Kami Watch Over Me (Japan Day 4 – Hakone)

Tuesday, Oct 25 2022 (Day 4)

Table of Contents

ට  Day 0 – Thursday, Oct 20 2022 to Friday Oct 21 2022 – Flight from Edmonton to Tokyo
ට  Day 1 – Saturday, Oct 22 2022 – Tokyo, Saitama, Ikebukuro
ට  Day 2 – Sunday, Oct 23 2022 – Autumn Reitaisai 9, Shinjuku
ට  Day 3 – Monday, Oct 24 2022 – Akihabara
ට  Day 4 – Tuesday, Oct 25 2022 – Hakone (You are here)

I left my lodging for the last 4 days, Tama Ryokan, in the morning, saying a fond farewell to the landlady, Eiko, who came to see me off. I gave her one of the Edmonton postcards and she seemed really delighted with that. I told her I was heading to Hakone next and she wished me well and said that momiji was probably in full bloom there with red autumn leaves and all. Spoiler: They weren’t! Everything was still green.

Hakone is considered a day trip from Tokyo — it’s in the Kanagawa Prefecture bordering Tokyo to the south and west, and a bit over an hour away by train. it’s also really famous for its hot springs and onsen. I booked a $180 room in a ryokan there for one night and was curious to see what my first experience with an onsen would be like.

I was also curious about a couple things, mostly whether I should be planning and booking one day/one night trips or two day/two night trips when I pick a new place to go to. Sure, work and blogging eat up a bunch of my night time, but train travel actually chews up a good portion of the day time if I have a long way to travel, especially if I check out/start out late, and doubly so since the sun sets so soon after 5pm. Right now, I have my next 3 days booked off for one-day day trips, starting with Hakone today, and I want to see how these days work out before I decide what I’m going to do with several other empty blocks in the rest of my trip.

Journey to Hakone

Anyway, off I went, checking out at 11am and heading to the Takadanobaba station. The train route was pretty simple on paper — two stops on the Yamanote Line to Shinjuku again, and then a nearly-hour long train to Odawara Station, and then another local one to Hakone-Yumoto Station. I then had a 20-25 minute walk to the onsen hotel I had picked, which was on the outskirts of the small town.

I had to get to a new (to me) section of Shinjuku Station to use the train for the next line, the Odakyu Line. There were signs that seemed to indicate that a secondary ticket might be required, but apparently that was just for a special “Romancecar” express train running along the same line and not the normal local/express trains.

After a sleepy 80 minute or so ride, I reached my next transfer station, Odawara, where I had to change to a local line called the Hakone Tozan Railway. This was an interesting transfer — unlike most other cases where you have to go to an adjacent platform, the sign I actually needed to follow here was the one at the left and right side of the sign here — pointing around the side of the escalator and toward the other end of the long platform, for the Odakyu Hakone train.

As far as I can tell, once past Odawara station, there were a number of small, local back and forth trains that served a few stations at a time, linked to each other like a series of daisy chains.or something, and they “shared” the same platform because it was the end of the line for both train lines, but in opposite directions, so there was a break in the train tracks somewhere in the middle of the platform that neither train could cross.

At least that was the case in the Odawara and Hakone-Yumoto stations that I saw. Getting to Hakone-Yumoto required one such jump, and the local train that I waited for didn’t even have a schedule notification display board for it, only a piece of paper on a notice board. I wonder if there was even more than one train servicing that track, since only four stations were served by this first line from Odawara to Hakone-Yumoto.

I like the old-style font used for this local line:

And here’s a map of what I suppose were all the local line segments:

There ws also a random Uzaki-chan notice board here, which amused me:

And some views of the train and the views from it are here:

Apparently Hakone is quite near to Mount Fuji but I have no idea where it was possible to view it from, so I never saw it. After a quick ride, we reached Hakone-Yumoto station.

And outside:

Walking to the Hakonenomori Okada

My first order of business was to get some food. I didn’t eat a proper lunch this day, but instead had several pieces of street-side food, including a Fried Fish Cake with Crab, and a Fried Fish Cake with Shrimp from a shop called Kagoya Seijirou (I think — the shop didn’t really have a name sign board) for 700 yen:

And a Crispy Grilled Pâte Filo and Mr. Black Sesame Manju from another shop called Wagashi Nanohana for 500 yen.

Hakone sure has a lot of shops selling Mont Blanc, for whatever reason, I counted at least four shops on this long street at a casual glance, which was basically the only shopping street in this very small town. Anyway both of these snacks were delicious, but especially the fishcakes. I love fishcakes and these were awesome and huge.

