Alighting from our train and quickly surveying the town we realise Hakone-Yumoto holds little interest at this point as we want to get into the wild.
Now it can be a little confusing what to do next but we return to the station where we arrived and simply cross to Platform 3 and board the Hakone Tozan Line, another train which takes us to Gora. It appears to run every 10 – 30 minutes depending on the time of day.
A much older style with loads of character, the drivers’ compartment is cramped and archaic but we are afforded a terrific view on our stately 45-minute trip up the mountain (山).
As it’s summer a profusion of hydrangeas in full-bloom line the tracks: a rainbow of colours from white, light green, pale blue, baby blue, sky blue, electric blue, dark blue, soft pink, baby pink, hot pink, fuchsia, lilac, mauve, violet, and deep-deep purple. Some subtle. Others intense.
A narrow, green, moss-covered tunnel transports us back to nature as we leave behind the urban chaos and enter a sublime world of cool, crisp, clean mountain air and lush, green foliage.
We glimpse creeks and cascading waterfalls through the tangled undergrowth.
The twittering and chirping of bird-life can be heard as we pause at several small stations along the way.
The train appears to work it’s way up the mountain pausing at various switchbacks before continuing on.
Homes and streets are visible yet cars are seldom seen.
A bridge this time is covered in bright orange moss.
It’s overcast yet fortunately dry. The forecast is right despite the changeability of the mountain weather.
The tree covered mountainsides and valleys are awe-inspiring. It’s another world!
Arriving at Gora there are restaurants, souvenir shops and accommodation.
We’re hungry so we wander up a side street. It’s there that we stumble across a cute “ma & pa” restaurant where we order traditional tonkatsu and tempura.
Removing our shoes we sit cross-legged at our low table.
Our waitress serves us cold mizu (water: 冷水) and we eat our meal watching a daytime soapy with theme music reminiscent of “Days of Our Lives”. It sounds equally dramatic and sombre.
It’s shortly replaced by a game show that asks contestants a number of questions not unlike “Millionaire” called “Hold on!” It’s very silly but aren’t they all?
Lunch is adequate but not superb. Could be better. Could be worse.
The Hakone Open-Air Museum Picasso Pavilion is nearby but my museko (長男: son) isn’t keen to look at statues of funny shapes and colours.
At 550m above sea-level Gora is hardly in the clouds so we move onto the next stage, catching the Hakone Cable Car to Sounzan.
This provides us with a slightly better appreciation of the scenery: red-leafed Japanese maples, conifers, azalea bushes in flower.
The slow pace and stuffy atmosphere almost lulls me to sleep.
At Sounzan we transfer to the Hakone Ropeway and it’s here we experience some breathtaking panoramic views across the Owakudani valley (谷).
But something’s not right. It smells like someone has serious bowel issues. It’s only when we alight that I realise the smoke rising from the side of the volcano is sulphur-dioxide and not the after-effects of burning vegetation. Aaah – so that’s what the smell was!
The place looks like an open-cut mine. But it’s because it’s been trashed by previous volcanic activity. The stench grows seriously stronger and if it wasn’t for the views of Mt Fuji I’m not sure what the attraction would be.
The other tourists also seem a little obsessed with eating these “black eggs” that have been dipped in the sulphur (still in their shells) and are reputed to add 7 years to your life. But I for one have lost my appetite despite the attractive marketing spiel.
After photographing Mt Fuji to-death we hop on the Hakone Ropeway again and descend to Lake Ashinoko.
It’s as flat-as-a-tack and would be perfect for water-skiing. But apart from the boats that ferry people across and the odd fishermen I can’t see anything sailing on the water.
No yachts. No pleasure craft. Not even a sad looking “swan” (below) being paddled. And it’s a big lake (湖).
A gentle breeze blows across the waters as Mt Fuji comes into sight. It’s not perfectly clear, shrouded as it is in a hazy veil of mist. But we can make out its form all the same which is a blessed relief given its prominence as one of the main attractions.
However, the quiet stillness of the lake is the best part of the trip as far as I’m concerned and if we had the time, this place is well worth an overnight stay to better soak up the atmosphere.
The return leg is on an express bus back to Hakone-Yumoto Station.
It’s here that my son decides to play in the raging torrent of the running waters below the bridges.
The sound is deafening yet oddly soothing. He seems to be happiest amongst the smooth boulders of this flowing river. Though perhaps it’s not surprising given his tactile predilections.
The perfect end to the day would have been an onsen but my son is not the slightest bit interested. Perhaps next time.
As the light begins to fade we make our way onto the train platform. The express “Romance Car” is booked for our return journey to Shinjuku at 7pm. I still can’t get over the name! Nevertheless, no candlelit dinner or champagne or chocolate awaits us. More’s the pity!