By Cole Lubchenko
With Golden Week being one of my biggest holidays, and Golden Week being one of Japan’s biggest holidays, it was hard to decide if I should submit to the week’s inflated prices and take a trip, or if I should just hang out in Chiba and Tokyo. Hakone was just the right distance from Funabashi, and looked like a nice getaway, so I decided to make the trip with my girlfriend.
The journey to Hakone was very pleasant, but there was one little hiccup that almost disrupted our plan. We planned to take the Romancecar train, but when we arrived to the station to make our transfer I didn’t realize until the last minute that making a reservation was necessary on the Romancecar trains. Luckily there was plenty of room left, and we managed to get a reservation ticket and catch the train just in time. The train was comfortable and many snacks were available during the ride. Several cars on the train had vending machines which was interesting to me because it represented the merging of perhaps the two most ubiquitous things in Japan, trains and vending machines.
After about an hour, Tokyo was finally fading away and there were more and more trees and natural sights to be seen. We arrived at Hakoneyumoto Station and were met with the low but beautifully forested mountains on either side of the town’s valley. It was a nice feeling being surrounded by hills. It was different from the flat prairie I was raised in, and the beautiful green slopes were a refreshing change from the man-made concrete mountains of the urban environment where I spend most of my time.
The station’s souvenir and food shops were a sign of what was to come in the town. The shops along the main street sold many traditional foods; I enjoyed several small snacks flavored with the traditional flavours of matcha or adzuki bean paste. Goods such as tea canisters and boxes made with Japanese parquetry, a sort of intricate wooden mosaic sliced into thin sheets, were for sale and, while expensive, would make beautiful gifts.
Hakone has a small river flowing through it with a nice cascade that can be seen from a traditionally red bridge. It is a very hilly place with many great views of the valley and mountains, unfortunately the weather was foggy and Fuji-san wasn’t visible.
After quickly looking at the shops in town my girlfriend and I got some soba at a restaurant that had tatami mats and a view of the river and its cascades. We then took the bus up to Lake Ashi (Ashinoko). The lake itself was beautiful and there was a large torii in the water that was picturesque even in the gloomy overcast light. The bright red colour was wonderfully contrasted with the grey sky behind. The journey back to the town was horribly long due to golden week traffic, but we managed to find seats on the bus so it was comfortable and the slow-moving view was relaxing.
Arriving back to the hostel we felt rather exhausted from walking and exploring the hilly town and lake. I enjoyed the hostel’s onsen and then crawled into bed.
For breakfast we got a traditional Hakone food, kuro onsen tamago, which are black hardboiled eggs. They are coloured from the volcanoes in which they are cooked, and the volcano also gives them a pungent, malodorous, sulphury smell that was very unappetizing. The eggs themselves weren’t horrible but I didn’t want more than one, and I definitely wouldn’t label them delicious.
After breakfast we made our way home on the local train, we stopped in Odawara and had seafood lunch of sashimi and tempura by the coast and then stumbled upon the lively Odawara Hojo Godai Matsuri festival at the city’s castle. We then caught a busy train home and talked about how much we enjoyed the Hakone and how different it was from both Canada and Chiba.