The Japan Journal - Day 6

H A K O N E 17/12/15 We were almost awake at the same time the sun was. Our eyes felt rested, and ready to take on another tour. The...



We were almost awake at the same time the sun was. Our eyes felt rested, and ready to take on another tour. The night before, we had to pack for our tour as we would be staying overnight at one of the hotels after our tour ended for the day. We would be heading to the fifth station of Mt Fuji, which went down to about -5 degrees. So we knew we had to suit up with a number of layers, making sure we would be able to withstand the biting chills. 

Our Mt Fuji-Hakone 1-day tour commenced at Hamamatsucho bus terminal, where an army of tourists would be divided into three different buses, each with an appointed tour guide. Once everyone was sorted onto the bus, we took the Chuo expressway and travelled about 2 hours before reaching our first stop - Fuji Visitor Centre. Here, we took a toilet break, and explored the visitor centre which had in-depth information on Mt Fuji and its surrounding. 

We spent about 20 mins at this stop, before boarding the bus that would take us to the 5th station of Mt Fuji. Fortunately, the weather was perfect, with clear blue skies accompanied by the occasional clouds passing by.

Once we reached the fifth station and stepped down from the heated, oven-roasted bus, the -5 degree chills smacked us in the face. My fingers instantly turned numb whilst taking photos of the scenery, but thank God my beanie kept my ears warm and toasty. 

tempted to curl up in a ball to keep warm

We only spent about 25mins up here, but at least there was no fog to obstruct our view. Extreme cold weather or snow will cause the roadway to Mt Fuji's 5th station to be blocked, and the tour bus would only be able to go up to the highest elevation point possible. 

Once we had enough of snapping the sights and needed to thaw our frozen hands, we rushed up to the bus and clasped our hands towards our mouths whilst slowly exhaling our warm CO2. Our descent down from Mt Fuji did not take all too long, highly likely due to the fact that I knocked out and by the time my eyes fluttered open, we were at our lunch stop.

A lady dressed in a traditional kimono and wearing Japanese clogs greeted us at the entrance. I found it a little amusing that she had a microphone hooked on to her kimono, and this voice box attached at the back, as it created the ultimate picture of anachronism. 

Our lunch was held in a room that overlooked beautiful green pastures, and a picturesque Mt Fuji in the distance. But of course, the food caught our attention as well. The spread was lovely, and I was so excited because they had chicken skewers and chicken karaage! If you had read my previous post, I had complained about how it isn't common to find chicken on the menu at restaurants in Japan. But today, God has indeed fulfilled my needs :P besides the chicken karaage, the meal was relatively healthy and light, consisting mainly of vegetables or tofu. 

It didn't take long to finish our meal, which meant that we had more time to wander around the restaurant precinct with therapeutic views. 

Our next and final destination was Hakone, which is a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. This town is renowned for its mountainous views, hot spring resorts, and incessant breadths of water that make up several lakes. We boarded a 15min cruise that took us around Lake Ashinoko (Ashi), which was formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone after the volcano's last eruption that occurred about 3000 years ago. We decided to head out to the deck for photo opportunities, where tempestuous winds raged but the cruise stood firm; however, my hair danced about and the chills were piercing. 

Once our voyage on Lake Ashi came to an end, the most exciting part of the tour awaited us. We queued to enter a cable car carriage at the Mt Komagatake Ropeway, which would take us to the top of Mt Komagatake

During our ascent, the view was absolutely breathtaking. The cable car was pretty packed, but I pushed for a spot near the window, and made sure I had my camera and phone pressed against the glass. 

When we reached the peak, we were greeted by little specks of snowflakes that settled on our hair and clothes before it vanished in a few seconds. We had about 25mins to explore what lay in front of us and its surroundings. The scenery from the top seemed surreal, where the glistening waters met the luscious greenery. I was equally fascinated by the scenery as I was with the dainty snowflakes that seemed to rain down on us, bus disappeared once it contacted a surface.  

There was also a temple that lay beyond the horizon of a steep hill, which consisted of an incessant amount of steps. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to explore what was beyond the top of the steps. On the bright side, we didn't have to brace the treacherous journey up the hill, saving our legs from a very intense leg day session. 

We had to bid farewell to the (almost) birds eye view perspective of the landscape that law beneath us. Our descent in the cable car called for more spectacular views, but this time, with a fiery sunset as its backdrop. 

And that concluded the end of our day tour, where we had to bid farewell to the tour group and our tour guide. We were the only family to depart from the group instead of joining them on the journey back to Tokyo as we booked a one night stay at the Hakone Yunohana Prince Hotel. The hotel is not too far from Lake Ashi, but it felt like it is situated in the middle of nowhere. The hotel stands alone, with no shops within its vicinity. The sole intention guests visit or stay in the hotel is primarily to relax and soak up the therapeutic powers of the scenery and the hot springs. 

The hotel felt more like a traditional and quaint resort where you could immediately feel a sense of peace and relaxation lingering in the hallways. We were brought to our rooms, which mimicked traditional Japanese houses where you sat on the floor to dine, and where you would sleep on tatami mats. The living room, dining room, and bedroom, are all in one area of the room. When we are having our dinner, the hotel staff would come into our room to rearrange the furniture and set up our beds. So in the mean time, the main room looked like this.

As our dinner reservation at the hotel was only at 7:30, we still had time to try out the onsen. But before that, we couldn't resist taking the opportunity to put on our traditional Japanese robes. I mean, why not rock up to the onsen in style? 

Forgive us, we lack cultural awareness 

For foreigners, onsen is an unfamiliar territory that might not appeal to everyone as it is a type of Japanese bath open to public (usually gender segregated). Onsen is situated around hot springs, and the water from the natural springs is rich in minerals, and has a healing and rejuvenating effect on your body. As Japan is a volcanically active country, there are numerous onsen scattered across the country. You're not allowed to take photos in the onsen for obvious reasons, so this is what our hotel's onsen looked like with the courtesy of Google images. 

And if it snows, this is the kind of experience you will have at an outdoor onsen in Osawa.

Once we had our blood circulating and felt revitalised after about half an hour in the onsen, we took a shower at the onsen area as there is also an open shower facility with body soap, shampoo, and conditioner provided. Water, moisturiser, and body lotion were also situated by the indoor changing area, as it is important to hydrate yourself after an onsen session. I'm not sure if the onsen aided my digestion, but I was so hungry after my shower. Luckily, our dinner was just minutes away. We dressed back into our traditional robes and headed to the restaurant.

As you can see, almost everyone was dressed in their robes, so we didn't look too silly. Our dinner consisted of a traditional Japanese set course, where a variety of food continually rolled in. Here is a visual explanation of what was in the course:

The food was exceptional, and everything seemed so fresh. I love the fact that not much oil was used in all the dishes, making you feel less guilty about indulging in delicious food. Although the portions seemed small, it was filling as there were a number of courses, and our meal was also accompanied by a big bowl of Japanese rice and miso soup. When we got back to our room after dinner, our 'beds' were set up and looked so cosy and inviting with its fluffy quilts. We were more than ready for a good nights rest. 

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