My hotel was the Hakonenomori Okada, and I took in the sights and sounds as I walked over to it. It was a 20 minute or so walk across three river bridges and up a steep hill at the very end, so it took me a lot longer than that due to all the loot I was carrying with me. Lots of lovely pictures, though.

The Hakonenomori Okada

I passed many other ryokans on the way and kind of wished I had stayed in them since my bags were weighing me down. There was also a really steep hill road that I had to climb up lugging my bags in stages, and there wasn’t a sidewalk either so I was sharing the road with the occasional car that went by. But finally I reached Hakonenomori Okada.

Not all the front desk staff spoke English, but at least one was very fluent in English. He checked me in, gave me the shuttle bus timing to and from the hotel to the station (It cost 100 yen and ran several times in the morning and afternoon), and briefed me on the rules of the ryokan.

Basically, there were two buildings — the 4-storey main building where the guest rooms were, and a second 4-storey building where the hot spring and facilities were. That second building had two entrances, one on the ground floor and one from a third floor walkway that connected the two buildings, and the entire building was bare feet or socks only, with places at both entrances for you to leave your shoes/slippers at.

For the moment though, I headed to my room, taking pictures of both the vending machines along the way as well as what was basically a Western-style hotel room (I believe they had Japanese-style rooms too but they were not available when I was booking):

My room was Room 17, on the ground floor, and this was the view from the window (mind the reflection of the light):

The toilet was small, but it was nice to see a proper toilet again after two days travelling and four days in Tama Ryokan. The entire toilet was also raised about half a foot off the floor level of the rest of the room.

And here’s a Japanese remote control:

I was a little disappointed about a couple things. Firstly, the view — this was supposed to be a “mountain view” and this was even listed as a hotel with a pretty good view of the stars, but of course neither of that was available from this room. It was cloudy anyway though so the latter wasn’t happening nonetheless.

Secondly, no laundry facilities at this hotel/ryokan or anywhere near by. You’re surrounded by hot springs, and you can’t provide basic washing facilities?

Lastly, there was a dripping noise from my room toilet that lasted most of the night. I eventually completely tuned it out, as it was soft with the toilet door closed anyway, and I’m not sure if it was supposed to be intentional to add to the ambience or not (of course not, but I’m exaggerating here) because there were plenty of rushing water sounds and draining pipes on the walk to the ryokan from the station and especially around the part where I had to climb the hill, probably due to the entire town ecosystem being built around the hot springs.

Other things were good though — the temperature of the room was good, there were no bugs that I saw, there was lots of space, the bedding was comfortable, and there was even a water flask that didn’t smell of coffee from previous guests. There were a large towel and a small towel in the room to be used in the onsen, and other towels in the toilet to be used for the shower/floor there. There was also a tiny yukata, with a notice that you were supposed to go out to the reception area and buy a larger one for 200 yen based on your size. I skipped this part in the end, though.

Sightseeing and Dinner

Once I was settled in, I left the hotel and descended on foot back to town again to hunt for dinner and do some sightseeing. The way was much easier when I wasn’t going uphill with all my luggage, and I walked all the way back to the train station, noting potential dinner places along the way. I also took some more pictures, this time concentrating on architecture rather than the rivers.

Completely by accident, I saw a shop (actually the same shop space as the fish cake shop earlier, but on the other half of it) wth a Yuru Camp display and merchandise:

I almost completely missed this, but was glad that I found it. I guess the characters did come by at one point in the show. Yuru Camp instant soba noodles, wow. I ended up buying one of the little plushies as a Hakone souvenir.

 

For dinner, I picked a seedy looking shop one street off from the main street as usual, because I saw a sign for hotpot and fancied having it:

Looks good right? But once I was settled in, I found out that the sign out front was lying and the prices were actually more expensive:

Well, whatever. And it didn’t come with rice, so I bought a large rice bowl to go along with it. I took some pictures of the place as I waited for my food at the bar:

This time of the afternoon, at just before 5pm, there was basically no one else about but one other person at the bar who was obviously a regular customer, as he was being very chatty with the three kitchen staff, two guys and a girl. I listened as I ate but couldn’t follow their conversation, though the boys were talking about and comparing cute girls or something most of the time.

The hotpot looked like this, and they cooked it on a stove in front of me:

Still, I was happy that I more or less managed to carry out the entire meal transaction in Japanese from start to end, and was able to understand instructions like stirring the food in the broth halfway through the cooking/after some time. It cost 1848 yen in all, 1518 for the hotpot (not 1280 like the sign said) and 330 more for the rice. It wasn’t too bad, but the value wasn’t really there with the elevated price and I wouldn’t recommend them nor visit them again solely based on my experience with their misleading advertising.

