Hello Hakone, home of hot springs

This post is the fifth in a series on our honeymoon trip in Japan. We also visited Seoul, South Korea. Have a read of part 1 and part 2 of our Seoul adventures, read about our first two days in Osaka, our day trip to Hiroshima and Kobe, our three days in Kyoto, and our short trip in the rural town of Gujo.

A view of Hakone from the Hakone Open-Air Museum

On our honeymoon we stayed in Hakone for only one night, but we had such a lovely time there. Hakone is a mountainous area that is to the west of Tokyo, popular with tourists, and it’s known for its onsen baths (the water comes from hot springs). The famous Mount Fuji can be seen from around Hakone, as well as the volcano known as Mount Hakone.

We were staying at a luxury ryoukan (Japanese inn) called Yamanochaya and booked their special room C (the room itself was named Kikyo), which was a room for two people and had a private circular open-air bath. A traditional kaiseki dinner and breakfast were included. It was really our indulgence of the trip since it was quite expensive, about $900 for the two of us for one night. 😅🤑

Getting to Hakone from Gujo

We travelled to Hakone from Gujo, the city we were staying in previously. We had travelled to Gujo via Nagoya on the highway bus, so we took the highway bus back to Nagoya. We had to leave our ryokan in Gujo at about 7:00am, and walk a long way to the highway bus stop (I mentioned the details of the bus in my post about Gujo). After getting off at Nagoya, we took a shinkansen to Odawara.

We used the Hakone Free Pass to get around Hakone. It costs ¥4000 for a two-day pass if you buy in the Odawara station free area. It gives you two consecutive days of travel on selected buses, trains, cable cars, ropeways, and boats in Hakone.

A rope bridge that went over a waterway and led to the ryokan we were staying in
Walking across a rope bridge to Yamanochaya
A view of the greenery around some of Hakone, with a river below waterways
A view of the greenery around some of Hakone

We didn’t realise that some parts of Hakone were not very pedestrian-friendly, at least not until we caught the railway and got off at the station closest to Yamanochaya. We had to carry our luggage up a lot of stone steps and across a couple of wooden bridges, not to mention the paths were narrow, and there was barely any room at the sides of the road to safely walk. After weaving in and out of the road’s edges, I realised it was quite dangerous and we were probably better off getting a taxi the next day when we checked out.

Despite that mishap we did make it to the place safely. It was fresh and clean inside and we were required to remove our shoes before stepping onto the tatami-covered floor. We were given a small introduction and sorted out some paperwork. We were notified of the four public onsens, which had given times for men and women, and were bookable for private use at certain hours. We booked one onsen for much later that night, thinking it would make a lovely post-dinner treat. Since we had the whole afternoon ahead of us and weren’t able to check in until 4:00pm, we headed out to explore the town.

Hakone Open-Air Museum

The weather was a bit yucky and we were offered umbrellas, which we took. We took the tram to the Picasso Open Air Museum. I don’t know why it is exactly, but I have a bit of a soft spot for Picasso and find some of his work to be quite fascinating. He explored a lot of mediums for his art and I just find that spectacular. Although it had been raining and the ground was wet, we tried our luck and purchased tickets to explore the museum.

A large sculpture of a head on its side with green foliage as hair, sitting in a man-made shallow pool
Interesting sculpture of a head sideways in a man-made pool
A view of the entrance to the Open Air Museum, taken from the inside
The museum looked fairly dreary in the bad weather
A matrix structure appearing to be built out of hexagonal surfaces in a 3D fashion
A lattice sort of thing made from hexagonal shapes
A large metallic sphere suspended between two cables between two poles
A large sphere suspended high up with cables between two poles. Can you spot me and Nick?
A top-down view of some of the greenery and water in the Open Air Museum
A top-down view of some of the greenery and water in the Open Air Museum
Some very green-looking trees
Although it is autumn, and cold, there are some lovely views

Because it was an open-air museum, all the artwork consisted of sculptures out in the open, and a lot of it was interactive – you could walk through parts of it, or it moved somehow. The only part that was not out in the open was a large building that housed a whole history of Picasso’s artwork, from sculptures, to paintings, to drawings, to ornaments.

