A Travellerspoint blog

The Hakone Crater

A short trip to view Mt. Fuji, eat Black Eggs, and enjoy romantic bliss

sunny 68 °F
View Japan on BryanG's travel map.

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After a week in Tokyo we rolled our much-too-large American suitcases across Shinjuki to the Odakyu line and boarded the special "Romance Car" train for Hakone and Mt. Fuji beyond. The Odakyu line "Romance Car" is a special express that takes one from Shinjuku station all the way to the edge of the Hakone region. We bought a special package that allowed us to ride all the various conveyances of the area for two days - trains, cable cars, gondolas, fabulous pirate ships - you name it!

We had a reservation at a local Ryokan, or traditional Japanese Inn, and were looking forward to sitting in natural hot springs, eating a fabulous traditional Japanese Kaiseki meal, and sleeping on tatami mats.

After two days in Hakone, we jumped on the Shinkansen south to Kyoto, but first, more on our adventures at the crater!

Hakone is a hot springs and spa area quite close to Tokyo - about an hour and fifteen minutes by "Romance Car" - and is dotted with Ryokans, some of which have views of Mt. Fuji a few miles to the north. It has been a tourist area for hundreds of years and has a special place in the Japanese consciousness. Imagine an iconic natural wonder like Yellowstone, or the Grand Canyon, but only and hour and a half outside of New York City - that is Hakone.

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Me in front of the Odakyu Romance car - very nice, but not much room for luggage - we were embarrassed by our HUGE bags - there were many raised eyebrows on the train

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One approaches the region from the sea (to the right on the map) where train lines loosely follow the old Tōkaidō (東海道) Road - the road that Samurai travelled on 500 years ago from Kyoto and Osaka to the Shogun's capital in Edo (now Tokyo). The Hakone region rises quickly from sea level to Mt. Hakone - about 4,000 feet - and then up to Mt. Fuji - 12,000 feet!

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This row of cedar trees outlines the old Tōkaidō Road between Odawara and Mishima on the southeast shore of Lake Ashino

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Hilary poses in front of the gondola which carried us up to the top of Mt. Hakone and gave us a view of Fuji San beyond

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A view of the crater edge itself. Hakone used to be a giant mountain like Mt. Fuji but a volcanic eruption long ago popped the top off of it. The hot springs in the area are the result of live volcanic activity on the ring of the old crater.

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Be careful!

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No skiing in Hakone, but they use the same equipment to get people around

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More artistic street plates in Hakone

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Hilary, looking fashionable, with the sacred mountain beyond

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There are lots of trains, cable cars, and ships to ride, sights to see, and interesting stuff to eat in Hakone!

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Right up at the top of Mt. Hakone, there are live steam vents creating a dramatic and sulphurous landscape

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The Cable Car takes tourists half way up the mountain

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At the top of the gondola, visitors gather where eggs are boiled in the sulphur pools - they are supposed to be good for you

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The egg dipper

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Although the eggs taste just like any you might cook at home, the sulphur gives them a very dramatic black color!

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Hilary enjoys her very first Volcanic Black Egg!

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Hilary and Bryan and Mt. Fuji

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Funny Japanese clothing

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Hilary loves, just loves, cable-based transportation of all kinds...

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Soft Cream and Mr. Fuji

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The picturesque Lake Ashino is traversed in... A PIRATE SHIP!

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Japanese Pirates, apparently

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A sacred Tori gate marks the location of a shrine on the banks of Lake Ashino

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More on the Pirate Ship

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When we were in Hakone, we stayed at a traditional Japanese Inn, or Ryokan. We did a great deal of research online, and ended up choosing the Ryokan Taiseikan.

http://www.taiseikan.co.jp/en/

We arrived and were wondering where the Inn was?

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Then it became clear that we had another funicular to ride!

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And this one we had all to ourselves!

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Quite steep down the the river and the Inn, and it was quite a ways down!

