Monday, February 25, 2008

Hakone Day One: Naked Bathing

A couple of weeks ago I decided I wanted to go to Hakone for a couple of days. I left a three-day hole in my Gaba schedule so I could book a hotel. I found loads of websites that had hotels in Hakone just by putting 'Hakone Hotels' into Google. It was hard to choose as I wanted somewhere nice but as cheap as possible. I eventually decided on Lodge Fujimien. And to get the most out of the trip, I chose a Japanese-style room, with a futon, tatami mats and sliding doors. The hotel also has an onsen (hot-spring) bath, which was a big attraction, but pretty much all hotels in Hakone will have one.

I took my rucksack for the night, and my 'writer's bag' for books and maps etc.

If you're not familiar with Hakone, it's a National Park in Kanagawa-ken (where Yokohama is, south-west of Tokyo) about 23km from Mt Fuji. Its altitude is higher than Tokyo's, making it colder and snowier. It's incredibly popular, so I would really recommend not going on a weekend, as maybe all of Tokyo descends upon it at busy times. I went on Thursday and Friday and it was blissfully quiet then.

You can buy different types of Free Pass for Hakone, and I bought a Two-Day one. You can buy these passes from normal ticket machines on Odakyu line stations. I got mine from Shinjuku, and that cost Y5,000 (£25). This is definitely worth doing as it includes a return journey on the Odakyu line (I read that it only went as far as Odawara station, but it was fine for Hakone-Yumoto, which is much closer to the park itself), unlimited use of the funicular tram, switchback train, cable car, pirate ship cruise and most buses around the area. Plus it can give you discounts at some restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions. I'm not sure how much it saved me but it must have been between Y1,000 and Y2,000 (£5-10).

I arrived at Hakone-Yumoto station on a Limited Express train from Shinjuku (I had to change at Odawara) in about 90 minutes or so.

From Hakone-Yumoto station, I took the switchback railway up the mountain (this was very confusing when it switched-back, doubling back on itself and ending up at a different station). It was quite hot and crowded inside, and it was sooo slow! But there were nice views from the mountainside.
The switchback train goes to Gora, but I got off at Chokoku-no-mori for the Hakone Open Air Museum. This is an amazing place but it costs Y1,600 for entry (Y200 discount with Free-Pass). There is a Picasso Pavillion with lots of interesting work from him, but much more impressive are the outdoor sculptures and models.

A couple of cats were playing around the entrance.

This is the first exhibit, which reminds me of a small statuette in my living room at home.
Not the original.

I so nearly went down this slide, but resisted the temptation.
You should know by now I can't resist stuff like this...

There's an indoor child's play-area, so much more interesting than others I've seen!

Not an eclipse, just a big metal ball.

An outside play-area. Children could actually climb inside these! Wow!!

There was a structure in the centre of the museum that reminded me of climbing the inside of La Sagrada Familia's towers when I went to Barcelona in November.

There were great views of the surrounding mountains from the museum's grounds.
A foot bath! I knew I had an onsen to look forward to so I didn't indulge.

While I was there, it was sunny and clear, but it was cool enough for the snow to remain.

If only I hadn't been alone!

I liked this statue, unfortunate that it was standing in front of those three letters.
That's better... I couldn't take photos inside but it was very interesting stuff.
Fatittude anyone?

This reminds me of the statue that was in Centenary Square in Birmingham before it burned down.

This weird statue was positioned at the bottom of the escalator out of the museum. Sorry about it being on its side!
After the Open Air Museum, I got back on the switchback train and went up to Gora, where I changed to the funicular tram which took me up Mount Soun to the summit.
This video shows the rather uninteresting view from the tram's window.

At Mount Soun's summit, I transferred to the Sounzan cable car, which takes about 30 minutes to reach the Togendai terminal, next to the northern edge of Hakone's famous lake, Ashinoko.

I shared the car with two very nice women who asked me to take a photo of them, and then offered to take one of me. We had a nice chat, as nice as it could be with my Japanese anyway!

Mt Fuji! This was my first proper clear view of the mountain.

The cable car makes two stops, the first being Ouwakudani (valley of great boiling) where you can see boiling pools and steam vents emitting from the site of an ancient volcanic mountain. Even from the suspended car you can smell the rotten egg stench of sulphuric fumes.

Not a particularly great photo, but I thought it captured the sunset over the Lake nicely.