A selfie of me and Nick
Hi! 😊
A dome structure made from giant wooden slats, accompanied by a small white cone-shaped white sculpture with a small head and painted eyes with red, yellow, and blue patches
I’m not sure what the cone-shaped white sculpture is meant to be, but it added some colour to a dull day
A large curved white building resembling a wall, with “Picasso” printed on it in uppercase, amongst the green bushes
The building with “Picasso” printed across it that displayed some of his artworks inside
The inside of a stained-glass tower with a spiralling staircase inside
A selfie of me and Nick inside the tower with the stained glass in the background
Me and Nick. I was excited to climb to the top haha
A scenic view of Hakone as seen from the top of the tower, with clouds filling the sky
The view at the top of the tower
A sculpture that looked like two large fried eggs lying flat on the ground
Is that fried eggs over there?

After finishing up at the museum we ate a buffet lunch in a restaurant that was part of the museum. (Of course, it was indoors and in a building.) It was not too bad – we decided it was better value than buying a meal at the restaurant opposite the buffet restaurant. I ate all the sashimi I could. 😆 When it comes to buffets, there are often only about two or three things in the entire buffet that I really, thoroughly enjoy. And I usually just grab those like there’s no tomorrow. 😂

Owakudani (大涌谷), take 1

We jumped back on the tram and lined up for the ropeway, which would take us to Owakudani, a volcanic area where you can view Mount Fuji if the weather is good, and also experience some sulphurous fumes.

A view of train tracks from inside the train
Parts of the track only allow one train on the track at a time so sometimes you have to wait for the train coming from the other direction!

I’m no stranger to those fumes – back in 2008 I went to Mount Bromo in Indonesia which was fairly similar in terms of that sulphurous fume smell! By the time we got on the ropeway though, the weather had gotten worse. It was so cloudy and we couldn’t see through the clouds. The carriage of the ropeway even began to swing. I am inclined to say it swung violently, but I think by Japan’s standards, it obviously wasn’t enough for them to shut down the ropeway – and they have been known to do this “in the event of bad weather”. So I’m guessing that howling, strong winds, and thick clouds don’t make the cut there, and we were probably safe.

A section of track that splits into two before meeting again, at which point a train coming from the opposite direction is visible
Here, the track splits in two so that trains running in the opposite direction can pass each other.
A carriage of the Hakone ropeway, as seen from another carriage
A carriage on the Hakone Ropeway

The other people in the carriage with us were just as surprised as us by the weather, even a few boys who I was sure were Japanese. Everyone was taking photos or videos of the cloudy sky outside. Excuse my language, but you couldn’t see shit!

At the end of the ropeway we went outside to try and get a glimpse of the volcanic views, but that was unsuccessful. Upon walking outside you could barely hear anything except the strong winds. It was intensely cold and I just felt the wind blowing me back inside!

Some withered trees in the foreground of a very cloudy sky, with part of the ropeway in view
We couldn’t see much beyond the clouds
The foggy view of Hakone, with withered trees in the foreground
Not much to see here…
Sulphur mixed with clouds and wind at Owakudani
Huge noisy winds blew at Owakudani – and we couldn’t really see anything either.

A little disappointed, but amused, we browsed some of the souvenir and food shops, lined up for the ropeway yet again, and headed back to where we were staying. The clouds were only present at a higher altitude, so the sky was clear once we were back.

Experience in the ryokan and onsen

That evening we took the time to settle into our ryokan. We had to wear Japanese robes (yukata) and slippers around the ryokan, leaving our shoes with reception, where they were stored away.

To describe our room in the ryokan, upon entering there is a small walkway to the left that goes to the vanity and the toilet. Just ahead, you walk into what is essentially the dining area, backed by a large wall cabinet, and two sliding doors on either side. The two sliding doors led to the beds and the balcony with the private onsen. The beds were directly behind the cabinet.

The main entrance of our room with the dining table and cabinet in view
Japanese people sit on the floor but these tables had the seats at floor level, with an area underneath and below floor level to hang/place your feet (good for tall people like Nick 🤪)
Two separate large beds in our ryokan room
The two separate beds in our room

We had a dip in our private onsen before dinner. Although it is on a balcony, there is enough plants and trees so that no one can see in or out.

When using an onsen, you are required to shower and cleanse yourself before getting into the onsen, and do the same afterwards. It might sound a bit tedious at first but the idea is that you are getting into the hot water when you are clean, and the onsen stays clean. You go in the onsen nude, and if you are using a public onsen, often a small towel is used to cover your private parts before going in, and you can put it on your head while in the onsen.

