“It’s good to get out of Tokyo”
Not something I thought I would ever say to be frank. I love the city life. Roaming around during the day and night, seeing all of the bright lights. Sometimes I wish my hometown of Sydney was more like New York or Tokyo in terms of having big bright lights, massive TVs, advertisements everywhere, etc. Some people would disagree, but I think it makes a city look that much more lively and active. Leave the quiet and peacefulness to the suburbs like Hakone.
On day three, we went about our way to Hakone to start our escape from Tokyo. The first 2 days in Shinjuku were just to get a bit of a break after a long flight, as we did not want to land, then have to rush over to catch a 2 hour-long train to Hakone.
I’d highly recommend taking the Odakyu Romancecar (www.odakyu.jp/english/romancecar) from from Shinjuku station. To do this, you need to make a seat reservation online which is only available 1 month from the date you want to go. Once you are actually ready to leave, you need to buy either a regular ticket to get you to the end station, have a Suica card with enough funds (I think it was around ¥1300), or a Hakone Freepass. The Freepass is the most expensive option, but provides you with a lot of discounts to things like hot springs, museums, as well as free transportation on the local Hakone train lines and Hakone-Tozan cable car railway.
We jumped on and went on a smooth ride all the way to Hakone-Yumoto station, which is the main hub stop. We had some time to kill before our Hot Springs session at Hakone-Yuryo so we went for a walk around the tourist shops and local eateries just outside the station.
Hakone Commercial Area
What was amazing was the level of English spoken in some of the stores. I guess they are used to getting a lot of non-Japanese tourists. We went into a store called Grande Riviere, which is a chain store selling cheese tarts and Rusks (a hard biscuity thing). I’d recommend grabbing a hot cheese tart to go at the least. Its pretty damn tasty.
After a bit of walking, we decided on a soba restaurant to get a feed. It was actually a very nice meal (I think its rare to get a bad meal in Japan to be honest), but I can’t find the place on Google Maps, so we’ll just call it “Soba Restaurant”. It was super cute because when we walked inside, the whole place was run by old ladies that were responsible for front counter service, as well as preparing and cooking the soba noodles in the kitchen. You don’t really see that back home. Most older folk are wandering around and enjoying their retirement I suppose. For what it’s worth, the meals were around ¥1500 each, so erring on the more pricey side but that’s what you get in tourist towns.
Note to self, drink PLENTY of water after eating any Soba or Udon noodle dish in Japan. Otherwise, sodium headache…
Transit to Hakone Yuryo Hot Springs
It was nearing our reservation time for our hot spring session at Hakone Yuryo, which is about 5 minutes away from Hakone-Yumoto station by bus. A free bus service is just outside of the station that takes you to 4 stops, one of which is the Hakone Yuryo hot springs (I think it also stops at an outdoor ropes obstacle course and a toy museum). For anyone reading, and looking at Google Maps and thinking “Yea, we can walk it no problems”, please don’t. The walk is super uphill and you will be walking at a 45 degree angle to the floor if you try. Take the free bus.
Once you get dropped off, continue walking straight and follow the signs. You will get to a point where you need to walk downstairs into a car park to reach the hot spring. The hot spring offers three types of private onsens, as well as the traditional public onsens split by gender. We opted for the more expensive onsen experience for an hour, as it was only ¥1000 more than the middle option that we initially opted for. Note, they do take credit card for payment, and they speak pretty good English which helps.
Hakone Yuryo Hot Springs
You are then given a bag with some towels, a traditional bath robe, and instructions on how to get to your room. The room itself is pretty nice, with a bathroom, and small living area covered in tatami mats, and a table for eating. You can order room service food if you like, but you probably need to stay for 2 hours to be able to eat and enjoy the onsen. Anyway, there are complementary treats on the table for you to snack on, and they’re delicious. Wish I knew what they were so I could pick some up before I left.
Once outside, there is a shower head for you to clean off before hopping into the onsen. The pictures are pretty self-explanatory to show how nice and beautiful it is in this place.
