Japan 2017/18 – Exploring Hakone in December

Elsie and I took a 1am flight from Changi Airport to Osaka on Singapore Air and reached Kansai Aiport at around 9am. (Do take note of the 1 hour time difference). Going through customs at Kansai was a breeze and it was convenient and easy to exchange the JR pass vouchers from Changi Recommends for the actual JR passes at Kansai-Airport JR station. (The station is located just outside the airport.) Do factor in some time for the queueing up for the exchange of passes.

Welcome to Japan! 

Once the JR passes are exchanged, it is recommended that you quickly book your long distance seats on the Shinkansen. The Shinkansen trains have reserved seating as well as free seating so it is best that you reserve a seat asap to avoid having to stand throughout the sometimes long journeys between cities! (During peak seasons, reserved seatings are always fully booked, so really do the Singaporean kiasu thing and reserve those seats as soon as you confirm your itinerary. More on this in my later post). You can google more info about this online.

Off to Hakone and the start of our epic 16-day trip in Japan!

Day 1

Many will ask: How do we get to Hakone from Kansai Airport? Well, the JR pass will get you to Odawara Station and the whole journey will take about 3 hours 30 mins. I’d recommend that you buy some food at the station and eat it during your journey to Odawara.

Kansai Airport – Shin Osaka – Odawara Station

At Odawara Station, head to the tourist office to get your Hakone Free Pass. Do note that the pass is not free. It costs Y4,000 (S$50) per pax and entitles you to 2 days of free transport (yep, bus, train, ropeway and the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise) around the Hakone region. I recommend that you buy the pass because it really is quite worth it if you’re planning to explore the area.

Jemsty Inn

Our stay for the night at Hakone was booked on Agoda – Jemsty Inn. It is run by a very nice old man named Mac who probably wanted to retire at such a tranquil location that he actually bought the land a year ago. We paid roughly SGD170 for the night.

The inn is located south of Lake Biwa and the only way there is by bus. The helpful folks at the information kiosk guided us to the bus waiting point. We took Bus H3 and 1 hour and 52 bustops later, we alighted at Hakone Tokaido Checkpoint bus stop. Use Google Maps for general directions and you’ll reach Jemsty Inn in a couple of minutes.

There is nothing fanciful about Jemsty Inn. Everything is simple but pleasing. All the rooms are located on the second floor. With temperatures dropping to minus 0 during winter months, the only downside about Jemsty Inn is the lack of heating amenities in the toilets. (Don’t worry about the rooms though, they are well-heated.) Overall, staying at Jemsty Inn was a really unique experience.

By that time you settle down, it would already be around 5pm and the sun would already be setting. Dinner is scarce around the area and most of the shops close by 6pm. Either you grab some food before 6, or there are only two dinner eateries that are opened after 6 – Hakone Hotel or a small house eatery a couple of minutes away from Jemsty Inn. (Do note that the Japanese are really punctual. When they say they open at 6, they really open on the dot. We arrived at the small eatery 15 minutes before and everything being in pitch darkness, we thought it wasn’t opened for the day and headed to Hakone Hotel for dinner. In actual fact, the eatery opened on the dot and we missed the chance of having some good local Japanese food.)

Dinner at Hakone Hotel was simple, with teriyaki chicken don being the main dish. After dinner, we took a short walk around the area and with literally nothing to do (it is a dead town at night, with not even a 7-eleven in the vicinity) we headed back to sleep at 8pm after a long day of commute.

Day 2

Woke up to a wonderful breakfast made by Mac and we bade him goodbye as we checked out to start to explore the Hakone region. The best thing about the Hakone region is the baggage delivery service available. We didn’t know about this until Mac intro-ed it to us. Luggage from hotels and inns will be picked up and you can pick them up at Hakone-Yumoto Station anytime before 7pm for a fee of Y1,000 (S$12.50). I would really recommend you to go with this because sightseeing with your luggage can be quite a hassle.

Mishima Skywalk

First item on the itinerary for the day in Hakone – Mishima Sky Walk. Took a bus from Jemsty Inn to the Sky Walk. Took about 20mins. The Mishima Sky walk is this long, narrow suspension bridge offering scenic views of Mount Fuji. Unfortunately on the day we were there, we were unable to see Mount Fuji because the clouds were blocking it. Entrance fee for adults is Y1,000 (S$12.50).

