Osaka to Hakone

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Majella and I both woke early and she got out to check that our laundry had dried overnight. It had, thanks to the drying room facility in the bathroom that had circulated warm air through the night. We showered and ate breakfast and then roused Sophie before 8:00 am.

I had planned an itinerary that took a Shinkansen at 10:15 am but there was an earlier one at 8:50 am that would give us more time to manage at Odawara. We checked out, walked to Shin-Osaka, and made it into an unreserved car with about 5 minutes to spare. There was plenty of room so we sat in one row of three seats and put our suitcases in the row behind.

This Shinkansen was an all-stations super express, which seems a contradictory combination but it did get up a turn of speed between stations. Much of what we saw along the way was urban but there were some substantial rural areas and we caught a glimpse of Fuji as we went through Shin-Fuji. It took a little more than 3 hours to cover the 470 km to Odawara. There we found the tourist information office selling the Hakone Free Pass that offered the best value for travel into and around the region. It should cover all our travel until we return to Odawara on Tuesday to take a Shinkansen to Tokyo.

The Hakone Tozan railway trip to Gora required a change at Hakone-Yumoto from an apparently conventional train to a short, three carriage train resembling a rail motor. The track from that point wound up the mountainside at what seemed a steep angle for a train. There were three switchbacks where the train ran up to a point and then reversed direction to continue up the track because it was not possible to construct a curve at that location. There were tight corners too. From time to time we passed cherry trees still in blossom and soon realized that some of the light patches on the hills around were trees in bloom. The higher altitude with cooler air delays the blossom.

We arrived at Gora and waited in line for the cable car that runs up the hill to the start of the Hakone Ropeway. The cars filled with passengers and still the staff seemed determined to squeeze more in. There are six stations on the hill, located so that the up and down cars stop at the same time for stations and pass on a loop halfway up. The fourth station, Naka-Gora, is just below our hotel/ryokan so we got out there, with some difficulty squeezing by other passengers standing on the landing by the door, and walked the little way up the hill to the hotel.

It was about 2:00 pm and our room would not be ready until 3:00 pm so we left our suitcases and walked off in search of a late lunch. Walking down the steep hill was easy but it rises about 200 m in 1200 m so walking back up was likely to be more challenging. The effort of walking on such a slope was eased by the sight of some large trees covered in blossom.

We found a convenience store a couple of blocks down the hill but it offered nothing that took our fancy. I had planned to visit Hakone Gora Park which was a short walk from where we were and I knew it had a cafe. Our Hakone Free Passes included access to the park so we headed there, found the cafe, and ate fancy sandwiches for lunch with coffee for us and juice for Sophie.

After lunch we spent some time wandering the gardens in the park. There were many flowering trees and azaleas in bloom and gardens filled with annuals also in bloom. We had seen information about a tea house and followed a sign to a collection of traditional thatched buildings. In one of those there was an opportunity to participate in a rudimentary tea ceremony with bean paste filled sweet cake and a bowl of green tea served by a woman in traditional kimono. We took that opportunity, though Sophie did not care for the tea, and afterwards wandered through several more traditional buildings. 

Further on we found the greenhouses with collections of bougainvilleas and a variety of tropical plants. As we walked around the gardens we saw lights had been installed in many gardens and trees. On the way out to the street we saw a sign indicating that tonight was the last night of the spring night garden display and decided we should return for that.

By then it was well after 3:00 pm and we could access our hotel room so we walked, struggled, and strolled (guess who did which) back up the hill. It took a few minutes to register and receive the information about facilities including the public hot spring baths. Another feature was free ice blocks in a freezer in reception. Sophie enjoyed one immediately and has had another most times she has walked in through reception.

Our room is Japanese style with tatami floor, a small kitchenette, and low table with a depression for our feet and cushions to sit on. We will be sleeping on futons once we get them out of the cupboard and set up. Majella was pleased to find the toilet had similar features to the one in the Osaka hotel though not the self-opening feature of Eriko’s. 

She did not wait around for long but headed directly for the hot spring baths. Sophie was not enthused by the dress code but went for a look when Majella returned after her bath and reported that she had been alone. They went down for a look but it was occupied and Sophie returned unbathed. I went down then and also managed to bathe alone but as I left two other men arrived. Judging by the set up it must get busier at times.

We had not brought anything for breakfast so Sophie and I walked down the hill to see what we could get. The store we had found earlier was closed by then so we had to go further down to find one just below the bottom entrance to the gardens. We managed to find something I thought might be yoghurt and some pastries that will do. The walk back up the hill was challenging but we made good time.

Around 6:00 pm we walked back down to the gardens to see the lights which were accompanied by music. It was still daylight and the lights needed darker conditions to be effective. The cafes in the park were not serving meals but the one where we had eaten lunch had fried chicken. We decided to eat that while we waited for dark. By the time we had eaten our chicken it was darker and we were able to better enjoy the lights until it was time to head for our hotel.

The exit from the gardens was at the level of one of the cable car stations, Koen-Shimo, so we were able to walk across the hill for a short distance, catch the cable car to Naka-Gora, and then walk a short distance up hill to the hotel. It may have been wiser for some to go one station further up the hill and walk down instead.

It was time to relax and prepare for the night. Majella had said before we went out for the evening that because it was Easter she would not return without chocolate. However, as we left the gardens and passed a store I had asked if she wanted anything and she said no. Later she remembered chocolate. Fortunately I was able to obtain some chocolate wafers from the hotel lobby. That done we can enjoy a restful evening.