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Hakone (Part I) January 26, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Hakone (Part I)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-jd

Hakone is one of the most popular areas near Tokyo.  It’s a great place to head for a day trip and there are many things to do.  There are various places to visit, and the area itself is fairly vast.  It can take a lot of time to get around and do everything, so as a day trip, it can be a little tight.  I would recommend at least two days and one night, that way you can at least experience a ryokan or an onsen.  For those that don’t know, a ryokan is a traditional style Japanese Inn.  It’s similar to a bed and breakfast, with a twist.  Usually, your room is a typical tatami room with futons on the floor.  You are served a traditional dinner and breakfast, so this can be a little scary if you aren’t used to raw fish, rice, and sleeping on the floor in a room full of people.  There are several western friendly hotels in the area as well, and almost all of them feature an onsen.  Onsen are Japanese style natural hot spring baths.  It’s almost always separated into men and women, and the bathing rooms can be as detailed and large as a spa, or as small and simple as a large private bathroom.  It really depends on the hotel.  All in all, it’s a great experience, and something you can might want to try while visiting Japan.

When heading to Hakone, there are a couple of routes to take.  If you are lucky enough to have a JR Pass, taking the shinkansen to Odawara Station is probably the easiest way.  Otherwise, most people would take the Odakyu lines from Shinjuku.  Odakyu offers a two day Hakone Free Pass, which is great if you are spending two days there.  Otherwise, just go for single tickets.  There are tourist booths that have English speakers inside the station, so don’t worry too much about buying tickets.  The ticket machines also have English instructions.  Once at Odawara Station, you have to switch to the Hakone Tozan Train.  If you take the special express train, which costs more, you will probably go all the way to Hakone Yumato Station.  Otherwise, you’ll have to change at Odawara, and again at Hakone Yumato.  From Hakone Yumato, you will board the original Hakone Tozan train.  This is a small mountain line that makes its way slowly up the mountain.  It can be extremely beautiful in November with the beautiful autumn leaves, or even in the spring when the hydrangeas are in full bloom as both sides of the tracks are lined with trees.

The first stop on the way to Hakone should be at Chokoku no Mori.  This is the second to last stop on the line heading into Hakone.  This is the home of the Hakone Open Air Museum.  If you need instructions, you should call it the Chokoku no Mori museum as that’s the Japanese name.  This museum opened in 1969 and has over 70,000 square metres of open space.  It’s built into the side of the mountain and the museum itself is spectacular.  There are several permanent exhibits and also several rotating sculptures within the museum grounds.  Almost everything is interactive.  You can almost touch each sculpture.  There are some pieces of art where you can enter them, play on them, and of course contemplate the meaning of them.  If you love taking photos, this place is great and it’s easy to spend a couple hours here.  Be sure to bring a few snacks when you get hungry.  There is also a nice little foot bath where towels are just 100 yen each.  It can make a nice little souvenir, and the bath water isn’t bad.  Be sure to check out all of the buildings, and if you have kids, bring them too.  There are a few places where kids can just play for hours on end.  The only problem is the weather.  Try to go on a sunny day and you’ll be treated with a great experience.

If you head to the next station, Gora, you’ll be able to enjoy a nice little park, some places to eat, and an opportunity to do some glass blowing.  Do note that you must pay to enter the park.  This area itself isn’t that interesting.  The food can be delicious, and there are several souvenirs to buy, but unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to really look around.  The weather was terrible when I went.  I only had a chance to try one of the small local shops.  There is a delicious tonkatsu shop, breaded and deep fried chicken cutlets, made from black pigs.  It appears to be a specialty and there is always a lineup whenever I’m there.  It’s a little pricey, but it’s delicious.  Do note that the wait can be over 30 minutes to get in, especially if you have bad timing.  While Gora is a good place to stop and have lunch, you can always take the cable car that is connected to Gora Station and head up to Souzan.  Taking the cable car is a nice simple journey.  It isn’t very steep, but there are several stops along the way.  Unfortunately, there is almost nothing to do at the top of the cable car, aside from going to the gondola.

If you are making this a day trip, you might want to think about heading back at this time.  Thankfully, there are still things to see and do on the way back that had been missed on the trip out to Souzan.  Along the cable car route, there are various hotels and ryokans that you can visit and spend a night.  Otherwise, you should head back and take the Hakone Tozan, get off at Miyanoshita and you will be at the Fujiya Hotel.  While I have never visited this hotel, it is a famous hotel.  It is expensive but it offers a nice dining experience and a few other touristy treats.  There is a nice onsen inside and the area of Miyanoshita has various shops where you can buy Japanese style fine china.  If you head back to Hakone Yumoto, you can take a bus for 30 minutes and visit the Little Prince Museum in Hakone.  This is a museum based on the author of “The Little Prince”.  It’s a famous French book that Japanese people love.  The museum looks nice, but as with many things around Hakone, I didn’t have a chance to visit this museum.  It is fairly popular with Japanese tourists, and from the pictures, the museum itself looks beautiful.  If you have a two day free pass, it’s probably worth a quick visit.

