After spending a night luxuriating in our onsen hotel in Hakone and having our Japanese style breakfast, we headed out for the day to do the ‘Hakone Loop’ – a circular tourist route of the area which would invole all kinds of exciting modes of transport like cable cars and pirate ships.
We started out early; we had heard that tourists usually travel down from Tokyo to do this route, and we had the advantage by being in Hakone already so we thought we should be able to get ahead of the crowds.
We purchased our Hakone Free Passes from Kowakidani, our nearest train station, for 4000 yen each (just under £30), and off we went on the first method of transport for the day: the Hakone Tozan train, a cute little switchback train which climbs the steep inclines in Hakone.
The next method of transport was the Hakone Tozan cable car (I’d call it a funicular) which would take us 1.2km up a very steep slope. It was super crowded and not entirely pleasant, but we didn’t have to wait in a queue to catch it, and the journey only took 10 minutes.
I was looking forward to this next one: the Hakone Ropeway! It is a cable car that would take us over to Ōwakudani. I love cable cars, even though I’m pretty scared of heights. Whilst we were in the queue for it, we were given wet towels in packets, which I was a bit puzzled about at this point. I was to find out…
The cable car goes directly over the Ōwakudani sulfur vents. Ōwakudani means ‘Great Boiling Valley’ and is a result of Mount Hakone (a volcano) exploding some 3000 years ago. The vents constantly pump sulfur into the air, and quite frankly, stink. I don’t think we could smell them from the cable car – this is a delight we were yet to enjoy!
We arrived at Ōwakudani and my goodness, the smell! It hit us immediately upon walking outside and was extremely pungent.
The sulphur vents are fascinating to watch but we couldn’t stay outside for long. Think bad eggs mixed with farts – delightful! It then dawned on us what the wet towels were for – to cover our noses!
Ōwakudani has another stinky specialty: kuro-tamago (black eggs). The shells turn black after being boiled in the hot springs in the area, and they apparently add 7 years to your life if you eat one. There are a few homages to them dotted around, including a black egg statue…
… and a black egg themed Hello Kitty.
They were for sale in the tourist shop, but funnily enough, we had lost our appetite.
We jumped on the cable car again which took us down to Lake Ashi, which is a crater lake also caused by the explosion of Mount Hakone thousands of years ago. I was hoping to get a glimpse of Mount Fuji from here but sadly the weather was too hazy to see anything, and Mount Fuji loves to hide.
However, we did get to ride on a pirate ship across the lake!
We nabbed a spot at the back of the boat, which gave us a wonderful view of Lake Ashi as we travelled across it.
After getting off the boat, we had a wander around the edge of the lake to Hakone Shrine.
We walked down this magical lantern lined path and under the torii gate towards the shrine.
Then down some steps towards the huge Torii gate on Lake Ashi which we had seen from the boat.
Feeling pretty tired and acknowledging that we needed to return to Tokyo that evening, we backtracked and took a bus for the remainder of the loop, back to Kowakidani.
We grabbed our bags from the hotel and then it was back to Tokyo via the Hakone Tozan train and then the Shinkansen for the last few days of our trip.
We realised that we had taken seven modes of transport that day: local train, funicular, cable car, boat, bus, bullet train and subway train 🙂