We left wonderful Tokyo for the next step of our adventure. We boarded the bizarrely named “romance car” train bound for Hakone, (disappointingly the train is in no way romantic and has neither dimmed lighting nor elevator music playing)! The train took a couple of hours and with our new found confidence in using Japenese public transport and our Hakone region travel passes, we boarded the local bus to get to the Palace Hotel where we were staying. Apart from a stale smoke smell in our room and it being a little dated, the hotel was nice and had its own Onsen (hot baths).
In Japan smoking in hotel rooms is allowed, and despite requesting non smoking rooms, you can still get ones that people have previously smoked in
Unfortunately, the weather in Hakone wasn’t wonderful, but we took the short walk from our hotel to a small port where we caught a pirate ship across the lake. It was a windswept experience, but good fun and we even managed to capture our first glimpse of Mt Fuji between the clouds. After having a little walk around the area we jumped back on the boat and returned to our hotel for the first experience of a Japenese Onsen.
Onsen are split into male and female ones and essentially consist of an open changing area with cubby holes for your clothes, sinks, hair dryers and make up remover products, moisturisers, hair brushes and an array of other toiletries. After stripping to your birthday suit you then enter the Onsen area. In the Palace hotel there was an indoor thermal bath and an outdoor thermal bath. The inside area has a line of low down mirrors with waist high dividers between shower units. Here, you sit on a tiny plastic chair and must bathe yourself. Shampoo, conditioner, body wash and foot and nail scrub brushes are all provided. At first I had no clue what I was doing so had to subtly try to watch the other women without appearing to be staring. The initial clean is thorough! The ladies spend a good ten minutes scrubbing every inch of their bodies before washing their hair and then entering the baths. I concluded from my numerous Onsen experiences during our Japanese adventure that they are quite possibly the cleanest people in the world. So there I was, outside, sitting naked in a hot bath, surrounded by Japanese ladies and gazing at the stars. Just one of the many, “pinch me I’m in Japan moments”.
The next day was sadly another wash out, so we decided to go on an apparantly scenic train ride – a mistake when the clouds were surrounding us and we could see nothing, followed by a bus ride and a short walk in the rain. The day was saved by a lovely dinner though! Seemingly Hakone is prone to cloudy weather as it seems that the clouds get trapped in front of Mt Fuji. So if you head here in spring I would pack an umbrella!
Having done some research before leaving the UK – quite an achievement for a non pre-planner like me, we got up early the next day and caught three buses to the beautiful five lakes area to go to the Shibazakura flower festival. What can I say – the best decision we made. Do not be put off by the two and a half hour bus journey – it’s well worth it. Not only was the weather sunny and clear on this side of the mountain, but the festival itself was, well, just “wow”. One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. As they say, a picture speaks a thousand words….
After soaking up the beauty of the flower festival, taking some obligatory selfies and consuming a hot dog or two, we left the festival once the crowds started to increase and headed back to Kawaguchiko station. After a quick stop at tourist information for some activity ideas, we took a stroll around one of the lakes, (the surrounding area is a little run down), had our picnic and ice creams, and basked in the sun shine before heading back via buses to our hotel.
The next morning we headed back to the train station to board our next bullet train and to chase our next adventure….