Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hakone

On the last leg of our Kyoto - Nara trip, we visited Hakone.

Hakone is a tourist destination which is popular among both Japanese and foreigners, the main reason being the proximity to Mt Fuji and Tokyo. Hakone-machi town is located in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National park and is centered around the Lake Ashi.
A good view of Mt Fuji and its reflection in the water on a clear day make Lake Ashi a popular destination. The scenery around is breathtaking. A cruise in Lake Ashi on the pirate boat is one of the most popular activity while in Hakonemachi.
The pirate boat can be kitschy and the so called pirates are only two pirate images placed on the upper deck. A person dressed in a pirate dress makes the rounds with a cameraman offering to pose with tourists for a souvenir photography. No doubt though that the cruise is the best way to view Mt Fuji and the surroundings on a clear day.
The torii of the Hakone Shrine in the lakewaters is a pretty sight.
 There are lots of museums and parks in and around Hakonemachi . There are onsens in the region especially near Hakone Yumoto.

However the most popular spot is Owakudani also known as the Great Boiling  Valley.
The Hakone volcano erupted over 3000 years ago and caused large scale destruction. The entire area is an active volcanic zone and sulphur fumes, hot springs and bubbling pools are found in plenty. 
Even today at times the volcanic outbursts are strong and hence the entire area is monitored for safety all round the clock. At times entry is restricted in case the volcanic gas density reaches alarming levels.The entire place smells strongly of Sulphur. A short trail dubbed “Nature research route” leads along volcanic area . 
 A popular delicacy at Owakudani is the “Kuro Tamago” or Black Egg also called Longevity eggs.  Eggs are boiled in sulphur pits and the egg shells turn black and the egg smells faintly of sulphur too. 
These black eggs are supposed to enhance one’s life by seven years. A pack of 6 boiled eggs costs 500 yen.
The popularity of the black eggs is evident from the long queues outside the Tamago Chaya where these eggs are sold. 
Since these eggs last for 4-5 days at normal room temperature, these are popular souvenirs among local Japanese.

There are boards all along which advise people not to stay in the area for too long as one can feel dizzy.
Most people prefer to take the cable car ride to Owakudani. It is an enjoyable ride which also offers some good views along the ride. Owakudani is also accessible by road. Lots of buses operate from various spots in the Hakone region to Owakudani. Car parking is also available at Owakudani though at times it can be crowded.

The ideal tour around the area is a Lake Ashi sightseeingcruise from Hakone to Togendai. The cruise begins from Hakonemachi-ko port and 10 minutes later reaches Moto Hakone-ko port on the way to Togendai. A 40 minute one way cruise costs Yen 970 for adults. The Hakone Ropeway operates between Togendai to Sounzan. Owakudani is approx 16 min ride from Togendai and  8 min ride from Sounzan.  The ropeway fare between Togendai and Owakudani is Yen 1020 for adults and Yen 510 for children. However the entire course by cruise, ropeway and back to Hakone machi takes about 3 hours. If  time is a constraint, driving up to Owakudani and back is the fastest way. On weekends though, the uphill drive can take a lot of time with slow moving traffic. The views along the road are nice too.
Hakone is accessible from Odawara by the Hakone Tozan line via Gora. From Gora, the Hakone Tozan funicular cable car provides access to Sounzan. The Romance car limited express train connects Shinjuku to Hakone Yumoto.

Owakudani :
Opening hours: 8.00-17.30 ( 17.00 hrs from December-March)
Phone No: 0460-84-5201
Entrance : Free

Lake Ashi / Hakone Sightseeing Cruise:
(Hakone-machi-ko pier)
Operating Hours: 9.30 to 17:00
Phone no:  0460-83-7550
Ample car parking (free) available near the pier

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