After this, I went back to the ryokan. The sun had set while I was eating, and so the town was bathed in street lights and lantern lights. Most of it. That steep hill I had to walk up was shrouded in darkness. By this point I had completely memorized the 20+ minute route though and got back without even looking at my phone and purely navigating by landmarks.

The Onsen Building

Once back in my room, I started to prepare for my first ever onsen. I was definitely a bit nervous about being naked in front of others and such, although this wasn’t really a worry in the end because the etiquette is (and everyone knows) not to look at other strangers, and the actual periods of exposure aren’t (generally, unless someone’s a voyeur) very long, plus the towels do help to maintain a semblance of privacy most of the time.

Before I tried doing all that though, I first went in to explore the adjacent four-level building in order to understand what was what. I entered through the third level using the connecting walkway, which passed by an outdoor pool that was closed off for the season due to the cold. It was hovering around 7-14 degrees Celsius for most of the day and evening. This third level of the onsen building had a communal resting area with little bed-chairs, and I saw several people resting and reading a book, or even sleeping on/with their bags, here. I learnt, later on, that the way the ryokans worked, this entire building was free for use for guests, but other members of the public could also come in and use the hot springs for a fee and even sleep in the general resting area here on the third floor, all for about 1450 yen a night, without actually needing to book a room. This also more or less held true for all the other ryokans in the area. This third level also had massage chairs, a computer games room with some old ROMS loaded on consoles and attached to monitors, a small manga room packed with old manga series, and a toy room for children to play in. I started calculating how much it would cost me to live here forever…

The second level had a restaurant, where I could have gotten some food before 8:30 pm if I hadn’t found anything in town. Maybe I should have eaten here. Apparently they only accepted cash, but as a guest I was told that I could just sign off on it and pay for the meal upon checkout too, where I could then pay with a credit card if I wanted to. Some room plans also come with dinner and breakfast built in, but I hadn’t selected the dinner option when booking my room. I did ask back during check-in if I could add the dinner option right then and there, and was told yes, but the English-speaking attendant told me that he recommended that restaurant dinner instead, and I wanted to check out the town before evening anyway, so I agreed to not pay that extra fee for the dinner plan.

The first floor had a souvenir shop area, and the only milk vending machines in the building. I thought onsen and vending machine milk was a Japanese staple, but the vending machines on the fourth floor, where the onsen was, only sold tea and coffee and the like. No photography was allowed in the onsen area, of course, but a few pictures of the third floor (and one of the second floor) follow.

I then went back to my room, grabbed my towel and some clothes, and headed to the onsen area, changing at the lockers and then hurrying past the couple people drying their hair at some mirrors. The onsen area consisted of an indoor area with showers, where I sat down on a stool and had a really nice and satisfying shower with free shampoo and soap. There was a wall with a hole in the top dividing the male and female sections, and some guys on the other side were being really rowdy and having a good time, apparently. There was a shallow indoor pool thing there too, but I braved the cold and went outside to the outdoor hot springs, or rotenburo, after partially drying off, and found four or five hot spring pools of varying size and depth there, the shallowest ones being about a foot deep and the deepest ones being about three feet deep. A couple even had your standard fanservice plot rock in the middle of the spring pool that you could hide behind and cause misunderstandings from.

These hot springs were great! By and large there was basically next to no one else around, there were maybe 5 people in the entire onsen I saw in my entire time in there until when I returned to the locker area just before leaving, so I had an entire large spring to myself and waded/floated around a bit. These were apparently sulphur springs or something, they were hot but not overwhelmingly so, and contrasted really well with the cold air. At some point I could still feel my body but almost felt like I was floating in space, instead of water. The only danger here was occasionally stubbing a toe on the rocky ground as it wasn’t completely flat, there were stones of varying height as well as depth changes embedded here and there through the pool. This might have been a pretty decent night time view if the stars had been out that night too.

I spent about 15 or 20 minutes in there before reluctantly dragging myself out and crawling back to change and head back to my room. My first onsen experience was a fantastic one, and I felt really cleansed and pure and happy for the rest of the night and the next day. It was such a great experience. I think my skin was a little bit pink for a bit. I did pick up a bottle of kettle barley tea on the way back to the room, but didn’t realize until I drank it that the bottle also mentioned having caffeine in it, yucks. Still, I boiled some water in my room and drank that as well.

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