 50 minutes because I didn't realized I took the limited express train, and before I knew it, I arrived at Odawara. I found the office where I can purchase the Hakone Round Course 2-Day Pass with no problem - just follow the crowd and the tourists! I called the ryokan I will be staying for the night to get directions - which confirms what I already have just to be on the safe side - and to let them know that I will be arriving early so I may drop off my luggage and before I begin sightseeing of the area.
Hakone: town street
I purchased the Hakone Round Course 2-Day Free Pass (free area) for 3900yen at Odawara Station. This allowed me one round-trip train ride from Odawara to Hakone-Yumoto Station, unlimited usage of the Hakone Tozan Railway, the Souzan Cablecar and Hakone Ropeway, the Hakone Sightseeing Boats on Lake Ashi, and the Hakone Tozan Buses within the free area for the 2 days.
The train ride to Hakone-Yumoto was okay. It was overcast and looked like it was going to rain soon. Once I reached Hakone-Yumoto, I located the bus terminal where I can catch the bus to the ryokan for 100yen just as directions the ryokan provided on their website and when I called that morning.
Hakone: Hakonemachi - ferry view
There were no bus yet so I waited for 15 minutes before it arrived. When I asked the driver that I would like to get the Shunkoso Ryokan, he asked if I have a Hakone Free Pass. I said, yes. He said I can take the bus across the street that will stop in front of Shunkoso for free with the Hakone Free Pass. Sweet! I thank him, crossed the street and got on the bus just before it left. I boarded the bus, showed him my Hakone Free Pass, told the driver I would like to get off at the stop in front of the Shunkoso ryokan, got a nod, and took my seat. It started started raining a few minutes after I got on the bus. We crossed the bridge over the river and entered the residential town of Hakone-Yumoto. Up the hilly, narrow, and winding streets, less than 10 minutes later and several stops later as the passengers got off and got on, the bus stopped and the driver said "Shunkoso".
Hakone: Hakone sightseeing boat - very pirate-y
I said my thanks and got off. I didn't know which one of the houses was the Shunkoso ryokan, so I went in to a ryokan-looking house and asked where the Shunkoso ryokan. The nice man got out with me and pointed me to the house in front. I had actually gotten off the bus right by Shunkoso but I had to go up the hill as the entrance was just around the corner that was why I missed it. I said my thanks and left.
Shunkoso is a small, ryokan with its private onsen in Hakone-Yumoto that is frequented by tourists and Japanese alike.I found this onsen ryokan after researching and reading endless reviews. I chose it because it has their own onsen and it was affordable - $70 per night! Their staff speaks basic English which was enough to communicate.
Hakone: Torii at Lake Ashi
When I entered, I was greeted warmly. He said that check-in isn't until 3pm but I can leave my luggage there which was what I planned in doing. He found my name on the reservation list and asked me how many people were checking in with me - I said one. When he asked me if I wanted dinner and breakfast, I said yes and he reminded me that dinner isn't included from the room per night stay fee, but breakfast is - okay. I already knew it but was glad to be reminded of it. He also reminded me that I needed to be back by 5pm so I have plenty of time to get settled in and dinner would be between 630pm to 730pm. As I was about to leave, he gave me small paper that showed a short-cut by walking to the train station.
Hakone: mountains of Hakone
I left with my umbrella since it was raining steadily. Following the directions, I turned left and walked down a hill, down a cobble stone steps. Hmm... maybe it wasn't such a good idea to walk down the hill when it was raining. The ground was wet and I may had slipped and crack my head open and die - not a fitting way to die as it was my birthday, after all. But I was enchanted with the whole experience. When I reached the bottom, I found myself on a road by the river and a bridge. The view was lovely despite the rain. The river and the bridge with the mountains as the backdrop was wonderful to see. I crossed the bridge onto a street where there was a hotel and more stores. It was a nice walk to see the town stores like I was a local.
