Robin wanted to try some onsen and see Mount Fuji, so we headed to Tokyo’s famous Hakone mountain resort area to do just that.
It’s also an interesting region from a transit point of view. JR only serves the nearby city of Odawara, so from there you need to use the private Odakyu railway. From Odawara, I took:
- A suburban type train for about 4 stops. The line originates in Shinjuku (downtown Tokyo) so we could have taken the same train all the way from there, but we had JR passes so using their trains was free.
- A pokey local mountain train. This was my favourite of the bunch. The trainsets have 2 or 3 short carriages with long couplings for a very tight turning radius. It also does switchbacks on the way up: the train drives up into the switchback then pulls out going the other direction but on a different track, still going up. Sometimes another train going the other direction pulls into the switchback during this process so they can pass each other (most of the line is single track.) Yes, I took photos – not uploaded yet :)
- A cable car: two cars balanced on one cable with one going uphill and one going down, driven by a motor at the top.
- A gondola (called a "ropeway") like a ski lift, but ticketed per ride like a transit system.
Our hotel was on one of the pokey local train stops. We arrived mid-afternoon on Thursday after some errands in Tokyo in the morning, then headed out to explore right away.
I wanted to head to Owakudani. By the time I got to the bottom of the ropeway, I was warned that the ropeway was shutting down in 30 minutes so I could only spend about 10 minutes at the top. I told the guy I’d walk down, and he warned me it would take an hour to get back to the ropeway station, and longer to get to the bottom of the cable car. OK, fine, that’s about what I expected anyway :)
Robin left me at that point to explore on her own, and I took the ropeway to Owakudani. The main attraction there is eggs boiled in a hotspring: Kuro Tamago. Kuro (black) since the shells turn a wonderful shade of black in the sulphurous steam. I walked up the mountain to the area with the egg vats (which only took a few minutes) and saw another ropeway, this time for cargo only. It was used to send boiled eggs down from the vats to the gift shop!
I bought some eggs for later and started the walk down. The hiking trails were covered in reasonably deep snow so I just took the road. It took me about 45 minutes to reach the ropeway station, and as expected the cable car had also stopped. But it only took me another 30 minutes to get back to the hotel. Robin was already back, so we went for dinner then… the onsen.
There were several onsen in the area, but most were huge baths full of tourists. Fortunately, our hotel was almost empty and had its own bath. It had a sign you could put down by the door to indicate what type of bath it was at the moment: male only, female only, or mixed. But there was a Japanese man inside who hadn’t put down a sign! Robin and I had no idea if she was allowed to enter or not with the man there so we just went up to our room for 30 minutes to wait.
The onsen was nice but extremely hot and there was no cold pool (or even a way to add cold water.) The indoor pool was large, probably big enough for 10 people, and there was a small outdoor tub probably intended for one but just big enough for the two of us. We soaked our tired bodies then headed to bed.