I apologise for all the photos of Mt Fuji (or Fuji-san, or Fuji-yama) but if you see it, you've got to capture it!
I got off the cable car at Togendai after changing at Ouwakudani.
What followed can only be described as "phaffing of the highest level". I got on a bus that went to Minami-onsen-sou bus stop, right next to Lodge Fujimien. I sat down on the seat and then saw the screen at the front flash up with next stop - Minami Onsen Sou so I stood up and went to stand by the driver. He kept driving. He didn't stop at the next stop, or the next, or the next. It was six stops afterwards that I 'Sumimasen'ed him and asked if I could get off. He told me I should have pressed the buzzer next to each seat to tell him to stop. Right! Didn't know that!
I got off and crossed the road. The next bus back to Togendai was due in ten minutes, so I waited. It didn't come. So I started walking back along the snowy road. Two stops later, I saw the late bus pull up behind me. Thankfully I was right by the stop so I waved him down. I got on and got off at Minami-onsen bus stop.
Hold on... This doesn't look right. There was no 'sou' on the end! I got off two stops early!
Thankfully it wasn't too far and I walked the rest of the way with little difficulty and found Lodge Fujimien. It was then 17.30 and I had to check-in before 18.00 to get my dinner there.
There was no problem checking-in although he did ask to see my passport, but my Alien Card was fine. He photocopied it and gave me a 'raaji-saizu' yukata (traditional clothing similar to a kimono).
I found my room easily and opened the door. Wow! Could this BE anymore Japanese?

Real Japanese sliding doors!
And a balcony...
... with a view of the Hakone valley and...
... Mt Fuji!

This video is a tour of my whole room, including toilet slippers! (Don't wear them in any other rooms!!)

Bear in mind that this room (including dinner and breakfast the next morning) cost me Y10,000 (£50). I think that's a pretty good deal!
I ate a gorgeous meal in the restaurant as I watched the sun set behind Fuji-san.

Here's my meal!

There was a shelving unit full of free green tea near my room, which made a nice evening 'snack'. After dinner, it was the big moment! My onsen hot-spring bath! I donned my yukata, you can see me looking beautiful below. I apologise for the camera's obvious presence but there was no other way to take the photo!
I went down to the onsen area. I took my own shampoo, soap, and a small and big towel. But I then found that soap and shampoo were provided.
You have to read the kanji for 'male' (男) and 'female' (女) on the twin red curtains covering the top half of the first room so don't get confused! The first room had a rack for shoes, then I slid the doors open to the second one, expecting any moment to fall into a room full of fat sweaty naked men. But this was an empty changing room. It had lockers, hairdryers, boxes, shelves, foot massagers (same as in Chiba!) and a full-length mirror (I noticed that I'd lost weight since coming to Japan - all that healthy food!) I got completely undressed except for my swimming shorts, which I nearly left on, but decided at the last minute to do this the Japanese way! Nude!
I slid open the next set of doors, and saw the actual bath. Just... It was so warm and steamy in there! There was one man sitting on a stool washing himself. I took my large towel with me (this was a bad idea as it got soaked - the small one is to take into the bath area and cover certain areas of the body with) and sat on a stool in front of a mirror and used the shampoo and body wash in that shower. You have to wash thoroughly before and after using the bath and make sure not to get any soap or anything in the water! Very bad form if you do! Thankfully I didn't.
I got into the bath as the other man left so I could 'swim' around in the beautifully hot water for a while. It wasn't unbearable at all, but I did put my hand in the stream of water coming from the tap and that was scaldingly hot - I don't recommend doing that!
Several men came and went but I was in there for about 45 minutes before it got too hot for me. I wondered if you were only meant to spend a bit of time in there because people didn't stay long. When I got out my legs and cheeks stung a bit but it died down after my second shower. I was so blissfully comfortable and warm - it was amazing!
Given all the strict instructions I'd read about onsen etiquette, I was surprised at how relaxed it all was. It probably would have been more stressful if it was busy and full of people, but ooohhh it was nice.
Back in my room, I made my own futon, which I was quite pleased about, as I've never done it before. But it really was just laying sheets on the floor!
What a great room! It was bigger than my room in Tokyo, easily.
I got into my futon and found the 007 film, 'The World is Not Enough' dubbed into Japanese on the TV, so I watched that, laughing at the bad synchronisation. I slept well that night, looking forward to waking up to Mt Fuji in the light of day again.


Hyunwoo SUN said...

Wow. Thanks for all the nice pics and videos! They make me want to go to Hakone :-) Still wondering what to do to make the most out of the two weekends I have left in my stay in Japan. :-)

Skuzby said...

hey hey hey

you went naked in public

and lost weight!

what the front-door?

you have gone crazy, lets go party when you get back, woooooooo

no sand storms this week- i'm going on a boat today and thurs and fri but i will try to do another blog tonight


how are you?+hows japan?

Solarmoon said...

Hello, I'm curious

Was the bus stop in Kanji or Romanji on the bus? Or did they have a announcement?

I'm curious about using this place when I go to Hakone.


Miles said...


I can't quite remember, but I'm pretty sure they were written in both kanji and romaji, because my kanji wasn't very good back then!

It shouldn't be a problem, you could always look up the kanji before you go, or if you have a Japanese phone you could write it in and see what kanji it offers...

Enjoy your trip to Hakone!