Day 7: December 2
Second day of 7-day JR pass
We left Kyoto in the morning, taking the shinkansen from Kyoto station to Odawara station, which took around two hours. From Odawara, we purchased the Hakone Free Pass (2-day or 3-day validity available), which would cover most transportations in the Hakone area that tourists typically use to get around the attractions, like buses, trains, ropeway, cablecar, sightseeing cruises etc – more details here. To get around the major sightseeing destinations of Hakone, a mixture of several of these transportations are be necessary. The pass can also be purchased in Tokyo’s Shinjuku station to include travel between there and Hakone (for slightly more).
From Odawara station, we rode the Hakone Tozan railway to Hakone-yumoto and then to Gora. This mode is slow but very scenic. It is Japan’s oldest mountain railway, and the ride from Hakone-yumoto to Gora is particularly nice, winding through a densely wooded valley while climbing extraordinary heights. The small train actually needs to change directions at several stations too, for its climb. At a particularly steep point, the train driver said it was the steepest railway in Japan, and second steepest in the world!
At Gora station, we then took the cablecar. I was worried because we had our luggage with us and there were a lot of people waiting for the cablecar, and when I think of cablecars, they aren’t particularly big. Actually it was like a small bus and we easily got on with our luggage (just like the hotel receptionist had said the night before). As instructed from the hotel receptionist, we got off at Nakagora station, and our hotel, Hotel Resorpia Hakone, was just around the corner.
Hotel Resorpia Hakone was a large, aged but well maintained hotel. A hotel minivan driver offered to drive us up to the hotel. It was actually only up the driveway, but we were glad we took up his offer because the climb was so incredibly steep I’m sure it would have been super difficult with our bags. Our room was in Building B, so from the front reception in Building A, we had to take the elevator to below ground, walk across to Building B then take the Building B elevator up to our floor. It was a little bit inconvenient. Back then, there was also no free internet in the rooms, only free wifi in the lobby, which was slightly more of an inconvenience (I’m not sure what the case is now). Our room was much larger than the business hotels I’m used to in the cities, and there was a very faint odour from smoking. It was not guaranteed, but I had requested for a smoke-free room where possible, and I guess there weren’t any rooms for us. The rooms were also showing age and rather dated, but overall well maintained and clean.
It was already passed 3pm, but we wanted to go out and do something. We wanted to try and go to Owakudani, an active volcano area of hot sulphurous fumes, so we took the cablecar to Souzan station and then the ropeway to Owakudani station. It had been drizzling all day and now it was snowing! It was also incredibly foggy, and the visibility was really terrible (hence no photos).
On arriving at Owakudani station, we ventured towards the volcanic zone before deciding the weather was simply too much to battle against. It was getting dark, and also too windy, snowy and foggy. We purchased some kuro-tamago “black eggs”, a local specialty where eggs are hard boiled in the hot springs and their shells turn black from sulphur.
Giving up for the day, we took the ropeway and then cablecar back to Gora station, where I thought we might find some dinner. Despite Hakone being such a major tourist destination, I was surprised to find the town was practically deserted and the few restaurants there were all closed for dinner (maybe because it was winter). We stocked up on instant ramen and snacks from a little supermarket instead.
Left with little choice, we went back to the hotel to have dinner in one of the two restaurants there. Unfortunately the only available seating would be after 8pm. Since we wanted to start fairly early the next day (we only had half a day left in Hakone and hadn’t managed to see anything yet), we decided to just live off our instant ramen and snacks. I’m sorry to say we had another sad dining situation. At least we had the eggs, which are said to prolong one’s life by seven years.
I had intended to put this post with the next day, but I had so much to ramble on about, it’ll have to be a separate post. Tomorrow we would spend half the day in Hakone then head to Kawaguchi-ko for Mt Fuji!