Posted by: phoebz | August 29, 2008

Relaxing in Hakone

I first read in books (ok I admitted, manga) that Hakone is known as a local tourism destination for citizens of Tokyo and surrounding area. When they want to go relaxing in onsen, Hakone is the place.

In LP, it is mentioned as a unique destination, because to reach Hakone from Tokyo, people have to use different methods of transportation, for example bus, switchback train, bus and even pirate ship!

Since I got some days left before my visitor visa expires, I decided to go to Hakone. It’s totally adventurous, I have no idea how to actually get there until I ripped the pages on ‘Hakone’ from my LP Japan.

Then the next day, I started quite early, I took the subway to Tokyo station, and then get the ticket for Shinkansen. We had to take the Kodama shinkansen in order to go to Odawara.

Luckily this time the train wasn’t very full (it was in the middle of the week), and I got a seat where there was an elderly man sitting alone. I smiled at him and suddenly involved in another “tarzan, sign-language” conversation. He was heading to Hakone as well, that’s what he said. He said he would play golf with his buddies from work, before he was retired (at least that what I caught).

He asked me if I was from Tokyo (hell yeah..haha), I said no, indoneshia kara desu. He said wow that’s far. I grinned. And then he said his friend was supposed to come since he already bought the shinkansen ticket for two of them, but now it’s 2 minutes before departure and the friend was nowhere in sight.

Right before the train departed, the friend showed and apologetically greeted his friend. The ojiisan introduced me to the friend, who carried a bento and two beers with him. He then sat between us, and I tried to busied myself with my book.

I bought some breakfast and finished it quickly. I also had some drink. It took about 30 minutes when train stopped briefly in Odawara St. I said good bye to the two ojiisans.

In the train station I asked again if I wanted to go to Hakone, which train I should take. The staff of the station (wearing Odakyu uniform), pointed me to go the small gauge, and the train would be at the first lane. There is only one train there (kind of old, looked like it has served many years) with seating arrangement alongside the walls of the train. Two tourists have occupied the nearest seats to the controller’s compartment, so I took the next seat.

Nearby also there are two women, one obaasan and her daughter. They sat next to me. We let the window open. I had to wear my jacket, because once the switchback train started, the wind was quite chilly.

The train went on the railway along the side of hills with greeneries and some tunnels. The air was sure different from Tokyo. I really enjoyed it. Then we would pass some small towns with small apatos. And a bridge where the river flew far down beneath.

I also found out what they meant with switchback train. Because, the train would switch, on some point (not necessarily a station), and the head of the train would become the tail, means we would go backwards… through some different railway, I supposed. I haven’t really got the idea.

We stopped at a station. I think the name was Gora. And then I tried to get the ticket to continue to Hakone. But seems like the other people got somekind of pass.

The two women, the daughter asked if I had the day pass, I answered no, I took shinkansen (because I wouldn’t want to waste the JR Pass). She said I should get ticket first for cablecar.

Inside ticket booth, the staff spoke English, but to cut the painful process short, I just said I wanted a one day pass. It costed me about 4,000 yen which was probably worth the hassle of asking every time, while I could just flip the pass and the staff will let me get away.

Surprisingly enough (and very uncomfortably) the two ladies were still standing near the cable car waiting for me. Oh, how nice of them. I said to them it’s ok not to wait, but somehow me traveling alone has brought up the pity in them. Am I really that pathetic? He he.. I felt fine so far.

THe two women said “Ikimasho!” and I followed them, since they were so kind and waited for me (and the cable car hasn’t departed anyway), so we went together. They let me sit in front (because I think they have been here quite many times), so I could enjoy the view. I felt somehow really uneasy with the kindness of the women.

The cable car was not scary at all, it felt very safe and we enjoyed the view. I asked the women if I could see Fuji-san from the cable car. Then they said no way. But half way towards the endpoint, the daughter shouted and pointed out “Fuji-san!” which made me very excited as well. Fuji-san was covered by some clouds, but still it was pretty clear that I could see the shape. Yatta! Lucky, said the daughter, even happier than I was.

In the same cable-car, there were a really neat senior couple, wearing what I think would really resemble a Japanese couple, so eventhough you meet them in New York, in Sydney or in Paris, you would definitely know they were Japanese. The couple involved in a conversation with the mother and daughter, and they obviously talked about me (but I don’t understand what about me).

THen we got off at the station of the cable car. The two women were going to the Owakudani for the volcanic cauldron landscape full of bubbling mud and smelly steam of sulphur. I don’t know if that’s for somekind of health treatment or just sightseeing. I saw from above (from the cable car), the landscape wasn’t too exciting, and I didn’t even add the sulphur smell.

So I continued the journey with Hakone Ropeway to Togendai, the terminus where we could ride boats in the lake. In the ropeway, I was adopted by another “host family” : the senior couple who was with us in the cable car.

The ropeway was just the same with cable car ( I wonder why they call it by different name – Funicular). When we queued for the funicular, The obaasan and ojiisan asked that I should be with them together, eventhough there was still space in the funicular cabin before us. I felt really uneasy feeling again that people were so nice to me.

We went into one cabin together with three tourists, from the way they talked, from Singapore. The couple hardly speak English, as a matter of fact, the obaasan didn’t say anything and only smile. But the ojiisan was very friendly, he asked many things. They gave me a souvenir they got from Odakyu, a mobile phone hanging accessory with Stitch on it (Odakyu has adopted Lilo & Stitch as official character for Hakone – I think).

We arrived in Togendai,  port for ships. Obaasan and I went to bathroom, while Ojiisan stood guard in front of the queuing line, because the entrance hasn’t opened yet. After that, we sneaked in front of the line and I saw the ships. Haha.. it was so strangely fun : they decorated the ships so resembled pirate ships. ANd all of them were all pirate ships. I tried to allocate the black flag with skull and bones, but fortunately they didn’t put it up (ha ha)

Ojiisan hurriedly gestured us to go to the second floor compartment. I guess the view was better from there. We sat together, then ojiisan took off his hat and again gestured me to  follow him. He went to the deck, and we saw the tourists were all there. Not only local tourists, but from Taiwan, and other countries. Seems like Hakone is already an international tourist destination.

Ojiisan pointed out the point of interests on the side of the lake, the Sekisho, which I read in LP that it was originally established as a base for training of Japanese army/police in the past. I didn’t realize it at first, but from the tone of Ojiisan, seemed like it was some scary place (eh? did I get it wrong? haha). And then he pointed at a red torii gate, Hakone Jinja. I told him, I wanted to go there. Then he said something that I don’t understand (well, he said many things that I didn’t understand).

We went back to the compartment. Obaasan was very calmly still seated in the original spot. We sat and they gave me a paper bag of round things (which I concluded to be some sort of fruit, the uniqueness of Hakone), and a banana that I instantly ate.

In front of us there was a group of tourists from Taiwan. They asked us to take picture of them, and then the guide also took picture of us in return. He asked if I was with them, but ojiisan explained we just met there. He asked in English to me where I was from. Indoneshia? And he said they were from Taiwan.

When the ship was closing to one port, Ojiisan in an alerted voice told me to get off (or something). I was kinda confused, I said “we should get off?” then he said “You!” in English very clearly. Oh, I finally got what he tried to tell me about Hakone Jinja. That they weren’t going there. THey’re going to the other port, Moto Hakone.

So I said goodbye. Luckily before I got the address and the name of Ojiisan. His name is Hidao Kobayashi, from Chiba.

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