While Tokyo is as built up as you would expect, an hour and a half on a train sees us at Odawana, a small town close to the ocean that is the gateway into the hot spring area of Hakone.
Odowara itself is interesting, it is famous (justifiably) for it’s fish cakes and Soba noodles. It is also my first experience with a mid-sized Japanese town; the people are really friendly but it looks as built up as parts of Tokyo, I guess we need to go further out.
The bus ride up from Odowara to Hakone gave the distance from town we needed. Most mountain areas I have been have a certain relaxed feel about them and Hakone is no exception, not to mention that the drive up is gorgeous… ( and I like mountains!)
It is good to be back travelling with Masako and Roo, in Tokyo I had been by myself most of the time. While I have spent a lot of time in the past doing the same in various Asian countries, it is much nicer to be sharing the travelling with others.
Once we reached the hotel I was in for a bit of a surprise. You very quickly realise in Japan just how much people like toys. At first this seems really tacky but after a while I relaxed into it and just treated it as fun. Having Hot springs themed as a fun park is the perfect example of this. I do wonder what my German/Swiss friends would make of it though….
The pools have various things added for different effects, lavender for hay-fever , green tea to unwind, coffee to wake up, red wine for your skin, saki seems to be for energy, charcoal as charcoal everything is trendy in Japan right now etc. The most unusual is one of sucking catfish that go and eat your dead skin, it is weird! My favourites are the lavender to clear the mind , the saki for energy and the green tea to unwind. We are going to try to make our own green tea one back in Australia.
Our room is traditional Japanese style, futons on the grass matting floor; everything I imagine a traditional hotel to be like, it’s great, Japanese hotels often have dinner and breakfast provided with the room and the variety and taste is up to the standards of everything else.
Hakone is a very beautiful spot; natural waterfalls, many hot springs, big gorgeous forest and lots of walking tracks. Unfortunately I don’t really have walking gear with me this trip as I would love to explore the hills, considering we are only a few hours from Tokyo it is quiet and really peaceful.
I am slowly learning Japanese to make communication easier, here and with Masako’s friends, slowly it’s getting there but it is challenging, particularly since many Japanese seem to not really pronounce the first couple of syllables. Guessing when you only know a few words is a bit tricky 🙂
One of the revelations here has been what convenience stores really should be, not the chip and soft drink supplies of Auralia. Here 7-11s and fast food in general here is a million miles from the American version. Convenient, fast, healthy, light, nutritious and it tastes good. Noodle soups, seafood ingredients, veges, all freshly cooked and available to be put into a bowl for take away. I will miss that when rushing out somewhere back in Sydney.
The diet since I’ve been in Japan has been superb, I’m not sure if it is the amount of seafood, the fresh ingredients, what the ingredients are or the lack of fats, but even after a big meal I have lots of energy – never feel like a rest. Unfortunately the busy Tokyo streets and the continuous rain in Hakone has meant no running for about 5 days, my legs are getting very, very itchy to do some work 🙂
Another big difference here is vending machines. It makes it easy to get anything you could want anywhere, street corners, building carparks…. Sometimes they have gone a bit crazy with the idea. A machine that you select the thing you want, you pay for it, it then prints out a docket that you hand to a person to get for you seems to have well and truly defeated the purpose!
On one of our days in Hakone we went to Lake Ashi, on a clear day this has a superb view of Mt Fuji, but today the only view was the rain clouds; it does have a prefecture gate from the 16th century though, the Edo gate. Originally permission was needed to travel between Edo (Tokyo) and Hakone, it would have been a cold place to be stationed in winter. To tour around the lake we were on a replica Swedish battleship, tourist stuff always seems so tacky!
We had very few ‘translation issues’ but here we had another one. The charge to use the Rope-Way through the hot springs was $20 ish each, not a great deal but I couldn’t see why there was a charge to walk through the mud pools! Masako kept trying to explain it, she could not work out why I thought it was strange and got really annoyed. Then she showed me a photo, it was a Cable Car! Makes perfect sense once you know 🙂
On the final day we woke up to snow on the hills around us! No wonder it had seemed a little ‘cool’ when we sitting out in the pools last night… I would love to come back here again sometime and spend more time exploring, it is a beautiful spot and nothing beats waking up by an Onsen (hot bath).
I’m sitting finishing this while having a glass of wine and listening to Jazz in a seaside cafe at Yokohama, but that’s another post….