This is part one of a two part series.  To continue reading, please head over to Part II.

Hakone Information:

Hakone (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5200.html
Hakone (Wikitravel):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Hakone
Hakone (Hakone Navi):  http://www.hakonenavi.jp/english/
Odakyu Hakone Free Pass (Travel Information):  http://www.odakyu.jp/english/freepass/hakone_01.html
Hakone Open Air Museum:  http://www.hakone-oam.or.jp/english/index.html
Yunesson Spa:  http://www.yunessun.com/english/
Fujiya Hotel:  http://www.fujiyahotel.jp/english/index.html
The Little Prince Museum in Hakone: http://www.tbs.co.jp/l-prince/en/

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Tokyo (Shinjuku – West Area) Part I December 1, 2008

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Shinjuku – West Area)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-3O

So far, I have spent a lot of time talking about many places around Japan, but I have yet to touch on any places within Tokyo itself.  Having lived in Tokyo for over 3 years, a lot of the wonder and awe that I had felt when I first arrived has left.  However, every time one of my friends, or family arrive for the first time, I’m reminded of the exact same feelings I had when I first stepped out of the station and into Tokyo itself.

To give you an idea, Shinjuku is about the size of a city’s downtown core.  There is the business district, the shopping districts, and the dinner/bar district.  The main train in and out of Shinjuku is run by JR (Japan Rail).  It runs North-South through the heart of Shinjuku.  While the majority of interest is located on the East side, business generally runs on the West.  The old English saying talking about “the other side of the tracks” is very noticeable here.  Living on the West side, you feel relatively safe amongst the everyday workers and it’s generally peaceful at night.  When you cross the tracks into the East side, you suddenly feel how busy and hectic Shinjuku can truly be.

The West Side has two sections.  The main section is generally the business section, also called the “Skyscraper District”.  There are many skyscrapers in this area.  The most famous is “Tocho” which is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.  It’s iconic for Shinjuku.  It is the tall “castle” like building located at the edge of the West side.  This building has a wonderful observation floor that is free for all tourists and has the best view of Mt. Fuji, when you can actually see it.  The only problem is that the windows tend to be dirty, the lights within the building are too bright at night, and you can’t see a lot of the famous landmarks within Tokyo.  However, it’s still a great place to visit, and it’s FREE.  Just past Tocho is the Shinjuku Chuo Koen (Shinjuku Central Park).  It tends to be a popular place for tourists to visit after a quick trip up Tocho, but beware of the homeless people.  Around dinner time on Sunday’s, they tend to give out free meals and on weekdays, you can see lots of homeless people all over the park.  Don’t worry though.  They tend to stick to themselves and it provides a very interesting look into the poor side of Japan.  The other famous location for people to visit is the Park Hyatt.  It is the location of Bill Murray’s hotel in “Lost in Translation”.  It’s a wonderful movie that explains a lot of how people feel when they first enter Tokyo, but the hotel itself isn’t so important.  For photo opportunities, I recommend visiting the area both in the day and at night (before 10pm).  All of the buildings are lit up, and Tocho usually looks colourful.

The second region of the West side tends to be directly adjacent to the station itself.  Running from Odakyu to Keio, and out to Yodobashi Camera.  Odakyu and Keio are two department stores and Yodobashi Camera is an electronics shop.  Finding Yodobashi Camera is a good idea as you’ll be able to search the buildings for hours looking for unique things to buy.  While Akihabara is the cutting edge of technology, Shinjuku is still a decent place to pick up the latest technology.  You just won’t get exclusive items, or as many international models with English.  The West side is also the best way to get out of Tokyo (westward, of course).  Within the Keio Department store is the Keio train line.  It runs out West towards Mt. Takao, where you can enjoy a nice day hike.  It’s also the best way to get to Ajinomoto Stadium, home of Tokyo’s Football (Soccer) Teams.  Odakyu is great to head into Odawara and Hakone.  This area is famous for it’s hotsprings.  Near the Yodobashi Camera store, the Keio Bus Terminal is a great place to take a highway bus out of Tokyo.  Heading to Mt. Fuji is relatively cheap and FAST, if you take the Keio Highway Bus.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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