Some showerheads and shampoo, conditioner and body soap on a stone shelf
Nick took this photo the next morning but this is where you clean yourself before and after using the onsen.
Our private onsen, an oval stone bath filled with water from the springs, which continually ran out of a tap
Our welcoming warm onsen, just big enough for two people to sit in

It was such a relaxing experience. At first the water felt extremely hot, but once you are immersed in the water, you get used to the temperature very quickly. Since we were visiting in the colder months, using the onsen was perfect!

Dinner

Me and Nick at the table holding our small shot glasses to cheers
かんぱい! (kanpai) is Japanese for “cheers!” and literally translates to “dry cup”.

Our dinner was a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner known as kaiseki. We got a sheet of paper with the details about all the courses. The gentleman who was serving us presented the food to us and described what was in each dish. All the courses were fairly small but still filled us up by the end of it.

A tray of appetisers, one in a small glass with a lid, another in a square crucible with a lid, a square of tofu in a small rectangular cup, a leaf-shaped dish with an appetiser of shrimp with bacon and cheese, a small sled made of natural sticks with a couple of cakes and a skewer
先ハ寸 (sakihasun), appetisers – tofu, bonito soup & milk (top right); mushroom & spinach with soy (top left); smoked salmon & lily bulb (I think this was in the crucible in the middle); mashed senbei with gingko nut (bottom right); sweet potato simmered in lemon (bottom right); steamed squash cake made with wheat flour, sugar and egg (bottom right)
A small appetiser – shrimp with minced bacon and cheese
Shrimp with minced bacon and cheese (part of the appetisers)
Top-down view of a bowl with boiled seasoned water and a piece of cod topped with radish sprouts and a lime
椀盛 (wanmori), boiled dish – pacific cod with Chinese yam, topped with radish sprouts and sudachi
Stone bowl with crushed ice serving as a bed for some raw fish, with a small deep saucer of soy sauce
造里 (tskukuri), usually the raw fish part of the meal – medium fatty tuna; natural flounder; shrimp and sea urchin
A bowl with a grated turnip ball mixed with mushroom, in a thick soup
煮物 (nimono), meaning simmered course – white tilefish steamed in sake with grated turnip and egg white, with mushroom and paprika and served in thick starchy sauce with chrysanthemum
Three dishes: round bowl in the middle with a stew, square plates on left and right with Spanish mackerel and globe fish with green pepper, respectively
組肴 (kumizakana), fish set – grilled spanish mackerel (left); stewed wagyu with taro, shiitake mushroom, carrot, eggplant and asparagus (middle); deep fried globe fish aka fugu 🐡 with sweet green pepper and lemon (right)
Closeup of grilled Spanish mackerel with a stick of popped rice pieces
Closeup of grilled Spanish mackerel. The buds on the popped rice plant could be eaten
A deep small stone bowl with a piece of crab, greens, and a slice of radish
酢物 (sunomono), vinegared course – snow crab with apple vinegar, with crown daisy greens and red radish
Top-down view of a glass with soft yellow mousse topped with a piece of mandarin orange and piece of strawberry
水菓子 (mizugashi), meaning fruit – soft mousse with strawberry & chocolate sauce, with mandarin orange

I didn’t include a photo of the 食事 (shokuji) course that came before the dessert – we got to select the type of rice, which was between white rice and chestnut rice, and it was basically eaten with a serving of cod roe and pickles. Nick did a really nice multi-photo Instagram post though, and took photos of all the courses including the shokuji course:

We got a shiatsu massage after dinner, which we sort of had high hopes for, but it was more of a deep muscle massage rather than being relaxing. I mean, we were expecting that, but the masseuses were just very serious and a bit cold.

We had our time in the public onsen that we had booked. Because it was not just a private onsen in our room, it was much larger and incorporated some natural rock as part of its edges. It was like a big natural pool. It was somewhat nice being out in the cold of the night but in a hot onsen. ☺️

A few showers at the public onsen
Showers at the public onsen – of course there are a few, since many people might be using this at the same time
One of the public onsens late at night, that we booked for private use
The public onsen

Good morning – a much better one indeed 🌤️

The next day it was a bright and beautiful day. After having breakfast and going for a soak in the onsen (it’s more addictive than you might think!), we got ready to hopefully catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji. The breakfast was set out on a large tray with a lot of various little dishes. It’s honestly the kind of cuisine I wouldn’t mind having for breakfast every day, but Nick still feels weird about having anything like this for breakfast as it’s quite “heavy” and feels like a meal, compared to Western breakfasts.

