Another glorious spring morning in Japan, though quite crisp as we were up in the mountains. A buffet Japanese breakfast provided by the hotel started our day off with a ‘what? what is that? oh, wow, that is sour.’ And the eating of some things I’ve never had for breakfast before. One thing they did here and the one other place we had a kaiseki dinner is to garnish rice with tiny dried fish instead of salt. Which can be at bit much at breakfast to see a load of tiny pairs of eyes on your rice.
Anyway. We sent our luggage off with a special service that takes it to the station for you (for a small fee) and leaves you to explore the mountainous region without wheeling a suitcase about. Then we started walking until we got to a sort of visitor centre. There is a staggering amount of stuff to see & do in Hakone but we only had the day as we had to get to Nara in the evening. If you have more time why not check out the open air museums? I definitely would’ve gone if we had more time. As it was, we decided (mostly from looking at a scale model in the visitor centre) to get the cable car over the top of the mountain and come down the opposite side on another rope way and make our way to Odawara station from there. If you do stay longer in Hakone it is worth considering getting a Hakone Free Pass which gives you free travel and entry to lots of stuff.
The ropeway leaves from the side of a big lake where tourist trips are made on PIRATE SHIPS. Not real pirate ships, just tourist boat trips on a boat made to look like a pirate ship. Oh, you Japanese. There were also some pedalos and we found a weird graveyard of swan pedalos that made for an excellent hipster photograph.
Because tourist numbers were so down there was no queue and we had an entire cable car to ourselves. What larks. The views are pretty amazing, particularly as the higher up you go, the more you can see of Mt Fuji. Let me tell you, Mt Fuji looks exactly like all the drawings of it ever drawn or put on any Japanese art that’s ever been made. It’s almost a parody of itself.
Halfway up we got out and looked at some geysers. As the photograph may indicate, it was quite smelly. I hilariously kept saying ‘oh, Japan! You’ve really let one off!’ You can imagine what a treat it is to go on holiday with me.
In the steaming geysers they cook eggs. The sulphur, I think, makes the shells go black and you can buy 5 black eggs for 500Y (about £4 at the time). They say each black egg you eat adds 5 years to your life. I had 2 and Luke ate 3. You can only buy them in bags of 5. They taste just like normal boiled eggs.
We got back in the cable car and over the top of the mountain and decided to come down using the funicular train which runs about once every thirty years. That is a slight exaggeration, but we did wait a long time for the next one. Thank goodness for vending machines – where ever you go can instantly become a cafe.
We rode the funicular train, which took about 10 mins to reach the bottom, after having waited over an hour for it. Then got on a mountain train which was the slowest ever train I’ve ever been on, and I live in a Southeastern Trains area. In the mountain train’s defence – it is meant to go that slowly.
We picked our bags up in Odawara station and zoomed on the bullet train to Kyoto before getting a local train to Nara where we were staying in a 100yr old guest house. I’m sure under normal circumstances, this would’ve been fine but it turned out to be quite weird. There was only one other person staying there and she was sharing a dorm with us. She was a Russian but was convinced she was Canadian. I mean, I’m sure she is Canadian but she had a mega Russian accent. When she said ‘I’m Canadian’ we said ‘oh? really?’ and she said ‘I have a slight Russian accent’ and we thought ‘you sound like you could be in Pussy Riot’ (which isn’t really true because I didn’t know who Pussy Riot were in April 2011 but it’s a reference I’d like to make now in October 2012, the point remains she had a very strong Russian accent which she was in denial about).
We had an awkward time sitting around with her and the owner of the guesthouse who spoke only a bit of English, we went to a nearby supermarket to buy some dinner, and went to bed to avoid the awkward situation. The bunks (like most in hostels and guesthouses in Japan) were very clean, had curtains around each one, its own reading lamp and a plug socket.
Staying in Nara was the only mistake of my itinerary. It is beautiful and lovely, certainly worth a visit, but if I did the trip again I would stay an extra night in Kyoto and visit Nara as a day trip as it’s only 40 minutes away on a local train.