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Once we got down into the ravine, we got our first view of the Inn

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After walking along the river, we crossed a last bridge to the Inn

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The Ryokan was lovely inside, and when we arrived, there were five women in Kimonos in the lobby to greet us in unison. We removed our shoes and they were whisked away along with our luggage. We followed our porter down, down, down, to the riverside and our traditional Japanese tatami mat room. The Ryokan has beautiful large hot spring baths next to the river - one for men, another for women - but for obvious nudity reasons, I was prohibited from photographing them.

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The entrance to our room - the one large main room was for lounging, eating, and later when futons were unrolled, sleeping

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The view out of our tatami room

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A member of the Ryokan staff pours Hilary a cup of tea and offers her a moist towel

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Each of us was furnished with Japanese geta socks for the spa footwear

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Hilary and I in our yukatas, traditional robes worn by guests
in the ryokan

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Hilary in the private outdoor family bath. The rocks she's standing
on are hot! The tub is shaped like a wooden sake cup. Isn't she adorable?

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In addition to the lovely room and hot springs, the included in the cost of staying at a Ryokan (not a small amount, mind you) is a full traditional Kaiseki dinner and traditional Japanese breakfast. The dinner was so amazing, so diverse, so delicious and prepared with such care, that I took lots of photos. This won't surprise anyone who has read my other blogs - I seem to spend a third of my time taking pictures of things to eat... One of the benefits of having dinner served to you in your own private room is that when the kimono-clad woman excused herself after arranging each course (which included 3-5 individual dishes), we could snap away without being self-conscious. Finally, the meal ended with an extra special romantic surprise!

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Hilary has no idea that she is about to be presented with 27 different dishes over the next two hours...

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The first course - tiny dishes of pickles, ginko nuts and fish eggs - white tofu in the most amazing black sesame sauce

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Hilary enjoys a little bit of plum wine and her first course

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A clear soup with wild mushroom and a ground pork meatball

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The Sashimi course

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A slightly gelatinous soup with a fish dumpling

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This pot had a small sterno in it that cooked the small pieces of fish, squash, shiso and shrimp

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Hilary struggles a bit with hers - although improving, her chopstick skills are not yet expert

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My chopstick skills are pretty good - here I am eating fish eggs one at a time

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Tiny, perfectly cooked pieces of Wagyu beef and radishes

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One of the most simple, but beautifully presented dishes - a tiny pickled Japanese eggplant salad with chicken

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White rice, miso soup, pickles, a perfect musk melon slice, and tea

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Pickles, detail

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At the end of the meal, I slipped out the "stunt-ring" I had purchased at Isetan Department store in Shinjuku (a nice costume piece) a few days before, and asked Hilary to marry me. Since we were both already sitting on the floor, going down on one knee didn't really work, but I tried.... She said yes, thank goodness, but then said with great seriousness and concern... "but what if you die?" Not the response I expected, and I asked her to elaborate. She said she has seen a show on the Discovery Channel about a couple that were engaged to be married, but then while they were on a hike a log rolled down a hill and killed him... I assured her that I was a very skilled hiker and would never scramble below unstable hazards.

When we got back to Washington we went to the Tiny Jewell box and picked out a proper ring together.

Here is a photo of it off the designer's website:

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Designed by Alex Sepkus, the ring is gold with 14 naturally colored diamonds of various hues.

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Hilary's Stunt-ring

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After our meal, the attendant came in, cleared the table and set up our futon bed on the tatami mat. We spent the night tucked in with the sound of the river coursing just a few feet below our heads on the other side of a shoji screen.

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The future Mrs. Bryan V. Gibb prepares for her breakfast:

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So, after a dinner like that, one would expect a simple breakfast - nope. After a morning soak in the hot springs, the dishes started coming again...

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Rice, tofu, fish balls, miso...

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Me, still groggy - not used to just tea in the morning...

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Roasted fish in the morning - it was good, but I took some getting used to so early

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A parting shot of the river and our Ryokan. The little building just to the left of Hilary's head is where we slept.

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The Ryokan Taiseikan was an amazing experience - we recommend it highly!

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Finally, after a slow train ride down the mountain to Odawara station, we waited for our Shinkansen to Kyoto. This was an express that passed at high speed just before we boarded our own train. I love Japanese trains....

Next stop - KYOTO!

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Posted by BryanG 19:53 Archived in Japan Tagged tourist_sites

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