I’d recommend this onsen for couples going together that don’t want to be separated in a public bathhouse. Its sorta weird if the two of you have to split up, because you can’t really enjoy it together. Also, I guess there’s that awkwardness because you don’t know whether the other person has had enough and is just waiting for you to finish up.
The only downer from this place is that it’s quite horrendous to get out of the area. We got lost trying to find Tonosawa station from our location, which was made worse by having to carry our heavy bags everywhere we went (From Hakone Yuryo to Tonosawa station, do not walk down to the street level. Walk down the stairs but stay above the roads. Signs aren’t very clear so ask the staff at Hakone Yuryo to point you to the right direction). Maybe see if that same free bus service takes people back from the location back to Hakone Yumoto for a more pleasant trip. We had to get to Gora station, which is where we were staying overnight.
We eventually managed to find our way to Gora. It was a 25 minute train ride on the Hakone Tozan railway, which is like an old school tram / cable car system that’s nothing like a modern train system in Tokyo.
Gora has a slight touristy feel to it once you are immediately outside the station, with a row of shops selling touristy-wares and snacks. However, walk right past them and it starts to feel very residential and quiet. It’s incredibly hilly, which made our walk to our hotel really tiring. Again, the 45 degree angle between your body and the floor if you choose to walk to the Hakone Manor.
Hakone Bettei Koyoi / Hakone Manor
After a bit of a mix up with the location of our hotel, we found the place. We chose to stay at a place called Hakone Bettei Koyoi (sometimes known as The Hakone Manor). Inside we were greeted and escorted to a dining table to work out our bookings. The concierge lady organised a time for us to use the stone bath later that night, confirmed with us a time for a Japanese breakfast in the morning (well worth it! make sure its part of your booking when you make a reservation). We were then given a quick tour of our room, which is sort of a traditional ryokan with the tatami mat flooring, but has mattresses for sleeping on (rather than a proper futon).
Feeling hungry, we ventured back out to Gora. The hotel does offer a dinner service, but its damn expensive (Like ¥7000 per person). The downhill walk was MUCH better than the uphill walk earlier. It made the journey feel all the more faster.
We found a fairly popular place called Ginkatsutei that served a really good pork tonkatsu. The restaurant only opens between 5:30AM and 7:30PM each night, and 11:00AM to 2:30PM for the lunch service. Using the touch screen computer at the front of the restaurant, you follow the prompts (don’t worry, there are English instructions) in order to get a ticket for queueing. The brilliant thing is that you can go early before the restaurant opens to get your ticket. I suggest doing that so that once the restaurant opens, you can be one of the first to eat. We got there about an hour before opening to pickup our tickets.
The food comes out pretty quick, and most people pick either the Tonkatsu set or the soupy dish (it’s the one on the top of the menu). Best way i can describe it is pork wrapped in tofu, deep-fried, then boiled in a soup, hot-pot style. Unfortunately we didn’t order the soup, which we sort of regretted after seeing everyone else get it.
I’d highly recommend going to this place. Also because there’s not many places out in Gora to eat at, and shops close early. Probably the most delicious pork tonkatsu I’ve ever eaten! Details at the bottom.
Finally to wrap up the night, we used the hot stone bath at our allotted time. Basically its a bunch of hot rocks in a very shallow tub, with a towel on top of it. You lie on it and its nice and warm. Nothing too spectacular, but hey, it was free!
I’ll have a seperate post for reviewing the Ryokan as I feel it deserves a special mention on its own.
Summary of places visited
〒250-0408 Ashigarashimo District, Hakone, Gora, 1300-739
1246-737 Sengokuhara, Ashigarashimo-gun, Hakone-machi 250-0631, Kanagawa Prefecture
Hakone Gora Bettei Koyoi (Known as The Hakone Manor)
1300-658, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
4 Tonosawa, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa Prefecture 250-0315, Japan