Japan Day 6 – Hakone Part I, The Great Escape

Hakone, an area in the Kanto region has became one of my most favourite places to visit along with Kyoto. It offer spectacular view of Nature and experiences of onsen (hot spring) with its different type of transport from train, cable car, ropeway, sightseeing cruise  and bus. Hakone has became one of the most favourite escape places for people in Tokyo for spending weekend. Hence, normally on the weekend, the lodging especially Ryokan(Japanese traditional lodging designed and normally have its own hot spring inside and serving food as well) price goes up. It’s wise to    visit Hakone on weekdays as it’s less crowded and more reasonable of lodging price. Most of tour to Japan also include Hakone as one of the destination to visit.

How To Get There ?
The nearest international airport to Hakone is Haneda International airport which is the middle of Tokyo city. Other alternative is via Narita International airport. For visiting Hakone from Tokyo, people can take Tokaido Shinkansen Kodama and stop in Odawara station. If you have JR pass, you can use your JR pass to this station. From Odawara station, you have to change to private train line operated by Odakyu which take you from Odawara to Hakone Yumoto by Hakone Tozan train. Other alternative is from Odawara station, you can take buses operated accross Hakone or you can also take the bus from Hakone Yumoto station. Better check with your hotel/ ryokan you stay, the nearest station to the hotel/ ryokan. The train ticket from Odawara station to Hakone Yumoto station will cost you ¥300. If you visit Hakone for only day trip, you can purchase bus pass in the Odakyu office for ¥1000/ day. My suggestion for people who visit Hakone for the first time and would like to use different type of transport, remember to purchase Hakone freepass. Transportation fee in Hakone if you don’t have pass and just pay onboard is extremely expensive, in which one way from Odawara to your hotel may cost you more than ¥1000, more than bus ticket pass. Remember you can only purchase the pass in Odakyu office, can not be bought onboard on the bus.

Hakone freepass has 3 departure points either from Odawara, Shinjuku and Machida, a city in the western part of Tokyo. If you don’t have JR pass, it might be logical and save your money for taking the bus from Shinjuku. Allocate enough time for your visit in Hakone. I spend one and half day in Hakone still have many places not yet visited. Suggest to have 2 full days at least or 3 days in Hakone.

 

 

 

There is also 3 days pass covering Hakone and Fuji area as well, which cost you ¥7200 for adult and ¥3600 for children.  Both passes Hakone pass and Fuji Hakone  pass include the transportation to Gotemba, huge premium outlet shops. Other benefits of using the pass is the pass enable you to have discount to many attractions in Hakone and Fuji, include Hakone Kowakien Yunessun spa. When you purchase the pass, you will have the map and handy guide for places and transport in Hakone. The guide and map are available in several languages, include English, Chinese and Korean. You just need to show your pass to the driver every time you take the ride for the transport.

For my journey, I take Kodama shinkansen from Osaka directly to Odawara using my JR pass. The weather at that day is nice, and sunny. It’s so fortunate we see Fuji mountain view from our train during the journey. It’s my first time having the view for my trip.

I arrived in Odawara around 11 AM. I decided to have my lunch before continuing the journey. I am ordering set meal contain Udon and curry rice. Same as other eating places in Japan, you need to buy the ticket via machine first. It’s a bit challenging as the menu in machine is only in Japanese. The way I usually choose is by looking into the choices, and see the price which then I will look into the price on the machine’s button with the writting nearly similar with I see in the menu . So far it’s quite successful, you might also try this way especially can not read Kanji.

At Odawara station, I went into Odakyu office to buy Hakone free pass. You can pay by cash or credit cards. The staffs are very helpful and explain to you on the pass and they will assist you if you have other questions on the pass.  From Odawara station, I can see Odawara castle Donjon which looks like Osaka castle for me.

From Hakone Yumoto, I take the bus which include in the pass to my Ryokan, Masuya Ryokan which is at Sengoku Annaijo Mae, near the bus stop to Gotemba. You can enjoy the view from Hakone Yumoto while waiting for the bus. You need to check and know the timing of the bus as taxi in Japan especially in Hakone area is expensive. For walking, it is also a bit tiring as the road in Hakone is hilly.

For my stay in Hakone, I choose to experience Ryokan experience. It’s more expensive to stay in Ryokan however it’s an experience that you must do when you visit Japan. The price of Masuya compared to others is more reasonable, and Masuya also have its own onsen, one for woman and one for man. When there is people having bath in the onsen, they can put sign in front which show in use. The onsen is free for guest staying in the ryokan. The location is also near the bus stop however at that time, I am a bit lost to find the place even after asking some shops nearby. From the main road, you need to walk around 5 minutes walk. Masuya ryokan is took care for old couple with limited English, but both of them are very helpful. 