Hakone: Tozan Ropeway
I didn't see other tourists but following the directions, the street ended at a busy street where more stores are located. I turned right and found the market area of Hakone-Yumoto - antique stores, pastry shops, restaurants, and noodle shops lined at the street level. I was tempted to stop at every store, but I had an itinerary I wanted accomplished. Past the market street led me to the bus station and the train station. Sugoi!
All the research I did recommended to take the five different means of transport popular to Hakone - the railway, cablecar, ropeway, boat, and bus - in a counter-clockwaise direction, but I saw that there were too many people taking that route so I decided to take the clockwise direction instead starting from Hakone-Yumoto to Hakonemachi via the Hakone Tozan Bus.
Hakone: Tozan Ropeway
I waited in line and 10 minutes later, the bus arrived. I showed my Hakone Free Pass to the driver. The bus ride to Hakonemachi was 45 minutes long along the tree-shaded, winding road. It was lovely - would've been better if the weather was nicer , but even greater still if there was no rain and the foliage at its height. But alas, no. However, the steady fall of the rain and wind created a mystic ambience to the trip. Along the way, passengers got on and off the bus. I eventually fell asleep and woke up just in time as the bus pulled over at Hakonemachi.
The rain continued to rain, lightly now. I originally planned to get off the bus at Moto-Hakone so I can hike along the Cedar Avenue on the Old Tokaido Trail to Hakonemachi. But because of the rain, I had to change my plans and go directly to Hakonemachi to take the sightseeing boat that will cross Lake Ashi to Togendai.
Hakone: Owakudani on a rainy cloudy day
At the ferry station, I waited along with the other passengers for the next boat to arrive. It didn't take long, and 10 minutes later, we boarded the boat. The boat looked like a pirate ship. Very touristy and ostentatious looking but the kids got a kick out of it. I went up the deck for a quick look then came down to take a seat. It was chilly outside with the light rain and I didn't really wanted to get soaked. The ride was pleasant enough. The boat stopped at Moto-Hakone before proceeding to Togendai. Two of the three view spots to see Mt. Fuji is on the boat between Hakonemachi and Moto-Hakone, which I didn't get to see because of the rain and clouds.
We arrived at Togendai where they have restaurants and stores located at the mall-like station.
Hakone: Hakone Cablecar
I took the Hakone Ropeway next. The third viewing spot of Mt Fuji is located between Ubako and Owakudani on the ropeway. But visibility was bad and I only saw the boat on Lake Ashi, and not of Mt Fuji. I was disappointed but continued on. The ropeway crossed over a ravine, and the awful smell of sulfur permeated the air way before we reached the Owakudani stop and transfer for the second leg of the ropeway trip. At Owakudani, you can observe the volcanic activity and the sulfur emissions in the area. I passed on it since it was raining but will visit the next day when the weather is better. I reached Souzan where I took the cablecar to Gora. The cablecar ride was only 10 minutes in a straight uphill and downhill route. The Hakone Art Museum and Gora Park is located along the way but again, I decided to continue on to Gora where I transfered to the Tozan Railway to Hakone-Yumoto.
Hakone: Hakone Cablecar - waiting for the cablecar
The railway train ride for the next 35 minutes winded itself along a densely, wooded valley before we reached Hakone-Yumoto. It was already half past 3pm.
I still had plenty of time before returning to the ryokan so I went back to the market area right behind the train and bus station. There were plenty of shops selling Hakone's sweets. Apparently, Sweet Festival is an annual autumn event in Hakone from September to November. The whole market area had the lingering smell of sweets in the air. I was in heaven! I stopped at a few shops to browse through. One shop caught my eye. I tasted some of the sample sweets they offered and loved it. It was a a small bun-like dessert with red bean paste inside. It was yummy! They also gave me a small cup of tea.
Hakone: Hakone Cablecar - here it comes!
I bought a dozen that comes in a box for 1500yen, I think. Happy with my purchase, I continued to walk. Another shop I passed by was selling a light brown, round-shaped cake with a green bean paste inside, called dorayaki. It tasted delicious so I bought 2 for 300yen.
