8th to 10th February: From Hakone to Tokyo to Sapporo

I returned the rental car though I didn’t manage to find petrol even after driving around all the tiny back streets of Hakone Yumoto.  My Japanese and their English were not good enough to communicate this to the rental company but they didn’t mind because the fuel gauge still showed as full (very small car, slow speeds).

Two days earlier, I didn’t make it to the other end of Lake Ashinoko so there were quite a few things around Hakone that I didn’t get to see.  One of them was the reconstructed Hakone Checkpoint.

In the early 1600s, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun, moved the administrative capital to Edo (now called Tokyo).  This was the end of a long period of vicious civil war that Ieyasu was determined to prevent recurring.  One of his measures was to require that daimyo had to spend alternate years in Edo – and when they were absent, their wives had to stay behind.  Hakone Checkpoint was on one of the few routes out of Edo.  Movement was restricted generally but especially for the wives of the daimyo; if they were caught trying to sneak past the checkpoint, it was tantamount to an act of treason or rebellion.

I caught the train from Hakone Yumato via Odowara to Tokyo.  I spent the next day organising my luggage, sending emails and posting on the web.  The next evening I boarded a train with a sleeper berth for Sapporo, for the Snow Festival.

The railways in Japan are marvels of efficiency.  If you are visiting Japan and traveling extensively (more than just Tokyo to Kyoto and back), it can be a good idea to get a Japan Rail Pass, which you have to do from overseas.  I did have to pay an additional amount for the sleeper cars (there and back) but it was a lot cheaper than two nights accommodation.

Here are a few images from the train, largely random.  It’s often not easy to take them because images can flash past before they fully register in the mind.  There was fairly heavy snow outside for much of the journey (the part I was awake for and could see, anyway).

Workers with their snow shovels, waiting at a level crossing for the train to pass, Northern Honshu, 8:20 AM

Probably in Hokkaido

Probably in Hokkaido

6th February: Hakone Ropeway

Local train

Here I am at the train station for the Hakone Open Air Museum on a rainy afternoon with the train arriving.  This is a private line (not Japan Rail) and one of the guidebooks describes it as “one of the slowest trains you are ever likely to ride on”.  They are not kidding.  Here there appears to be two tracks but that’s only at the station.  Mostly there’s just one track for trains going both ways and places where a train will pull of into a small siding to let an oncoming train go past.  This means that when you get going again, you are facing the other way around.  Quite a contrast with the bullet trains.

Hakone Ropeway

A car from the Hakone Ropeway near Owakudani in the rain, through raindrops on the window.  Not the best of weather to try to take photographs from a Ropeway cablecar.

Owakudani terracing

From almost the same viewpoint as in the previous image, Owakudani Station is on the top right and we can see the extensive terracing in the valley.  I don’t think this has anything to do with preventing landslips.  My guess is that they are paddy fields many hundreds of years old, though not used for that purpose any more.  Remember, it’s winter now so there would usually be no snow in summer and rainfall might be higher than lower down.  Some of the terraces that we see here have square shapes against the walls and these appear to have pipes going down to them, presumably for irrigation and there are many triangular assemblies, presumably to protect shrubs or trees.  Perhaps grape vines or fruit trees.

A view of Ropeway cable cars and the valley from near Owakudani

I alighted at Owakudani Station and took this image from near there.

Owakudani hillside

Owakudani view

Owakudani view

Owakudani means “great boiling valley” so while there is rain or snow, clouds and mountain mist, there is also large amount of steam escaping from the ground through fumaroles.

Owakudani view

Owakudani view

I kept on going along the ropeway to Lake Ashinoko.  There was supposed to be a view of Mt Fuji along the way, but not chance of that in this weather.  It didn’t look good for the next day, where I had arranged to stay at Lake Kawaguchi for the chance of a glimpse of Mt Fuji.

The square rigger is leaving at Lake Ashinoko

I arrived at the end of the line at Lake Ashinoko, just in time to board the replica pirate ship.  However, it wasn’t coming back and I hadn’t researched transportation at the other end of the lake, so I elected to turn back and return by the Hakone Ropeway.  They wouldn’t let me get any closer along the wharf.

... and away it goes ....

All the shots in this post and also the previous one were taken with my “pocket camera”, a Fujifilm X100.  This also was the point at which the battery died and I hadn’t brought the spare – though I was starting to run out of light anyway.

6th to 7th February: Hakone – Fujiya Hotel

View from and of Fujiya Hotel

On the nights of the 6th and 7th February I stayed in the Fujiya Hotel, the oldest hotel in Japan.  The founder of the hotel, Yamaguchi Sennosuke, was a member of an early Japanese delegation to Europe and the USA in 1871-1873.  It was founded in 1878 in order to introduce a Western-style hotel to Japan, although due to two fires, the buildings date from 1891.

It offers a unique blend of Western and Japanese ambiance.  Many eminent people have stayed here, including Emperor Hirohito, Bertrand Russell and John Lennon & Yoko Ono.

Most of the time I stayed here it was raining, sometimes quite heavily.

Fujiya Hotel garden

This is just outside my room, though viewed from beside the pool.

Carp in pond

I think I was standing on the small feeding platform, so the carp were milling round expectantly.

A breakfast fit for a king ...

The Kikka-so Inn is part of the hotel though it is a former imperial villa.  I was able to have breakfast there one morning.

Garden of Kikka-so Inn

Traditional doll set

Here is a traditional doll set in a foyer of the hotel.  It shows the Emperor and Empress with members of their court and items of furniture.   It is part of the annual doll festival, held in March each year, which was initiated at the enthronement of the Empress Meisho in 1629.

Waterfall in Fujiya Hotel garden

Heavy rain is a good time for waterfalls, this one in the grounds of the hotel.

Waterfall in front of Fujiya Hotel (in heavy rain)

Another waterfall, this time in front of the hotel.  If you look closely you can see that the rain is heavy indeed.

5th February: Nara to Hakone

Travel day today.  I headed off for a museum in the morning, then decided I didn’t have enough time so turned back.

on the street

I encountered this curious being in the centre of old Nara shopping zone.  Appears to be some kind of marsupial cat-like creature that gives birth to fish.

Shop in old Nara, selling flowers, clothes and food.

Street scene outside where I was staying.

Bullet train

I’ve taken the train from Nara to Kyoto.  This is the bullet train drawing up in Kyoto Station to take me to Odawara, a trip of about three hours.  Then to Hakone by considerably slower local trains.

View from train

I was surprised to find snow from just outside Nara.

View from train

And this is the view of a mountain (name unknown) not far before Odawara.

Itinerary of Journey to Japan

I traveled in Japan in January and February 2012.

Brief Itinerary

Special Topics

Completed posts