I should have been really excited that morning as it was to be our first time riding the shinkansen or bullet train, something I had dreamed of since I found out that such a thing existed. This was up there along with Concorde, monorails (now maglevs, though I did get to ride the monorail on this trip!) and the Orient Express. Sadly the closest I ever got to Concorde was the museum in New York. The others we’ll see…
Unfortunately Anne-So was still sick. I encouraged her out of the room and towards the metro as we headed for Tokyo Station. We left with plenty of time as there are countless reports of how complicated Tokyo Station is to navigate. We took the train to Atami before making a short walk to the rear side of Tokyo Station. In the end it turned out only two things were hard to find, a toilet for Anne-So and spotting where our train was leaving from as the indicator board was hidden behind a post, right next to the ticket office where we’d been standing the whole time!
Whilst Anne-So was busy relieving herself of the previous night’s dinner, I sorted out our rail passes for later in the trip. Due to the flights we’d only need a week’s pass. I also picked up tickets for the next day’s bullet train back to Tokyo.
We headed up to the platform where I found Anne-So a spot before snapping away like a madman at the various trains around the station.
Train: Kodama 649 Tokyo to Odawara
Depart: Tokyo Station 10:56
Arrive: Odawara Station 11:31
Seats: Coach 16, 15D and 15E (Reserved)
Locomotive: Shinkansen N700 Top Speed 177mph (285 km/h)
It was soon time to board our bullet but not before an army of maids in pink attacked the train and reversed the seats so they all faced the direction of travel.
For some reason lots of reports state there is a lack of luggage room on these trains; true there are little in the way of dedicated stands but the overhead luggage racks are generous and unless you are 6 foot plus you can probably store the case in front of you as the leg room on these trains is enormous. Other than how musical the announcements are the other big shock and difference from the European High Speed trains (yes, still need to try the German ICE) is the acceleration. These beasts get up to speed fast and you hardly feel it, the only give away is the blur at the window.
An all too soon half an hour later we arrived at Odawara where we picked up our Hakone Free Passes giving us a 24 hour unlimited run on all the local transport in Hakone.
First up it was the Tozan line, a metro type train to Hakone Yumoto. Thank goodness for Japanese punctuality as we dropped our luggage at the delivery counter making the 12:30 cut off with just minutes to spare.
Free of our bags we could enjoy (or tolerate in AnneSo’s case) some wonderful modes of transport. This next train in Hakone is unique as not only is it rack and pinion, but it uses multiple switchbacks to climb the mountain landscape more efficiently. The views are pretty fine too (just a tad challenging to photograph so you’ll have to trust me).
Next up was the cable car. But more in the sense of the San Francisco one then what us Brits might call a cable car which in Japan is called a ropeway. In France this type of train would probably be called a funicular. Having taken an extended drinks and toilet break we ended up being first in line and enjoying beautiful views through the drivers cab.
After that was the rope way, or cable car as I’d call it. Anne-So would probably call it a téléphérique or more accurately a nightmare. The views were great including the expected volcanic clouds of sulphur spewing out of the mountainside. We also managed a few decent sightings of Fuji-san dancing between the clouds.
We took a little walk at the top but not for long as the smell of sulphur in the air is not the most enjoyable. There were a few food stalls and tourist shops mostly selling the famous black eggs and other assorted items. As the black eggs came only in large quantities and neither of us were in the mood for what too many eggs can do to you, we passed. Instead I opted for a quick snack of fried rice balls and some black ice cream. Not the delicious black sesame ice cream I enjoyed for lunch later in the trip, but vanilla ice cream dyed black. This mistake was unfortunately one that would last a good few days…
There was just time for some quick snaps of Mount Fuji before he hid back behind the clouds again.
We then took the rope way down the other side of the mountain affording us amazing views of the lake and our pirate boats.
After the rope way it was time for a relaxing cruise on our pirate boat across the lake surrounded by glorious mountain greenery.
Feeling wonderfully relaxed it was time to get the bus to our ryokan for the night. Other than missing our stop by one it was a largely uneventful trip. Top tip: if you see a tour group about to get on the bus and you’re not in a rush, get the next bus!
Hotel: Mount View Hakone
Room: Japanese Style Room with Shared Bathroom (Kanmuri)
We arrived at Mount View Hakone as planned and were warmly welcomed at check in. We also managed to book in a post-dinner pre-bedtime slot at one of the two private onsen at the resort.
We were shown up to our room and helped to settle in. We picked the Japanese style room and it looked and felt like the slice of classic Japan we’d hoped for, with paper screen doors, tatami mats, yukatas and slippers. I made myself some green tea and worked on this trip report whilst Anne-So relaxed for a bit.
Before long it was dinner time so we slipped on our yukatas and I flapped along the corridor in my slippers, down in the lift and over to the dining room. The screen doors were opened, and we found a table with our name on it with a feast of food awaiting us. It wasn’t quite like the dad eating the chickens in Spirited Away but it was a damn fine dinner spread!
There was a bubbling hot pot of veggies, noodles, sashimi, salad, rice, miso soup, pickles, fruit and lots of other beautiful odds and ends at our table. We started wrong, probably finished wrong and most certainly broke every rule, written or otherwise on kaiseki style dining. Oh well, other than two dishes it was delicious from first bite to last. Overall we were more than happy. Our first attempt at trying traditional Japanese cuisine ended well and set us up nicely for a few meals to come later on in the trip.
We flapped off and away back to our room to prepare for our first time at an onsen bath.
Around 10 pm we shuffled back downstairs to get our onsen key and were shown to a small room in the hotel basement. Inside was a small changing room and shower area looking outside onto a big steaming wooden hot tub filled with nourishment for our bodies and soul. Behind the tub was a bamboo feature that added both atmosphere and privacy.
I made the first cautious steps into the tub and it was just perfect. With all the travelling, food and fatigue I could feel the stress just slipping away. Anne-So joined me and when the sweat started to run we knew we were done.
Completely refreshed we returned to the room and bedded down for the night on our futons for an unexpectedly comfortable sleep. We were desperate for a good night’s rest as the next day was going be another mad one!
We got up fairly early the next morning, slipped into our yukatas and headed down for breakfast. Another feast for both the eyes and the stomachs had been laid out for us to enjoy. There was also plenty of coffee to help with that early morning feeling. Believe it or not we’d actually made good time and were packed and ready to leave ahead of schedule.
We settled up the odds and ends at the front desk and wheeled our stuff across the street. Our bus arrived exactly on time and we twisted and turned in comfort and control with our luggage spilling out into the aisles just the once. Not braving the bus all the way to Odawara we got off to Hakone Yumoto, stopped for some Coke to settle our stomachs and took our sweet time.