24 Hours in Hakone

I didn't want all of our time in Japan to be city-centered so we made a pitstop on our way back up towards Tokyo. We took the Shinkansen (the bullet train) to Odawara. At the Odawara train station, we picked up the Hakone Free Pass, which cost ¥4,600 ($43) for a two-day pass and that allowed us passage on multiple lines of transport in and around Hakone. Unfortunately, when we were purchasing the pass, we were told that the Hakone Ropeway was closed due to volcanic activity but we figured it was fine because we could still have fun despite the little hiccup. So, using the free pass, we took a train that dropped us off closer to Hakone and then transferred to another awesome train that climbed the steep hill to Gora.
The train actually had this cool thing where it zigzagged up the hill and switched directions multiple times. There was a recording playing throughout the duration of the ride that explained these switchbacks and we watched as the conductor got out from one end of the train and walked along the station platform to the other end every time we had to zag.

The bullet train was awesome; it was crazy fast and the ride was really smooth. We chose the slightly cheaper tickets that didn't have assigned seating and we were mildly apprehensive about finding seats together but the unreserved trains were relatively empty so we did fine.
We were in Japan right as the hydrangea were starting to bloom so the ride to Gora was amazing. There were thousands upon thousands of hydrangea lining the tracks on our route.
There wasn't a great selection of hotels to choose from when I was trying to book because all of the best places had been snapped up. However, I eventually settled for this hotel because it was really close to the Gora train station and it had decent reviews. We paid ¥13,908 ($129 USD) for the one night that we were there. We were told to choose a kimono from an entire wall that we could borrow for the duration of our stay to use when we were heading to the onsen. The onsen was fine; it wasn't as good as the first one we had when we initially landed in Asia but it was decent and because of the location of the hotel, the water being pumped into the hot pools was genuine local mineral hot spring water.

If you arrive at Gora train station with good timing, you can hop onto the cable car and take it one stop up to make the walk to the hotel a bit easier. Otherwise, you will have to climb a pretty steep hill with all of your luggage, which is what we had to do. But we got wise and when we were leaving, we timed our exit with the cable car schedule and rode it down to Gora Station.
We'd arrived in Gora a little later than anticipated thanks to a small train mixup; the platform at Odawara was arranged oddly and we ended up on the wrong train for two stops and had to head back and then wait for the next train to Hakone-Yumoto. But, we didn't sweat it and decided to head out and explore and make use of our Hakone Free Pass.
First, we took the cable car from Gora to Sounzan.
At Sounzan, we transferred to a bus, which was the substitute for the Ropeway being closed, and they gave us little postcards as consolation gifts. From there, we took the bus to Togendai so we could use the tourist pirate ships to cross Lake Ashi.
The boat ride was pretty awesome. The ship is large and it's a lake so there's v. little chance of developing seasickness. You get to observe some awesome views and if you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji.
When we landed at Moto-Hakone port, we talked to someone at the ticket booth about our options for getting back to Gora and were told that we basically only had the option of a couple of bus lines and the v. last one we could take was leaving in about 45 minutes. So, we decided to power walk around the area and try to see as much as we could before our carriage turned into a pumpkin.
This little park was only 15 minutes from the port and you could take a little hike through and reach a lovely viewpoint so that's what we did, mainly because the little brochure we were given along with our Hakone Free Pass said we might be able to see Mount Fuji from here. Unfortunately, it was too hazy to see it but this viewpoint lived up to its reputation of lovely views.
We got back to Gora around 6PM and decided we should grab some dinner before heading back to the hotel.
There weren't a whole lot of options for dinner near our hotel; most places were open for breakfast and lunch and closed by dinner. This particular place though, was closed in the morning and only open for dinner; lucky us.
We started with the oden, which was a fish cake soup with several different types of fishcake. It was really delicious and reminded us of a v. similar Korean dish.
For our mains, we shared a cold udon dish and a cold soba dish. The udon dish had wild vegetables, seaweed, nori, and crunchy fried tempura bits. The noodles were super slippery and delicious.
The soba noodles came with a hot duck broth to dip the soba into. The pieces of duck meat in the broth were fatty and tender.
After our meal, we rested a bit and then changed into our kimono and obi and headed to the onsen to soak our sore muscles before going to bed.
In the morning, we made a v. eclectic breakfast using the cookies and grapes we'd bought the evening before and the complimentary mochi provided by the hotel.
Then, basically we repeated our routine from the previous afternoon and hopped onto the cable car to Sounzan, bus to Togendai, and boarded the first boat of the day to Hakone-Machi port.
It was pretty hazy and chilly but it wasn't raining, even though the forecast warned that it might, so we were grateful for the haze.
We went back to the park since we had more time to walk around and explore this day. We looked at the map and took a more meandering route back towards the same viewpoint we had already enjoyed hoping we might catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji.
Even though the Hakone Ropeway was temporarily closed, we knew there was another ropeway and we found out it was open so we decided to walk there. We grabbed some snacks and sustenance from a 7-Eleven (onigiri is the best portable snack) and walked along Shrine Street for a couple of miles.
We stopped to look at the Hakone Shrine but there was a ridiculous queue of people wanting to take a photo with it. Since we'd been to Fushimi Inari Taisha just a couple days prior, we weren't wowed by this shrine and I was satisfied with just snapping this one photo.
The Komagatake Ropeway is located on a mountain on the eastern side of Lake Ashi. Tickets were ¥1,440 each ($13.50 USD), which included a little discount which we received by showing our Hakone Free Pass.
The windows of the car were kind of dirty so I didn't manage to capture great footage while we were in the car but it didn't matter because the view from the top was so great.
While we were just relaxing and gazing, my sister became convinced that this little stark white squiggle sitting above the clouds was the top of Mount Fuji. I expressed doubt because it just looked like it was the sun shining on some more clouds.
Well, M was right because the clouds were breaking and Mount Fuji was slowly becoming more and more visible. We witnessed its exposure as we were taking the ropeway back down.
From the bottom, we managed to see it in its entirety. It was so fulfilling.
Hakone is not really known for its food but there is no shortage of noodle shops so for lunch, we ducked into Shinsho Soba, mainly because it was so close to where we needed to catch the bus back to Gora.
We were given really delicious earthy green tea to start and then for our appetizer, we shared this giant shrimp tempura.
We got soba in hot broth with wild vegetables and we also got udon in a hot duck broth, but I was so into the meal, I forgot to photograph it.
We still had a little bit of time to kill before the bus so we got dessert at a cute little shop. They'd run out of almost everything but we managed to grab the last slice of melon cake and a chestnut cake. This chestnut cake wasn't quite as delicious as the one we'd enjoyed in Kyoto, mainly because it was filled with some kind of meringue. The melon cake was light and fluffy and as typical with Japanese cakes, it was frosted with whipped cream so it wasn't cloying the way American desserts can be.
When we got back to Gora, we rushed up the hill to our hotel to grab our bags so we could catch the cable car down to Gora Station and head to Tokyo.
Here's my video diary: