Revisting the giant volcano12 January, 2012 by Chad
Woke up early this new years morning feeling unusually refreshed. There was something about a warm room in this cold climate that was rather comforting, that and a peace and quiet that we had come to miss.
In an attempt to miss the city crowds today, we decided to head somewhere outside the city but still within a day’s trip. It was a choice between Hakone or the nearby Kamakura and Enoshima island. But being a clear winter day we opted for the former, with hopes of viewing the elusive Mount Fuji.
We headed down to Shinjuku Station to hitch our train there, after grabbing some breakfast at the SunRus convenience store to go. The Sightseeing Service Center at the Odakyu Station here offers a subsidized round ticket for foreigners. Our passports weren’t checked, so I reckon locals might be able to get away by speaking a little English.
Forked over our 5,000 yen each but not before double checking with the counter staff, a domesticated Korean Lady and young Chinese man that all of the transport points were indeed operational this holiday.
The Limited Express down to Odawara lasted about an hour and half. After the first half hour or so the train leaves the city center for a suburban sprawl before reaching the peaceful countryside in the last leg of the journey. At this point, we zoomed by barren farmland with the stretch of mountains constantly in sight. For a short while, Mount Fuji could be spotted between in a break in the span.
Despite being quite energetic, we dozed off for the first hour or so of the trip. I’d take some time to mention the lovely heated seats in most train cabins and some buses that contribute to my appreciation of Japanese transport. These have the magical effect of making you lose consciousness in a matter of moments of embracing its warmth. They’re responsible for the rampant Japanese sleepy train photos that grace in the internet.
It wasn’t before long that we reached Hakone-Yumoto with its touristy shops and crowds of lost looking people. Most of the travelers today were of local origin though with few tour buses in sight.
The train was pretty full so we didn’t get the chance to have our breakfast on board as planned. Instead we settled for an early lunch at one of the shops at Hakone-Yumoto. Mountain areas tend to be famous for their noodles for some reason. Unfortunately, many of the more attractive eateries had closed for the holidays.
We entered one of the few remaining options for some warm udon. The temperature back at Tokyo was a refreshing 1 degrees last I checked and the high elevation here didn’t help.
We weren’t sure at first since the shop was pretty empty when we first entered but more customers began to take refuge inside as it approached lunch time. Gage had a serving of their kitsune udon, while I went with the tempura udon. It was decent.
After lunch, we backtracked a little back to the station to catch a bus to Moto-Hakone which would normally be the last point in a complete loop around the area. Was hoping to do a reverse of my previous trip with MJ and Wilson back in 2010 where we learned how early the sightseeing lake cruise suspended each day. Also, the famous Hakone Shrine was located there that we had previous missed.
But with the new year crowds, entering the shrine proper was an impossible task. A telltale sign was the traffic jam that we had to endure en route to Moto-Hakone. Many locals were coming by car to pay their first visit to the shrine known for being especially close to nature.
Food stands had been set up on the road up to the shrine, selling various typical fair foods. Some looked attractive if not for the prices and us having just had lunch. The queue to enter the shrine stretched all the way down here and almost to the car park.
Sure that we wouldn’t be able to reach the shrine in time to see the rest of Hakone, or even make the last transport back we decided to press on on our trip around the mountains. It was back towards the dwarfing Lake Ashinoko and Moto-Hakone Port to catch the Sightseeing Cruise, the gaudy pirate ship themed ferry that would take us to Togendai.
While I was worried at the clouds had started to form this afternoon, the sky remained clear enough that Mount Fuji would remain in constant view throughout the rest of our day here in Hakone. This reverse loop also meant that the ferry would pass by much closer to Hakone Shrine’s floating torii.
From Togendai, we swapped to the rope way up to Owakudani, which at 1044 meters high, was the highest point on the itinerary.
The entire Hakone area is actually one large active volcano and Owakudani was the nearest point to the tip as one could go. Here you’ll find an operational sulfur mine and vents steaming out of the mountain. It’s also where the brunt of the tourist shops are and where you’ll find the famous kuro-tamago black spring eggs.
The eggs are carried down to the shops at Owakudani station but for the full experience, hiking up the short route to the main stall is a must. Here you’ll be able to get up close with the steaming sulfur springs and witness a clear view of Mount Fuji, something that I had missed on the previous trip. The tip was now obscured by clouds though.
Regardless of the warnings plastered all over about long term exposure to the springs, two cats here were sleeping peacefully beside the vents where the eggs are cooked. As customary, we bought a pack of kurotamago for 500 yen, which in Singapore’s deflating economy works out to be about $1.70 an egg. Still, a small price to pay for the fabled 7 years each egg adds to your lifespan, though I can’t be sure how much of this is actual myth or tourist scam.
The said tales also advise against eating more than two and a half eggs, though no repercussions are mentioned except perhaps the wrath of whoever you’re sharing the pack of 5 with. Between Gage and myself, we must have had 3 and 4 already respectively.
Despite having more available dustbins here than an entire neighborhood in Tokyo, the area around the shop was coated with discarded egg shells. I would put the blame on tourists but the Japanese aren’t the most courteous either when there is no need to be.
Spent the rest of our time leisurely looking through the souvenir shops back near the station. There were lots of kurotamago and Evangelion themed omiyage for sale. The popular anime was set in a realistic depiction of the Hakone area. Since nothing caught our attention, we ended up walking away empty handed.
It was another ropeway to Souzan, where we made it in time to catch one of the last few cable cars down to Gora. Here we switched to the old Hakone Tozan train that looped around the mountains, finally boarding our Limited Express to return to Shinjuku.
Had not seen Shinjuku quite as dark before. Save the pachinko parlors and shady nighttime entertainment, most of everything was closed for the holiday. It seemed unusual that Lammtara (which now carries a large selection of AKB48, SUPERGiRLS and KARA goods) was open, but soon remembered that it fell under the category of shady nighttime entertainment too.
Since it looked like it wouldn’t be easy to find something to eat anywhere nearby, we decided to head back to our hotel and get something by way of the convenience store. A guy had brought his drum kit outside Shinjuku station and since there seemed to be no coherent tune, must had been demonstrating how fast he could hit his drums. Wonder how he got his drums there.
We picked up a couple of pastas from the SunRus at something like 400 yen each, there weren’t a whole many options to choose from at this time either.
The white sauce one came with a separate container of sauce and condiments but the tomato one that Gage had was much more filling. Fortunately, still had my bread from the morning, while was now a solid tasteless loaf. That and some pudding. This brand was pretty good.
Hopefully, the stores would open tomorrow.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.