Light showers continued to fall and I walked back to the ryokan using the same direction as the I used earlier. The town looked so serene with the rain and the light breeze. The hiked up the hill was a bit more challenging than I expected. It looked more steeper than when I was hiking down it. I arrived at the ryokan slightly out of breath and chilled.
I checked-in and was escorted to my room as well as shown where dinner, breakfast and the onsens are located.
Hakone: Japanese school girls in their adorable school uniform
My room was very spacious with a view of a small pond outside my window. About a third of the room has the tatami mats and the remaining part had the table and seats. There was a small tv, a low table, and a coffee/tea set. An en-suite toilet and bathroom also came with the room.
I sorted out my clothes for the night and for the next day, charged my mobile and laptop, and looked through the train schedule to see which train I could take tomorrow afternoon for Kyoto. There was no internet connection to be had so I watched some tv before it was time for my 630pm dinner.
Although some ryokan serve dinner in the room, I had mine at the dining area on the 2nd floor along with the other guests. There were about 4 more groups after me who arrived 15 minutes apart.
Hakone: Hakone sweets!
Half were tourists, and the other half were old Japanese women, who were just adorable. Dinner was great! It consisted of small, seasonal dishes of: sweet tofu, vegetable maki, pickled radish, sashimi, miso soup, chicken with vegetables, grilled fish, a small bowl of rice, egg custard, and small, slices of fruits, and hot green tea. Despite the small portions, I found myself fully satisfied and full. I highly recommend having dinner at ryokan because they serve fresh, seasonal food!
After dinner, I prepared for my first onsen experience. I put on the yukata the ryokan provided, brought a small towel and off I go!
There are two onsens in the ryokan. One for each gender. The female onsen for that night is located on the second floor with a red awning outside.
Hakone: Hakone sweets - I bought a box like that
When I arrived at the onsen, it was empty. There was an indoor natural hot spring (onsen) and an outdoor natural hot spring (rotemburo). I left my things in the mini baskets in the changing room. There are also toiletries available for use - no charge. As per proper onsen etiquette, I took a bath first - thoroughly, then washed my hair, and the like, at the bathing area before getting into the natural hot spring. I did my little hop and dance as my feet tried to acclimate to the water temperature and I found myself slowly sinking into the onsen as my body became accustomed to the high temperature. I stayed at the onsen for 15 minutes before venturing out at the rotemburo. I spent another 15 minutes there before going back to the onsen for a quick 5 minute soak before ending my evening onsen.
Hakone: Shunkoso Ryokan-Onsen
I was on my own the entire time I was in the onsen, making me feek like I had my own private onsen the entire time! I guess the other guests were either still having dinner or wanted to go later? Nonetheless, I enjoyed having the onsen all to myself!
I returned to my room feeling fantastic. While getting ready to sleep, I got a call from fellow TB member, Eiko (momiji) who called to greet me a 'happy birthday' and we chatted a bit before hanging up. Then one of my sisters in NYC called me, too, also for a birthday greeting. Aww... I feel loved. She was concerned I was on my own for my birthday, but I told her I was fine and enjoying my day despite the weather. My friend, Niji, also sent me an email to my phone. I wasn't sleepy yet so I decided to watch some tv.
Hakone: Shunkoso Ryokan-Onsen - connects the lobby to the rooms and onsen
I ended up watching the first episode of 'Oh! My Girl!', a Japanese drama I was looking forward to watch with Hayami Mokomichi in it. He is so kawaii~! Hayami Mokomichi a Japanese-Filipino model-actor. He's very cute, very tall, and tan. Too bad he's younger than me (see photo of Hayami Mokomichi in Tokyo Day 1 blog). Anyway, I couldn't get over on how cute he was in the drama. I watched the whole episode that night in Japanese - no English subtitles, and only caught a few words here and there. But overall, I understood the story. Ha! I can't wait to see the subbed version when I get back to NYC.
It was around 11pm when I decided to sleep. Happy 25th Birthday to me!