It is Spring and the Sakura have reached their peak in the Kanto region of Japan. While keeping the covid precautions in mind, a one-day trip away from the city is much needed. There are many directions you can head, however Hakone is never a disappointment.
On April 1st, Miwa and I traveled to one of Japan’s best known tourist spots, Hakone. For 4,600 yen (about 42 dollars) you can buy the two-day Hakone Free Pass, which covers all transportation starting from Odawara. This includes the Tozan train, bus, cable car, ropeway, a sightseeing cruise, plus some attraction entrance fees and restaurant discounts.
We took the cable car to Gora Park, established in 1914. It is Japan’s first French style garden and has a tropical greenhouse and tea ceremony rooms, as well as workshop studios. The park is registered as a tangible cultural property. The cherry blossoms were still in bloom and provided a colorful background to the surrounding mountains.
Over to the ropeway for a stop at Owakudani, a volcanic valley, where you can observe and smell the active sulfur vents. We always buy the famous Kuro tamago hard-boiled eggs. First, they are slow boiled in a hot spring pool at 80 degrees Celsius (176 F) for sixty minutes, where the shell turns black from the hydrogen sulfide. Then transferred to a steam container for fifteen minutes at 100 degrees Celsius (212 F) to complete the process. Local legend has it that if you eat a Kuro tamago your life will be extended by seven years. With all the Kuro tamago I have eaten I expect to live for at least 200 years.
Back onto the ropeway down to Togendai for a Pirate Ship cruise across Lake Ashi. I always enjoy seeing the faces of the kids as they board the ship; even with masks on their eyes are filled with excitement. You can get off the first stop, Hakonemachi-ko Port, or continue on to Motohakone Port. We chose the second stop because it was getting close to lunchtime and I always like to visit the Ham and Sausage restaurant for their tasty sausage plate. With a full stomach we were ready to climb the stairs up to Hakone Shrine. Established in 757 at the summit of Mount Hakone, it was later moved to the shoreline of Lake Ashi. The shrine was recently refurbished and is very bright and colorful.
Finally, walk fifteen minutes to Onshi-Hakone Park, a registered place of beauty. There are several observation points overlooking the lake and many very nice walking pathways. At this park something is always in bloom, so a visit any time of the year will be rewarding.
Now it is late afternoon and you have the option of taking the bus back to Odawara or reversing your morning course to see if maybe the skies have cleared and you can catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji. We chose the latter and no sooner had the ropeway car began to rise then the clouds moved in again. The winter months are the best time to come for a clear view of Fuji-san.
To see and experience everything at Hakone you will need several days. There are plenty of great museums and so many restaurants to choose from it will require many return trips.