For a variety of reasons I found myself the only tourist on our tour of the Hakone Japan region today. A lovely English speaking Japanese woman escorted me on a private tour of this summer vacation area known for it’s healing hot springs and occasional views of Mount Fuji, when not covered in clouds.
After a hearty Japanese breakfast at the Ryokan we walked to the beginning of the gondola called the Ropeway.
The Hakone Freepass is used for bus transportation in this region as well as the ropeway and sightseeing boat on lake Ashi.
At the second stop on top of this still active volcanic mountain we exited and were welcomed with the overwhelming smell of sulfur.
This area provides hot springs to several hotels in the area so that each hotel can offer a hot spring bath to their guests. Gift shops and dining opportunities accompany the highlight of this spot, the black eggs!
Eggs are hard boiled in sulfur and iron turning the shell black. You can not buy just one but 5 for 500 yen, about 5 U.S. dollars. Legend states that if you eat one egg it will add 7 years to your life. I think eating the Japanese diet would add another 7 years as well.
After browsing through the gift shop and having a personal translator explain some items, like lava soap and cream that makes your face whiter (all efforts by the Japanese to look younger and have good skin) we took the ropeway back down the mountain.
Did I mention my tour guide kept insisting to take my picture. Lol.
Next adventure was boarding the pirate ship sightseeing vessel to the other side of Lake Ashi.
On the boat ride Seiko, my tour guide, showed me pictures of the emperor and his family. She taught me about the Sumo wrestlers and the Tokaido trail using her binder filled with photos.
We arrived in Hokaido and visited the magic box shop. The craft to make these boxes uses different colored wood to create intricate geometric designs. The boxes often require a number of sequential steps to open.
We walked along the street and stopped in the 7-11 for a tour of some different foods available. This was the place where a majority of my son’s meals were purchased during his semester in Tokyo.
As we walked through the town I saw a small white van with a megaphone on top making an announcement. I asked Seiko what they were saying and she said it was a public service announcement that due to the hot weather, beware of food poisoning.
Next adventure we walked along the old Tokaido Trail which people walked between Kyoto and Tokyo. The path is lined with tall 300 year old Cypress trees which keep the trail protected from the sun in summer and snow in winter.
We stopped at a bakery for lunch- bread and an ice coffee. Then walked over to the Hakone Shrine.
We climbed the steps to the top, passing children practicing their kendo moves (Japanese fencing).
We waited in line to make a wish at the shrine. The procedure is to toss in a 5 yen, ring the bell twice, bow twice, make your wish then clap 2 times.
After making our wishes we visited the smaller shrine next to the big one. This one was for the 9 headed dragon that lives in the lake. We didn’t make any wishes at that shrine.
On our walk back to the pirate ship we both put up our umbrellas to keep the sun off of us. By this time by hat was soaked with perspiration. Mind you Seiko in her long slacks and sweater never broke a sweat at all.
I had mentioned some things I wanted to do once the tour was over in Tokyo. She went above and beyond to give me a subway map and directions of how to visit these places.
The Japanese people are very polite and say please and thank you and smile a lot. Their movements seem purposeful and ritualistic like carefully cleaning their hands with wet wipes before eating anything and removing shoes before entering a home. Eating meals with so many different small tastes and using chopsticks does encourage focus. It reminds me of what I’ve been trying to practice about being more mindful.
Back at the Ryokan inn I signed up for time in the private open air hot spring to heal my tired body. The water is very hot and laying in the natural bath is quite a zen experience.
In the evening I met up with the group. A 63 year old woman and her grandson shared stories about the Mount Fuji climb they did the day before. They climbed, slept, woke at 1:30 am to climb 3 more hours in the dark so they could witness the sunrise. She told us the climb down was difficult as it was all loose lava rocks and sand and she fell a lot. She stopped counting after 25 times. Her 12 year old grandson said he now understands the saying “do the climb once you’re brave, do it twice you’re a fool”
We took the bus a few stops away for dinner. My tempura was crisp and fresh and my son had beef he cooked over a small hot stone. Some beer and cold saki helped to make our visit to Hakone complete.
It was nice to have a one on one experience with a native Japanese person. At first I felt a bit awkward but we talked about a lot of different things and it was more informative and interesting than walking around by myself all day. Especially in a country where the culture and language is so different, having a guide who can provide some insight is truly worth while.
Tomorrow we travel on the bullet train to Kyoto. Another slim possibility of viewing the elusive Mount Fuji from the train. Keep your fingers crossed.
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