The room inside has heater for used during winter, and small corridor to relax especially in the morning. They also provide 2 set of Yukata for 2 guests staying in the room. The room itself is spacious compared to normal size of Japanese hotel/ lodging. For my stay, I pay ¥ 5250 for one night through hostelworld. All payment in the ryokan must be in cash, no card will be accepted.

Masuya ryokan itself in my opinion now have been modified, a mix between modern and traditional. Traditional in a way of the design of the house, onsen as well the interior. It also has modern touch, for example for the door. In addition to the normal Japanese door without lock, it add the modern door with lock for security reason. The toilet is also equipped with modern device to clean after you having your poop or pee, even have button for drying wind. 

Ryokan Masuya Sengokuhara Onsen
160 Sengokuhara, Hakone-machi
Ashigarashimo-gun
Hakone National Park
Phone : 81-460-84-8057
Fax      : 81-460-84-5760
Email  : ono@jissen-inb.com

After resting for while, it’s time to explore Hakone using the bus. If you have Hakone free pass, you just need to show your pass. Should you not having the pass, you need to pick up small ticket from the machine that showing you the number where you take the bus. When you want to stop, for payment, you just need to see on the electronic board the price for the number you had with you, then you put your ticket in the box and pay.

For my trip, I take the bus from Sengoku station via Togendai line (T) which will end at Togendai. Togendai is the stop to take Hakone sighseeing cruise and Hakone ropeway. The view during the journey is pleasant. It’s the plus area of Hakone which offer wonderful nature for the visitor meanwhile Kyoto, number one tourist destination offer more on Japanese traditional culture.

I decided to take the Hakone sightseeing cruise return way and then continue my journey with the ropeway.  There are two destinations for the cruise which are near, one will stop at Hakone Machi Ko, and the other Moto Hakone-ko, however at my visit time, only have Hakone Machi ko.

Hakone sight seeing cruise is one of three ways for mt fuji view points. For Hakone sight seeing cruise, the viewpoint is near Hakonemachi and Moto Hakone. The others are Hakone ropeway between Owakudani station and Ubako station. Last view point is observatory in the Hakone detached palace garden in Hakonemachi. Unfortunately during my visit in the cruise i can not see the Mt Fuji.



 

The interior of the cruise ship is wonderful. You can also purchase snack or drink during your journey. For the cruise, you will need to pay ¥970 single way, ¥1780 for return way for adult. Meanwhile for children, ¥ 490 single way and ¥890 return way.  There is also first class cabin which you need to pay additional ¥ 490 single way, ¥ 750 return way for adult, and as for children, additional fees will be ¥240 single way and ¥380 return way. For Hakone pass, you only entitle for the economy class (normal class). If you would like to upgrade to first class, you will need to pay additional fee of ¥400 for adult single way and ¥200 for chilren single way.  The ship is cruising along the Lake Ashi.

 

 

while enjoying your journey, there will be crews with pirate costumes greeting the passengers and would offer photo session with him with some fees.

Should you be bored inside the cabin, you can also experience the outdoor cabin to enjoy fresh air. As I take return way, I kept in the cruise at the time it arrive Hakone Machi Ko. Unfortunately at the time I back to Togendai-Ko, the ropeway has been closed in the afternoon.




My last destination for that day is Kowakien Yunesun, the famous spa area in Hakone. If you take bus during your trip in Hakone, suggest you to take or stop in the major station like Togendai-ko, Gora, Sengoku, Hakone Yumoto, Miyanoshita, etc. I stopped on the wrong bus stop in the wrong station and lost more than one hour for my trip. Based on the guide map, the bus that I would like to take should stop in that station, unfortunately, it is not stopping there.  To got to Kowakien Yunessun, you can take :

a. Hakone Machi Line (H) from either Miyanoshita or Hakone Yumoto station.
b. Gora Line (Y) from Gora station.

Kowakien Yunessun have 2 spa areas, Yunessun zone and Mori No yu zone. For Yunessun zone, it is swim suit zone meawhile for mori no yu zone is naked zone for each single sex. The admission prices to one and both zones are as below :

 

 

 

 

You need to be careful on the operating hour of the each zone especially Yunessun which close earlier. 

Yunesssun zone have more than 25 water attractions with some can not be found in other places, include wine spa where the original wine is being poured into the pool at certain time, coffee spa, green tea spa, Japanese sake spa as well aegean sea.   As I arrive more than 6 PM, the zone had been closed, the only left is mori no yu. Mori no yu basically is more traditional onsen which have indoor and outdoor bathing include sauna. Male and female section for mori no yu is seperated. It’s very nice bath especially during the winter time.

After having bathing, it’s time to get back to my ryokan as the bus at night is operated in less frequency. We will continue our Hakone post on the next edition part II.

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