Hakone region

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Our first listed activity for today was the Hakone Ropeway which does not open until 9:00 am so Majella and I had no need to hurry. We showered and had breakfast and then woke Sophie around 8:00 am. That got us out the door soon after 9:00 am when we walked to the nearby Naka-Gora cable car station.

We rode the cable car to Sounzan station where we boarded the Hakone Ropeway (telepherique) and rode that further up the mountain and over the ridge. That put us above the Owakudani valley which is full of smoke and steam and yellow with sulphur. After crossing the valley we got out at Owakudani Station where we took a closer look into the valley and Majella and Sophie did some souvenir shopping. The Ropeway took us on to Ubako Station where we did not need to change cars but got out to appreciate the view. On a clear day Fuji should be visible but today was not clear. We got back on the Ropeway and rode it down to Togendai Station.

From Togendai Station we took the scenic cruise on Lake Ashi which is perched at 700 m and up to 45 meters deep with a 20 km circumference. Inexplicably, perhaps unless you are Japanese, the cruise vessels are dressed up as pirate ships. the relevance of European pirates on a Japanese lake escaped us but the boats were modern and comfortable.

The cruise goes down the lake, stops at two ports at the southern end, and returns to Togendai. We got out at the first stop, Hakone-Machi, and walked the short distance to the second. I had read that the route passed by an historic checkpoint that had been used to control trade and followed an ancient cedar avenue. It was a pleasant walk through the woodland once we found the path and it brought us to Moto-Hakone, the second stop for the cruise from where we could return to Togendai.

We ate lunch in a restaurant there, sharing a ‘lucky box’, which was a bento box with a variety of different foods in about a dozen small containers. It included roast beef, tiny tempura fish, noodles, tofu, salad, and more along with a bowl of miso soup. We shared that using chopsticks though Sophie did not appear to eat much of it. She had an orange juice and Majella and I had coffee, which was desperately needed since there seemed to be none in our hotel. Afterward we went across the street to a bakery where we bought Sophie a ‘hot dog’ (in every sense of hot) that she could eat and some rolls for breakfast tomorrow.

We had seen a couple of signs with images showing how Fuji should look from that point and sat at one location waiting for our pirate ship. It appeared, but not Fuji, so we boarded and returned to Togendai. At Moto-Hakone, Majella and Sophie had been contemplating the swan boats but did not want to commit at the risk of missing our ride back. We had seen swan boats at Togendai earlier but sadly when we checked on our return they were not operating.

My plan had been to take the bus to Sengoku where we could see Choanji Temple which had been recommended to me. Once we had worked out which bus to take it was an easy ride. The temple was not signposted in English but we eventually managed to find it by following Maps directions. It was a fascinating place. There is a wooden temple in the woods, with an exquisite pond, surrounded by many Raman statues of disciples of Buddha in different poses from fierce, through grumpy, to humorous, and happy. Behind the temple is a large cemetery and we walked through some of that, looking at the symbols on the gravestones and objects that had been left in memory of the deceased. It was well worthwhile the time to visit.

It is possible to take a bus further on from Sengoku to Gotemba where there is an outlet mall. I had allowed for that option in my plan but neither Majella nor Sophie is a big shopper in that league so we decided to head for our hotel with a visit to explore the lower part of Gora on the way. One option was a bus by a different route to Gora Station and then up the cableway after our exploration. Another was to return to Togendai, take the Ropeway back to Sounzan and the cablecar down to Gora. 

We opted for the latter on the chance that Fuji might be visible by then. It wasn’t but we made it to Gora and explored the souvenir shops there for a while. By 5:30 pm we were thinking of dinner and began looking for restaurants. There were some around the nearby streets but they seemed to be closed. Majella spotted a sign for Gora Brewery and Grill and suggested we try that since it seemed to suggest food that Sophie might enjoy.

We took the cablecar one stop up to avoid the hill climb and walked across below Gora Park. At the entrance to the Brewery we found a hot spring foot bath which invited taking off shoes and enjoying an alternative to a full bath. We all tried that and found the water too hot to bear. We gave up on the foot bath and walked in to eat.

The restaurant has some affiliation with Nobu Matsuhisa and presents a very interesting and varied menu. We had California Roll sushi to start. Sophie had considered that as her meal but balked at the crab but, since our meal would take time to prepare, we thought an appetiser would be helpful and Sophie could at least try it. As her main she had Wagyu Gyoza (dumplings) which she enjoyed though she avoided the two sauces that came with her meal. Majella and I shared stone roasted chicken with some vegetables and spicy sauces. Sophie had ginger ale (new for her), Majella had sparkling wine, and I had the house IPA.

We managed to catch the last cablecar up the hill. The alternative was too awful to contemplate since we were all tired, full, and ready for rest.