|Hakone, Japan: Transport with a Difference
12-14 May 2010
I stayed in a different hostel in Tokyo last night, as vibrant as the previous one was staid. The extremely helpful staff go out of their way to ensure everyone checking out knows where they are going, the cheapest and quickest way. It`s a real backpacker place, although maybe rather too full of Americans each trying to out-"hey man how`s it going" each other for my tastes.
I fall foul again of the distinction between TRTA and TOEI lines but make it in the rain to Tokyo station.
Hakone - West of Tokyo
It`s another Shinkansen to Odawara and then onto a noddy train to Hakone-Yumoto for a 15 minute run on a private line. I buy a Freepass for two days, which is rather a stupid thing to do as I am here for three. My brain, such as it is, computed I am here two NIGHTS so I need a pass for two days. Idiot. As I only realise this part way round the course I am not allowed to extend it. So I have to pay for buses on my last day. Anyway...
Great Weather...for Ducks
As I arrive the heavens have opened with thunder and lightning, the works. I spend 20 minutes getting waterproofs out, putting a liner bag in my small pack and securing anything that might get damaged by getting wet. That does the trick as it stops raining and doesn`t rain again all day. Hey, I now even own an umbrella for the first time in 10 years.
Use tourist information to direct me to my accommodation, as they were the ones who found it for me. Very nice lady. It`s just behind the railway line, up 89 steep steps! It`s an old Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). Can`t check in yet so dump my bag and head off.
You can see from the photos what is involved in the `circuit`. Apart from all being set in lovely countryside the route allows a whole host of different transport types, albeit that it`s a bit touristy. But then that is what I am. And it is very popular with Japanese.
Modes of Transport
The first bit is a bus ride, having first established from where I was supposed to catch the bus. Trouble is I did the `route` the way the brochure suggested and not in the sequence my guidebook suggested. I would have been better off doing it the guidebook way. Anyway after a bus trip and a walk to the jetty I get to go on a pirate ship across 6.6km-long Lake Ashi. On a good day you should be able to see Mount Fuji from somewhere around here but not today. In fact I don`t ever get to see Mt Fuji whilst in Japan.
At Togendai it`s onto the `rope way` which is actually a cable car, in two legs, one of which takes you over a huge area of sulphurous steam and scorched earth. The whole area is in a giant caldera. Next is a `cable car`, which is actually a funicular railway. This takes you to Gora from where a two-carriage train winds its way through steep switchback terrain back to where you started. There are stations along the way for getting on and off.
I find what appears to be the only eatery still open at the late hour of 19.00 (you know what these rural mountainous towns are like). There are two blondes at the bar and two middle-aged Japanese gents at a table nearby. The girls are taking a few silly photos - they have been drinking sake - and one decides it would be a wheeze to pose with one of the gents for a photo which the other takes. The gents are greatly enamoured with this idea and one insists on buying the girls another bottle of sake.
A few minutes later the gents stagger off, rather the worse for wear (I hope those were not car keys I saw in their hands). I went to the bar to pay for my meal and got chatting to the two girls who were both from East London, although rather a posh part I`d have said. They invited me to join them for some of their ill-gotten sake.
When In Japan...
Back at the ryokan I changed into my yukata, completed my diary and took advantage of the on-site onsen (hot bath). Onsens are a big thing in Japan. You have to shower first and then enter the mineral-rich waters unclothed. Fortunately there is nobody else about so I don`t feel too worried about doing something wrong (there is quite a lot of etiquette involved). Very relaxing it is too.
Because you sleep on the floor (well on a futon) in a ryokan I was at perfect height for a hungry mossie or two last night and am not looking at my most beautiful this morning, with five huge bites on my face, the only bit of me uncovered. It must be the river below that attracted them.
I get my luggage forwarded at an extortionate 900 yen to my new accommodation for tonight, at the other side of the area. Don`t ask why I am moving - all too complicated.
Taking a Hike
I decide to go for a long walk before taking the various transport options again, except except this time stopping in Gora to get to my accommodation. The walk is lovely and takes me past an old tea house in the middle of nowhere. Decide to pop in and have a cup of hot amazake, a non-alcoholic fermented rice drink `rice yogurt` the waitress calls it. Very tasty it is too. She asks me to sign her memory `book` which requires me to write top to bottom with letters below each other, using a Japanese ink pen.
Part of the path I am walking covers the route of the old Hakone Highway. Wish everyone I pass konnichiwa - a good afternoon.
There is a reconstruction of the Hakone Sekisho checkpoint the biggest checkpoint on the Kyoto-Edo route which the Shogun used to monitor the movement of arms and women leaving Edo. Apparently the latter was of more interest. That fact is probably why so many wanted to leave.
News: From Home and Away
The main headline in the Daily Yomiuri, an English-language newspaper, is the formation of the Cameron coalition government. There is another large article inside. And a quick monitir of the Japanese tourist board Sakura-watch web site (they take these things very seriously you know) shows Sapporo to be at peak flowering on or around the day of my arrival, with sunshine forecast. Hoorah.