Hakone, famous for its hot springs, is a small area with a large lake near mount Fuji. From different places around the lake you can see beautiful views with mount Fuji in its center. We made the trip to Hakone in the second weekend of December. This meant that when we went there, with temperatures already around the freezing point, it was already quite cold. Especially near the lake.
We arrived on Friday afternoon when it was already dark, so we went straight to the hotel and stayed there for the evening. While checking in, the owner of the hotel told us that the first thing we should do in the morning is to look out the window. So that’s what we did the following morning. We woke up while the sun was rising and because of the clear sky, we could see Mount Fuji from our hotel room!
We quickly got dressed and rushed towards the lake (a 5-minute walk) to see the rest of the sunrise. Fishermen were already near the lake, getting ready for a nice day of fishing on the lake. There were also some researchers filling up their small boats will all sorts of materials and cameras.
Big pirate-style boats could also be found at the edge of the lake. They were waiting for the first launch of the day. During these first rays of the sun, the boats looked absolutely stunning, but because we had a car to drive around, we decided not to take a tour across the lake.
Volcanic gases in Owakudani
After breakfast we got into our small Toyota and drove to the Owakudani in the mountains. As I said before though, you could also take one of the pirate boats towards the rope way station at the foot of the mount to go up to Owakudani. The first that that you’ll notice when you get up the mountain is (hopefully) Mount Fuji! When we arrived there early in the morning, no clouds were to be seen, so the views were quite astonishing.
Owakudani itself is an area around a crater and was created approximately 3000 years ago. It was created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone. Nowadays, the volcanic zone is still active: you can see lots of sulfurous smokes rising from the mountain. And the sulfurous smell was really something, just like someone kept farting all the time. The authorities warn pregnant women and people with health problems to stay away from the mountain because it can be dangerous.
Around the lake: shrines and temples
Next up were the temples and shrines around the lake. The most impressive one was Hakone Shrine with its lakefront torii (gate). The giant gate stands in the water at the foot of the mountain where the Hakone Shrine is located. The other shrines were not that impressive, so we were done with the shrine visits in no time.
Since there is not a lot more to do in Hakone (except for a hot springs visit), we had to think of something else. Another place to go to. Thus, after the shrine visits, we got back in the car and started driving towards Odawara, because there was supposed to be a nice castle. During this drive we finally got to see some more autumn colors (which we missed earlier this year because we went to Hokkaido in November).
The semi long drive to Odawara was definitely worth it. The castle, located in a big park, could already be seen from the outside. When we went into the park and finally arrived at the castle, the first thing we could see was a big crowd of people watching something. And that something was an eating contest! There were four ladies sitting on chairs behind tables and lots and lots of ramen was being served to them. They had to eat as much as possible during (I think it was) 30 minutes.
The big bowls of ramen were being served by these two lovely Japanese persons, dressed up in samurai clothes.
After seeing the castle in Odawara, we went further South until we arrived at a cape. We stayed there to watch the sunset. It was absolutely marvelous.
When the sun had completely disappeared, it was time to go back to the hotel. We decided to get up early to see another sunrise, but the next day Mount Fuji was completely covered in clouds (well at least the South side of the mountain!).
To be able to do some more sightseeing on our way back to Saitama, we decided to do a little bit of a detour to Hokuto (North of Mount Fuji). And when we got to the North side of the mountain, we could suddenly see it again! This meant that only the South side was blocked by clouds, which was very funny to see.
Hokuto is a very small place in Japan and probably most people haven’t heard about it before. On the other side though, Hokuto is the home of the Heidi’s Village (a ‘Swiss’ village). This village is actually a small theme park, showing the world/ town of the Japanese anime series ‘Heidi, Girl of the Alps’, based on the Swiss novel ‘Heidi’s Years of Wandering and Learning’.
The gardens around the town were quite nice, but I can imagine that they would have been more beautiful in we would have visited the village in the spring or summer. There were some cute goats though and for a 100 yen you could buy some food and feed it to these lovely goats. They were very happy with their food!
And that was already the last part of our trip to Hakone and thus the last part of the blog today. During the next couple of weeks I’ll write about all of the other trips that we had this year, because we traveled a lot!
Visited between the 9th and 11th of December