Today we started out pretty early to head out of town to the Hakone area South West of Tokyo, where we planned to go hiking. The area is pretty close to Mt Fuji, although sadly the hazy conditions meant that visibility was quite limited, although it was a very nice sunny day. We met at 8.30 to catch a 9 o’clock train, I was rather pissed off to discover that I couldn’t use my pass to take the train there as it was a private rail line – funnily enough there was no mention of distinction between private and public railway lines at the time of purchasing and, at Â£240, it wasn’t exactly cheap! Also, the train was particularly busy so we could only get seats together in a smoking carriage, yuck. Still, needs must.
I didn’t have time to get breakfast so ended up buying a sandwich set on the train. Even the sandwiches were cute – little rectangles, neatly cut with no crusts, in a variety of flavours.
On arrival at Hakone station (or wherever it was – there was some confusion) we took a bus to our start point for the hike. After getting off (in seemingly the middle of nowhere) though we decided it was probably prudent, if not necessity, to get some lunch and supplies of water before we set out, except we should have stayed on the bus for another stop or two… Some running around and a conversation with a female innkeeper ensued and it was decided that we needed to take another bus to go and find civilisation. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long for one to arrive and soon we were in a soba restaurant in Moto-Hakone with a fabulous view out over the lake. Apparently soba noodles are a speciality of the region, lunch was pretty damn good in fairness – I had fish caught from the lake we were looking over with my noodles, yum.
The hike we did was supposed to take around 2 and a half hours, and took in various historic sites and places of beauty along the way. It started out fairly mellow, with us passing by a idyllic grassy area with trees and mountain backdrop (and random old guy hanging out), but after rounding the first lake the path took a steep turn upwards. Actually we started doubling back on ourselves by accident, then nearly fell over numerous times on rock covered stones, then eventually realised that the path that seemed to be going off into oblivion WAS the path that we actually needed to take. Parts of the path around here were very soft underfoot due to the recent rainfall and one time my shoe sank entirely into the quicksand like mud (actually I was wearing sandals), yuck. Shortly after we encountered a snake on the path, prompting Rena to jump behind me :)
The path upwards was pretty hardcore – fairly steep, mountainous (surprisingly) and rocky. And it was ridiculously hot to the point that my shirt was soaked through and my hair was dripping wet! When the path eventually leveled off and we came out into a clearing we realised we’d climbed over 700m from where we started. Not bad going. We were thankful for the rest and the creation that is Aquarius energy drink, ion replenishing amino whateverwotsits and all. From here we walked along the roadside ’til we reached a small shrine. As we walked up the hill towards it a shadow loomed out from within and as we got close we could see an imposing buddha statue starting down broodingly from the darkness. It was kinda eerie, but sitting on the steps there facing out towards the mountains and nearby lake it felt like an eternity could pass in reflection without noticing.
The lakes themselves were beautiful. The first one very much so – surrounded by forest with the walkway winding around it. The second wasn’t quite so accessible but looked like something out of a Vietnam movie! Also bumped into the first other people for a long time – a middle aged woman with an elderly couple who were walking near the second lake. We would have gone closer but were feeling pretty fatigued from the climb. Rena decided it would be a good time to visit an ‘onsen’ (hot springs baths), as we’d noted there were a few along our route. The one we visited was a special sulphourous type with milky green water – the minerals and stuff in the water are supposed to be very good for you. We got there 45 minutes before chucking out time so had to take in both baths on offer in rather quick succession! The baths themselves are sex-segregated (as you go in naked). Inside the first one I went in was an old Japanese guy rolling about in an interior bath (there were 2 pools – one inside and one out), however the outdoor pool looked much more interesting so we mumbled a hello of sorts to each other and I left him to it! The water in the baths is at 42C so I was advised to go in bit by bit so as not to overheat too quickly and die. It took around 10 minutes before I was submerged. The feeling was great after the long walk, surrounded in the open air by mountains and serene gardens, with seemingly only the birds and cicadas for company. Incidentally, the volume of noise created by the local wildlife is pretty astounding, almost regardless of where you are. You get used to it after a while surely, but sometimes it seems as if you are walking through the jungle in some exotic country! The second of the two baths wasn’t quite so cool, as it was openly visible to a carpark where there were men working. Once again, couldn’t see that kind of thing happening in England!
On leaving the onsen, feeling quite refreshed, there was still a good way to go before we reached our goal. Thankfully from this point on it was mostly downhill, and the next stop was a set of waterfalls which looked awesome in our guide book. The descent took us down a vast number of steps, which were quite treacherous in places. In fact I was utilised as a stop buffer on more than one occasion ;) at the bottom of the steps the path seemed to go left, however there was a route less travelled to the right which was somewhat overgrown, so of course we felt compelled to see what was down there. Fighting through a ridiculous number of cobwebs eventually brought us out at a small bridge right next to a waterfall. Very movie fantasy land esque. Stopped here to take soooo many waterfall pics! It was such a nice spot. The views on the pathway down were amazing too, all looking out over the falling valley, I loved it. Sadly all good things must come to an end and soon after passing a famous merging cherry blossom tree we were back out on the road. Whilst trying to avoid being eaten alive by mosquitoes we noticed just how high the mountain we’d just come down from was behind us. Sense of accomplishment. I felt really lucky to have seen this place. It’s mentioned in my guide book but that’s just information about the town, not hiking routes through the mountains! It’s good to have wordly friends :)
It was already getting late so to save time I suggested we stop halfway home for dinner in Machida. We hit another izakaya which had AWESOME bbq chicken skewers, plus you could see the chefs cooking all the food on the grates right in front of us. We got fairly merry on beer and… vinegar cocktails (not my choice), to the point where I thought ppl might complain about our counter-corner antics. Still, it was all good. Not quite sure how it got so late but by the time I got back to Tokyo the subway had already closed and I was in severe danger of missing my hotel curfew. Not quite sure why they have these but presumably because the business folk don’t want to be disturbed by the late night party people… Anyhow I scrambled around for a taxi and managed to make it back with 5 mins to spare. Phew. I think they would have probably given me some leeway to be fair, but I really didn’t fancy spending the night locked out on the street considering how tired I was!!!