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Journeys in Japan – Hakone

At the end of Golden week, me and my husband went to Hakone. I’ve been there a couple of times together with my company during our corporate “gasshuku” meetings but never just for leisure and it’s such a nice place. I mean, yes it’s touristy and the food is not that good in general but if you know places, Hakone can really surprise you.

The reason, we chose Hakone in the first place was Ichinoyu onsen. It’s one of the oldest hot springs in the area and it claims to serve the best seafood too. So, since my husband is a gourmet, we decided to take up on a challenge and give it a try. Of course, the Golden week rush on the highway was horrible and even worse in Hakone but we were fortunate enough to find our way out of traffic jam and into the safety of a parking lot just outside of the Rope way terminal. That’s where we started exploring the area.

We took a Rope car up to the Volcanic valley “Owakudani” where they make famous black eggs. Somehow, an egg, once placed inside the natural volcanic hot spring becomes black after some time and it is considered a delicacy. I spared myself the madness of waiting in a line of people to buy one so I can’t tell you what it tastes like but here are the pictures.

The valley is the main source of onsen water. I could see the clouds of white smoke here and there and the smell of chemicals was excruciating. At some point I was about to vomit – there was even a sign that warned visitors not to go up if they didn’t feel well.

Somehow I always thought that the myriads of onsens in the mountain areas are all natural meaning they all sit on top of volcanic wells and use the water directly from the bowels of the earth. Of course it makes no sense but I kinda liked the idea. In reality, water is being harvested and then transported to the onsens from the valley. It remains all the chemicals that are so good for the skin and that is why hot springs are so popular in Japan. Each area has a unique combination of chemicals which means that onsen in Hokkaido would be different from onsen in Kyoto. In Tokyo, you can buy “onsen no moto” – a bath salt from each of the famous areas and they would all show a different cocktail of elements.

After the valley, we took a boat ride in the lake Ashi. In a good day, it is very easy to spot Fujisan from the lake but it was cloudy that day. These funny little boats are called “hakucho” – swan boats and they’ve been here forever becoming a kind of a symbol for the area. I’ve always wanted to get into one.

I love this picture in particular. I don’t know – it just has this nostalgic feeling to it, of something once grandeur or at least exciting and full of life like an abandoned circus or a closed down park or something. I somehow feel connection to these kind of scenes – probably because of my childhood where I got to experience this post Soviet chaos of everything being abandoned and belittled..

After the ride, we went to check the Lace and glass museum which is right next to the onsen.

Some of the trees were made out of crystals and as tacky and artificial as it was, I kinda liked it especially because it looked so beautiful in the late sunlight.

There was a garden in front of the museum and I am such a sucker for gardens, it’s like a candy to a child. I spent 10 minutes for the exhibit of glass and an hour just hanging out outside.

There were ducks and Italian clown figurines and watermill and so many beautiful flowers. That’s where they organize Venetian carnival every year.

Oh wait, before the Glass museum we also went to a Botanical garden. Unfortunately, almost nothing was blooming yet. The best season is actually coming in a couple of weeks.  You can see Japanese irises and hydrangeas and lilies… But the garden was nevertheless beautiful! The pond frogs reminded me of Kao Lhak where we stayed 3 years ago. Here is a little video of the pond:

So, at last we arrived at the onsen and got a “rotemburo” room in one of these little cottages.

http://www.ichinoyu.co.jp/shinanoki/annex/room/index.html

Rotemburo means a private outside hot spring. Whenever I go to an onsen in Japan, I prefer to book a private rotemburo instead of bathing in the same spring with the rest of the ladies..I just can never relax and listen to the sounds of nature when I am in the company of women and children talking non-stop and slashing water all over me..

In the evening, we were served this amazing, absolutely delicious and true to its fame seafood dinner.

This boiled Sea bream fish is the best fish I have ever eaten in my entire life. It was so well seasoned and tender, I could eat it forever and I indeed used my stomach to it’s absolute capacity that day.

The dinner started with tofu three ways and tempura, then shabu-shabu which was also tender and tasty. In fact, shabu-shabu was kinda the main dish but I left it all to my husband because for me there can be no better combination than tofu and fish.

Our breakfast was delicious too! This is how a typical Japanese breakfast looks like : fried fish, bowl of rice, miso soup and some otsumami  like tofu, nato, poached egg, seaweed pickles, umeboshi etc. I love it but it’s absolutely impossible to cook on a quick hand every morning. Japanese housewives usually have to wake up early in the morning to be able to serve such breakfast to their husbands by the time they wake up.

On the next day, we went to the museum high in the mountains on the other side of the lake that was an open space restoration of what used to be a checkpoint on the road between Nagoya and Edo (Tokyo). Samurai clans used to guard the exits of Edo to prevent mainly women from leaving without a special permission from the shogun. It was very interesting to know that women were kept hostage in Edo so that their husbands would be loyal to the shogun or Emperor and do their work well even at distant locations. Women who fled Edo in their hopes of finding their husbands where prosecuted and turned into slaves at such “Sekisho” – checkpoints.

After the museum, we went to the Hakone Onshi park which was built around a residence where Japanese imperior honors and entertains his foreign guests. The garden is relatively new but very gorgeous.

It was so weird to see many momiji trees already being orange and red. They usually look like that in Autumn but that’s not the first time I see them in spring so I’m thinking these are a special kind.

My husband took this picture of me while I was trying to figure out how to go to the Cedar alley. I look so detached from the beautiful scenery behind me as if I was cut out of some other picture and placed on top of this one.. ^-^

Sakura was still blooming and it smelled incredible.

After the park it was too hot to go anywhere else so we drove back to Tokyo and went to Odaiba in our hopes of catching a glimpse of blooming cornflowers near Palette town. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a parking space anywhere so instead we went to the Marine museum and saw many beautiful models of ancient Japanese ships and other boats from all over the Globe.

The museum building was in a shape of a big Sea-liner. We could go outside on the deck and see a beautiful panorama of Odaiba bay.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Lynn #

    Hihi, lovely pictures you have taken in Hakone. I’m interested in the ryokan you stayed. Is it called SHINANOKI ICHINOYU? How does the private onsen looks like?

    June 21, 2010
    • Yes, thats the one. The private rotenburo is a part of the inside bathroom but it has a big window you can open into the garden or courtyard. Its made of natural stone and the water is of course brought from the volcanic valley. If private rotemburo is all you are interested in, there are better choices out there, maybe not in Hakone but definitly in Aizu or Nikko. However, considering good food, a close proximity to the lake and sightseeing spots it is a good onsen and you would surely enjoy staying there.

      June 21, 2010
  2. Karen #

    Hi there,

    Is it really hard to get to Shinanoki Ichinoyu in Hakone? I will be reliant on my JR Pass, but I think it only goes all the way from Tokyo to Odawara, and then I’d have to switch modes of transportation? I am very confused.

    Could you help me out and direct me to Shinanoki Ichinoyu starting from the JR Line from Tokyo?

    Thanks a bunch!

    March 7, 2011
    • Hi, yes getting to that area in Hakone (Sengokuhara area) is a bit difficult. You can either use Odakyu romance car from Shinjuku station that goes to Hakone yumoto terminal or if you want to use JR pass, take a train from Tokyo station to Odawara. From Odawara you change JR to Odakyu line and go to Hakone Yumoto. From Hakone yumoto you have two options – local train or bus. If you want to use bus, choose the one going to 桃源台 (Togendai) and get off at the stop 品の木・箱根ハイランドホテル前 (Shinanoki, Hakone Highland hotel) which is like 1 minute away from Shinanoki ichinoyu. If you prefer local train, from Hakone yumoto terminal, take Hakone tozan tetsudo train that goes to Gora station. From there it’s still a pretty long walk but the area is nice so you should enjoy it. Google this address for a detailed map of the area: 神奈川県足柄下郡箱根町仙石原940-2 Hope that helps!

      March 7, 2011
  3. I spent a summer teaching in Okinawa a few years ago and spent some time in Tokyo before heading back to the States. Hakone was one of my stops – it was so fun to read your recap of your time there :) It brought back lots of fun memories. And I can attest that the eggs pretty much taste like typical hard boiled eggs…

    January 12, 2012
  4. Hey it’s the first time I ever seen your blog and it’s amazing! I just been to Hakone and I loved it, your pictures are very good! love it

    July 5, 2012

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