Me sitting at the table in our room for breakfast
Breakfast is served!
Our private onsen in daylight
Our onsen was very welcoming in the morning sunshine 😉
A view from the cable car on the way to Owakudani
The weather was on our side this time, at least.

Owakudani (大涌谷), take 2

We saw the forecast online and a preview of the beautiful mountain, but unfortunately by the time we got to Owakudani, the mountain cap was obstructed by clouds. It wasn’t even that cloudy – but the clouds also didn’t look like they were going to move out of the way. They seemed to be coming more towards us than moving to the sides, so it seemed inevitable that we weren’t going to get a good photo of Mount Fuji.

Mount Fuji in the distance, its peak covered in white clouds
Fuji-san is there, I swear!
A handful of tourists around a railing with the sulphur fumes in the background
Tourists taking photos around Owakudani
Sulphur fumes spewing from the volcanic area
Sulphur fumes at Owakudani, in better weather conditions!
Another view of the mountains amid the sulphur fumes
We could see the volcanic area in clearer air today

After browsing a small geological museum about the volcanic nature of Hakone that cost us ¥100, we took the time to buy some black eggs that had been cooked in the hot springs. The shells are blackened by the sulphur although I don’t think it is clear how or why. You had to pay ¥500 for five eggs, but we didn’t want five. A young couple in front of us in line overheard us – they spoke English as well and also didn’t want to be stuck with five eggs when they just wanted one each. They asked if we wanted to split the cost – sure! 🥚

The egg, fascinating as it was, tasted like a normal hard-boiled egg. I wasn’t expecting much else (but OMG an opportunity to eat protein, why not!), but I’m just not a fan of hard-boiled eggs because I don’t like the crumbly yolk. I much prefer soft-boiled.

Me and Nick’s hands holding black-shelled eggs cooked in the hot springs
They tasted like normal eggs. (Also my nails are really long)

We travelled back to Yamanochaya by the Hakone Sightseeing Boat then caught a bus. The boat was like a ferry that travelled through Lake Ashinoko, then we switched over to a bus. The traffic was really nasty. It took a really long time. A lot of roads in Hakone only have one lane per direction so if it gets busy the vehicles get backed up.

The Hakone Sightseeing Boat docked at the pier
The Hakone Sightseeing Boat – basically a ship

Back at Yamanochaya they had our suitcases and shoes ready for checking out. We decided to get a taxi to the train station instead of trying to lug our suitcases around. 🚕 I was going to miss the relaxing onsen so much!

After stocking up on some food for the journey, we boarded the romance train, which goes directly from Odawara to Shinjuku – wonderfully enough, that’s exactly where we were staying in our last city of the trip – Tokyo! 🌟

I’ll try not to leave such a long gap until the next travel post! 🙏😘


Photos in this post were taken by me or Nick on our iPhone 7s, or on my Canon 6D.

Although we returned from our honeymoon three months ago, you can see the rest of our honeymoon adventures with the hashtag #thecookeshoneymoon on Twitter (mostly me) or on Instagram (mostly Nick). 💖

Information in this post about the Japanese kaiseki cuisine was sourced from the menu supplied by Yamanochaya and Understanding Kaiseki, as well as my own knowledge and familiarity of the Japanese language. If any information in this post is incorrect please let me know.

Other posts in this series:

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OH MAN we also went to Japan on our honeymoon and also spent a night in Hakone! It’s so funny, you did almost exactly what we did – private onsen, dragging our bags up rocky stairways while cars speed on by, the sulphur eggs, the ropeway into fog… What a blast! We didn’t get to see Fuji at all in Hakone (it rained the ENTIRE time) though we did catch sight of it on the train to Kyoto. It really is larger than life, isn’t it? Almost like someone painted it there.

We did the trip in opposite order – started in Tokyo, headed to Hakone, then Kyoto, then Osaka. By the time we got to Osaka we were EXHAUSTED! Hakone is really beautiful though, I’d love to go back. I’m so glad you had a good time there!