Hakone is one of the popular places to visit especially if you want to have a great view of Mt. Fuji. It is also a great place for those who want to have a relaxing time in an onsen or hot spring spas. With its proximity to Tokyo (about 90 minutes by train), it is a quick getaway from the busy city life.
A couple of weeks ago, a Filipino friend came to visit for the first time. He gave me a list of things he wanted to experience: see Mt. Fuji, experience snow, see a Japanese castle; and visit a heritage site. Because he was only five days to see all of them and other places in Tokyo, we went to Hakone for a day trip.
Our Hakone Day Trip
While most of the tourists and locals rush to shrines on Janaury 9 to take pictures of 20-year old Japanese in kimonos, we were on our way to catch a Tokaido train going to Hakone. That day a good time for us. Not much people on the trains and not so crowded at the stations. When we reached Odawara station, we quickly went to the ticket office to buy our day passes. However, we were hindered by the news posted in front of the ticket office. The ropeway was not operational due to heavy snowstorm the night before. But the good thing is, some places still have snow covers. Something very exciting for our first timer.
Instead of doing the usual route, we made some changes for us to still see the major places. From Odawara station, we took the local train going to Hakone Yumoto. From there, we changed to Hakone Tozan Train going to Gora. The 45-minute ride was very interesting and a scene not to be missed. Although the local tourism promotes this area on summer because of the beautiful hydrangeas along the tracks, the tree branches in winter give a mystic ambiance.
From Gora station, we walked uphill going to Gora Park. There were not much flowers inside the park but the view was still superb with a snowy mountain background. On our way to the greenhouses, we passed by the tea house garden.
Surprises Along the Way
From the park, we went back to Gora station via Tozan Cable Car. And from there, we rode the Tozan Train and got off at Kowakidani to catch the bus for Hakonemachi. It was a roller coaster ride as the bus drove uphill on the curvy road. But the snow-covered roofs from the window distracted our fears.
It was a bit gloomy when we reached Hakonemachi. Unfortunately, the area did not have much snow as we expected. But its heritage ambiance particularly the century-old Cedar Avenue and the Hakone Checkpoint was worth the walk.
After our heritage walk, we headed to the pier for the Lake Ashi cruise. The clouds were very low and riding a pirate ship reminded me of a movie shot in the middle of a mystic sea.
Our cruise ended at Togendai station where we were supposed to take the bus going back to Odawara. As we walked outside to the bus stop, a snow-covered park caught our attention. Imagine the excitement of our friend when he saw quite a lot of snow! And more to that, the ropeway going to Owakudani just opened again.
Owakudani Winter Treat
We were already inside the bus waiting when all of a sudden the other passengers got off, Curious of what is going on, we also went out to check. Back inside the station/waiting area, people started to queue for the ropeway. As it turned out, they are operational again because the weather became sunny. However, it will only up to Owakudani because visibility on the other side is still zero. The ropeways ride was superb especially with the white scenery around us. We were able to see a small portion of Mt.Fuji because it was still covered with clouds.
Owakudani was an instant winter wonderland with all the snow towering quite high. And as we enjoyed savoring the hot black eggs exclusively bought at the place, a full image of Mt. Fuji greeted us.
Quest for Japanese Castle
On our way back to Owadara, the ropeway going to Gora opened. Hence, we decided to take this path instead of taking the bus from Togendai. Going back to his list, let"s see if we were successful.
- See Mt. Fuji - checked
- Experience snow - checked
- Visit a heritage site - checked
- See a Japanese castle - ????
It was already a bit dark when we returned to Odawara station around 4:30 pm. But since it is still early to head back to Tokyo, we made a brief walk to Odawara castle. The final item in his wish list! Luckily it was just a few minutes right outside the station. We were not able to go inside the castle but it was a good to see the castle up close.
Overall our day trip was fun not only for our friend but for us as well. It was a fulfilling experience for our friend as he was able to complete his wish list. For us, we saw new things and a fresh perspective of Hakone. We still have a lot of things to see and try. More reason for us to come back again some other time.