Breakfast at the hotel is buffet-style. Again, traditional japanese food–grilled fish, pickles, egg, rice, congee, miso soup, tofu, natto. Average in taste, but lots of food so we were stuffed.
The plan today is to do the Hakone sightseeing circuit. Most guides say take the anti-clockwise route: train to Gora, cablecar then ropeway to Owakudani then Togendai, pirate ship cruise to either Moto-Hakone or Hakone-machi, walk the cedar path then bus back to Hakone-yumato. I was reading another leaflet last night which described the opposite routing. We decided on the clockwise routing, getting to the furthest point then making our way back. That turned out to be an excellent decision.
We walked to the station and caught a bus to Hakone-machi. It was a different bus than we wanted to catch, but it got us to where we wanted to go, so no complaints. It was cold when we got off the bus, and windy too so we estimated it was near or just below freezing. Hakone-machi is a small tranquil village on the south shore of lake Ashi. The sun came out just as we were walking along the lake and blessed us with a perfect view of Hakone shrine and Mount Fuji in the background. Fuji was partially covered by clouds but enough of it was visible. Peaceful and beautiful.
The next stop was Hakone-machi, about 1.5km away. The guides say either take the bus or walk along an ancient cedar-lined path. So we took the path. The trees shielded us from most of the wind so it was less cold. It was a nice walk that took us to the Hakone checkpoint. We didn’t go inside, just poked around the shops nearby.
I was most interested in a statue of a runner at the pier in front of the ekiden café. I’m sort of familiar with the concept of university and corporate running teams in Japan and have heard of the Hakone ekiden, one of the most prestigious ekiden with a course between Tokyo and Hakone run by university teams. I didn’t have time to go inside the café but it was still nice to see something running related.
We caught the next sailing of the pirate cruise ship towards Togendai. Here was when we had a first inkling that we made the right decision to take the clockwise route. The ship was quite crowded, but we were able to still find seats. This was in contrast to the large crowd that got off the ship doing the loop in the opposite direction. Definitely when we reached Togendai and got on the ropeway, we were one of very few passengers, with all the other gondolas going the other direction full of people. We could vaguely see Mount Fuji whilst on the ropeway; it was hidden behind more clouds, we were very lucky we saw it at the lake.
The ropeway stopped at Owakudani, a geothermal valley with steam and sulphur emissions. I remember being able to walk around last time we visited but the paths were all closed. The view of the valley wasn’t great, but we saw something cuter: someone made a mini-snowman on the fence facing one of the steam vents.
Part of the ropeway was closed for repairs so we took the replacement bus to catch the cablecar downhill towards Gora. It was past 2pm already and we were getting hungry. A stop at a small restaurant for tempura soba was just the right ticket. After lunch we caught the train for one stop, we had the freepass so why not take full advantage.
The last destination on our loop was the Hakone open air museum. We’re both not huge art fans but we were so glad we took the time to visit. The museum has mostly sculptures, curated at spots inside the grounds. Extremely interesting pieces by artists from around the world.
One of the attractions of the museum is the Picasso collection. No photography allowed inside unfortunately. There were a number of paintings, a series of bull-fighting sketches and numerous sculptures and clay work by the master. The collection showed us his progression from a more traditional style to cubism to his very distinctive style. Well worth the visit.
Another piece in the museum is called the curved space — diamond structure. It’s a large jungle gym plastic installation designed along the lines of the covalent bonds in a diamond. The inside is hollow and they allow kids to play inside. The space is too small for adults otherwise I would have tried to climb inside for a bit.
We stayed in the museum until closing and caught the train back to Hakone-yumato. Missed the shuttlebus so decided to walk. Just as well, the sake shop was still open and we bought a small bottle to enjoy in our room.
Dinner was actually worse than yesterday’s. The presentation was lovely but we didn’t find any of the courses tasty: appetisers were bland, sashimi was tasteless, simmered mushrooms were good, taro and fish were okay, the beef stew was gluggy and we struggled to finish it. The nicest thing of the meal was the sweet kiwi fruit we got for dessert.
Time for onsen, relaxation and bed.