Mountains trains and pirate galleons

Mountains trains and pirate galleons
Odawara, Japan

Odawara, Japan


Took the bus to Gora station, which is only four stops and climbed on the Sounzan cable car. All very easy and efficient. The ride only lasts about 10 minutes but at the top you can join the Hakone Ropeway which is fantastic. Each pod takes about 15 people and you suddenly find yourself pitched over the tree top and climbing to about 1300 metres. Acres of pines beneath you and the mountain all around. I got off at Owakudani station to look into the valley splashed with sulphur and walk to the sulphur vents and hot springs; not Rotorua but foul smelling enough that you know where you are. Declined the offer of black eggs (eggs boiled in sulphur water) and then back on the ropeway heading for Togendai where ships are available to take you cruising on Lake Ashi.

This being Japan, these are pirate ships in full Disney kitsch. Huge fun if completely mental. There are pirate statues to pose with but the crew are dressed like camp Argentinean naval officers. Got off at Hakone Machi to see the ancient checkpoint exhibition and walk the Cedar Avenue. The checkpoint is a recreation of the toll booth on the old road to Tokyo. Sounds dull but it’s worth seeing. Then walked the Cedar Avenue which was blissful as it was cool and filled with wild hydrangea and then had some cold soba noodles in Moto Hakone which was cooling. Then hiked the shoreline to the Tori gate and Hakone shrine before stopping to buy a vase, as you do. Wooden not ceramic so it stands a fighting chance if surviving the trip back.

Had a bottle of my electrolyte drink of choice, Poccari Sweat, not a brand name I’d have chosen but it did the job. By this point all the bus stops had vanished but I found one and to my delight it was heading to Halone Yamoto, fifteen kilometres in the wrong directions but I knew I could get a train and bus from there. Me and forty locals lurched up the mountain and luck was on my side, rather than taking the southern route the bus went north and I was in walking distance from my ryoken. I hit the request button and climbed off just around the corner shaving at least forty minutes off my journey.

Then read and planned the next stage of the journey to Kyoto. I’d discover a new bus stop so I won’t have to rely on the mad and exorbitant taxi and could use my Hakone Free Pass which is stunning. It basically allows you to use every form of transport for a single fee (about £10 a day which is good value if you get out enough but who wouldn’t)

A quick word about the Japanese language. You’ll probably learn ten or twenty phrases and these will get you by when combined with hand jesters and pointing. The Japanese are wonderfully friendly and I had complete strangers offering to help when I was looking confused at train stations. However, I came across two words today that made me smile. My lovely Mama-san who serves me supper in my room in the ryokan speaks not a word of English and at age seventy why should she. She zooms around in her kimono showing me which things to dip into what and which things to squeeze where. When I’m ready I call her and she makes my bed on the floor with a cheery “Beddomake” this may not be Japanese but I love it. Tonight she said “Bathtauro” holding my dirty towel and all I could do was smile.

So what of ryokan living? I would recommend it for sure but for no more than two nights. I miss the buzz of seeing other guests and the imprisonment in my minimal tatami room would have been too much without some decent books and podcasts on the iPad. I think if you live in a crowded Tokyo apartment it would be heaven, if you like a bed or sofa to flop onto after a six hour walking trip it’s a bit sparse.

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