In my opinion, if Mount Fuji can be seen, this attraction will be well worth a visit. The blue suspension bridge also offers a breathtaking view of Mishima town. However, if you are staying north of Hakone, it might not be worth travelling the long distance to it.

Hakone Shrine

I would suggest that you take note of the bus timings back to Hakone before exploring Mishima Skywalk because the buses do not come that frequently. We took about an hour to explore the skywalk and caught the next bus back to Mono-Hakone to visit Hakone Shrine.

The Hakone Shrine is about a 20mins walk from Mono-Hakone bus stop and if you want an insta-worthy picture as a keepsake, this would be the place. Be prepared for a short queue. We arrived at around noon and it wasn’t the best of time to get a good shot because of the sun. Would recommend you to go early in the morning, or during sunset.

Hakone Sightseeing Cruise

The intention was to go around Hakone in a clockwise direction. After Hakone Shrine, we walked back to Moto-Hakone to catch the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise which took us to Togendai. (Again, before visiting Hakone Shrine, take note of the departure times for the cruise so that you can catch it in time). The whole cruise is approximately 20mins and you get to see the Hakone Shrine from the water side, as well as catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji and a couple of other scenic sights.

Owakudani

We took the ropeway at Togendai Station and stopped by at Owakudani Station. The geo-thermal hot springs are located around here and they are popular for their boiled black eggs. Legend has it that eating the eggs cooked with the sulphuric spring water will add 7 years to your life. Well, I say this is total nonsense but being tourists we still bought 5 eggs for Y500 (S$6.30).

Verdict – Tasted like normal hard boiled eggs with a sulphur smell. Being Japanese, they could sell those eggs with a runny yolk right? I was deeply disappointed.

Other than this, spent some time admiring Mother Nature and the piping hot stream gushing out from the springs nearby.

Cafe Ryusenkei 

We left Owakudani and headed down the mountain in search of lunch. At Sounzan Station where we had to change to a tram, we encountered this coffee caravan outside Sounzan Station – Cafe Ryusenkei. A man making coffee and cool drinks such as hot wine in a caravan that seats 6. Really awesome! I’d recommend that you take some time to just chill over coffee and have a chat with him.

Hakone Gora Park

Next, we continued down the ropeway to Koen-Kami Station where we were trying to find a Tonkatsu eatery recommended on Tripadvisor in the area but to no avail. We ended up exploring Hakone Gora Park and found this lavender soft-serve sold at the park’s cafe. Tasted really good in the almost zero degrees weather. As it was winter, most of the plants in the park were withered. We admired the fountain and left to search for lunch!

そば処かつまた (Buckwheat noodle shop)

On my travels, I normally trust my gut feelings alot. Walking out of the garden, we searched around and on google maps for lunch. Was craving for noodles and spotted a noodle shop with the noodle master pulling his noodles inside his noodle room and immediately knew we had to have noodles there. We ordered a hot soba and a Sapporo to share. Cost us less than Y2,000 (S$24).

Verdict – Noodles were authentic and springy. Would recommend this そば処かつまた.

Remember our luggage? Yep it was now time to retrieve them at Hakone-Yumoto Station but not before exploring the area around Gora Station. The sun was already setting and it was only 4.30pm. Although there were other places to visit and eat on my list, we didn’t have the time – Watanabe Bakery,箱根銀豆腐, Chisuji Falls, Tamadareno Falls etc….

Let me know if you guys have been there and if they are worth visiting.

The trams on the Hakone Tozan Railway are slow, so please factor in more time. At Hakone-Yumoto Station, we grabbed our luggage and took the train heading to Odawara Station. At Odawara Station, we managed to reserve seats to Tokyo and now we’re Tokyo bound …

In total we walked about 25km on both days. The first day around 9km because most of it was spent on the train to Hakone. The second day was alot higher because there was much to be explored in Hakone. Till next time Hakone!

Looking for more of Japan, check on on other posts on Japan here.

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perpetual wanderluster. owner of shauneeie.com & @shauneeie

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