Monday, 6 December 2010

Day 1 - Hakone

Tokyo Narita to Hakone (Dec 2010)

Nissan Wingroad
It is very easy to drive in Japan and actually it is not really too expensive if it is for a family. The hassle of carrying luggage up and down the trains doesn't sound too appealing.

For this trip, we chose a Nissan Wingroad for our family, keyed in the phone number of destination and off we go. Our stop today was  Hakone.

In case you are interested, we booked the car from the Tocoo website and this is one of the best website for booking a car in Japan.

Narita Airport - Hakone
The drive from Narita took us approximately 3 hours with toll fees. The Hakone Checkpoint (Tel: 0640-83-6635) is basically a replica of the guardhouse built in 1619 to serve as a checkpoint along the famous Tokaido Highway which connected the Edo (present Tokyo) with Kyoto and Nara (ancient capitals).

View of Lake Ashi and Mount Fuji from Hakone Checkpoint
The museum houses several relics and also offers a nice view of Lake Ashi with a little glimpse of Mount Fuji. It is said that you are very lucky if you can see the Mount Fuji as the peak is always covered with clouds. The place is not big and we covered it in less than an hour. From here, there are 2 other attractions which we can visit on foot. The Cedar Avenue and the Hakone Detached Palace.

Way to Cedar Avenue
Cedar Avenue
The Cedar Avenue is basically an ancient walkway lined with many Cedar trees. We just walked along the path for a short distance of about 1km before turning back towards Hakone Detached Palace. The trail is not as famous as the ancient walkway between Magome and Tsumago and is unfortunately not well preserved as it is beside a major road. I dont think you will miss much if you skip the Cedar Avenue but it does feel good to walk in between tall trees.

Hakone Detached Palace
The walk up to Hakone Detached Palace is definitely more challenging than our earlier walk in Cedar Avenue with steep slopes at times. However, it rewards you with a magnificent view of the lake and Mt Fuji! I will definitely recommend this place to anyone who is looking for a great view and there are no admission charges.
View from the top of Hakone Detached Palace. There is a replica pirate ship which one can cruise Lake Ashi.
After our morning walk, we were all hungry! We managed to find one homely looking restaurant opposite the Ferry Terminal (where you can board the ferries or pirate ship to cruise to the other side of Lake Ashi).

A randomly picked Jap restaurant opposite the Ferry Terminal
Whenever we pick a restaurant, we always choose one in which there are many locals (or had suitable dishes for the kids). I had a bowl of sushi rice topped with fresh sashimi. Oishi! The appetizer of deep fried seasonal fish tasted great as well. The lunch from the randomly picked restaurant was most satisfying and the prices reasonable.

View of Mt. Fuji from the trail to Owakudani
After lunch, we proceeded to Owakudani, a sulfuric-smelling cauldron with piping hot springs in the hills. It was a short 15 mins hike from the car park. The hike offers a good view of Mt. Fuji and at the end of the hike, you see a few pools of hot spring and many people gathering around tables eating eggs cooked by the hot spring. It is said that eggs you eat will lengthen your life by 7 years!!

Eggs from Owakudani. A pack of 4 eggs cost Yen 500
And besides hordes of locals and tourists who are "crazy"over the eggs, even Hello Kitty eats the sulfuric darkened black eggs... to extend her TV shelf 'life'?

Even Hello Kitty loves the black eggs?
Anyway it is time to proceed to the onsen hotel for dinner and bath. If you have never stayed in a hot spring hotel before, you should try it. Perhaps it take a little getting used to initially but when in doubt, just follow the locals on how to take a hot spring bath.

Accommodation review: Hakone Gora Onsen Tokinoyu Setsugetsuka. 箱根強羅温泉 季の湯 雪月花 神奈川県 足柄下郡箱根町強羅1300-34, 250-0408, Japan+81 460-86-1333

Kaiseiki dinner for adults and kids
The hotel is located near the Gora Station. It is near the train in which you would take if you are coming in from Tokyo and doing the Hakone Round Course. We had done a day trip using the Odayu Hakone Free pass from Tokyo some years back and after that trip, i told myself to spend at least one night in Hakone. The dinner we had were Kaiseki dinner and comes in multiple courses. Dinner and breakfast is usually included in the hotel price which you pays. Some ryokans serve the dinner in your room while the bigger hotels usually require you to have the dinner at their restaurants. 

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