Hakone and the surrounding area is a traditional gateway for people from Yokohama and Tokyo to escape the city and get out into nature. The area is mountainous and forested, and there are lots of things to do. Mt. Fuji is close, and if it isn’t covered in clouds you can get a gorgeous view.
There are good links by train and bus, but we were lucky enough to be escorted by my former homestay sister and mother by car. The weather threatened rain all day, but it held off long enough for a stop at the Hakone Sekisho. This museum reconstructs the checkpoint on the Old Tokaido Highway. People had to cross here, showing the right paperwork and following the rules or be subject to severe punishment. There were especially tough rules for women. There were displays of implements of enforcement and punishment that are scary even safely out of use and behind glass. One panel shows a “searcher” pawing through the hair of a female traveler looking for contraband. Outside, there is a reconstruction of the checkpoint itself, with meeting rooms, customs house, stables, jail and another buildings. A steep, stone staircase leads up a hill to a watchtower with a nice view of the mountains and lake (Ashino-ko) below. Mt. Fuji stayed hidden. There are nice boat rides on the lake as well. Hakone Temple is nearby, with its signature red torii rising out of the lake.
Lunch was exquisite at a famous old hotel known for amazing flower displays on its grounds. It was a big, set lunch with local and seasonal specialties including cold buckwheat noodles (plain and green tea type), pickled vegetables, tempura, rice, a salad with tiny shrimp, and some very creamy, high class tofu.
We didn’t take the ropeway up to Owakudani, which is the favored way to ascend, since it was really getting gloomy out. We drove up instead, and walked around the bubbling volcanic cauldron that are the highlight of this spot. The smell is sulphur stink, but the eggs that turn black when boiled in the pits are said to add seven years onto your life if you eat one, so of course we did.
Back at the family condo, we head immediately for the baths. Onsen (hotspring baths) are one of the great joys of Japan. There are onsen to relax, renew and cure. Some are indoors some outdoors, some private some public, some in the mountains some by the sea. Many feature minerals from natural sources. Basically, you take off your shoes and put them in the shoe area, disrobe, and put your clothes in a basket. Usually there is a locker for valuables. Hold on to your hand towel and enter the bathing area. Scrub and wash thoroughly, using a cloth and provided or brought soap, shampoo, etc. When you’re done, use your hand towel to drape over your more private bits, and enter the tubs/pool. The water will likely be hotter than you’d make it for yourself, but you’ll get used to it. Once you do, relax and enjoy.
At the place we visited there were both indoor and outdoor baths. Outdoors is always best, I think. It was raining lightly the first time I went down, and the contrast of the cool rain and the hot bath was amazing. Later, after dinner (we were completely spoiled with another “mama’s masterpiece” of a meal), I had the bath to myself, and the dark sky was quiet and soothing. My third visit early in fue morning, was in the bright sun with green tree leaves waving in the breeze.
We didn’t want to say goodbye to the place or to the company, but the next day our Rail Pass starter, and we ventured back out on our own.
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