Lady of the Lake

Part Two of My Japanese Adventure

Maintaining that elusive work-life balance has never been my strong point. I do enjoy writing about my Agile and UX experiences. It has never felt like work. However, even a workaholic such as myself needs to occasionally call time out.

I’m currently embarking on my dream vacation of travelling through Japan with my now slightly older husband. Given it’s been all I’ve talked to friends and colleagues about since I booked it back in March, it seemed only fair that I share my experiences in blog form. Following our trail through the neon lights of Tokyo, we continue out travels through Kawaguchi and Hakone.

Day 4

A new day, a new means of transportation. The small town of Kawaguchiko is the gateway to Lake Kawaguchi. Stumbling into the daylight following a two hour bus journey, food seemed an appropriate first stop.

One of the key delicacies from this area is Houtou. These thick Japanese noodles are cooked in a cast iron pot with miso broth, sweet potato and root vegetables. It tastes wonderful, but that is a hot bowl! Even I, known for eating boiling hot food initially struggled with this one. Nevertheless, sitting shoeless on the tatami matts waiting for the broth to cool made for an enjoyable and authentic experience.

After sourcing sustenance, we explored the town of Kawaguchiko and the lake itself. The ropeway serves as a great mechanism to reach the Mount Fuji viewing platform. If you can resist the delectable smells of the cookie shop, it’s worth a trip to the viewing platform. Today wasn’t particularly clear for us, but Mount Fuji was definitely an extraordinary site to see.

Lake Kawaguchi hosts numerous activities on its shores from museums to cafes. All outlets are geared to enjoying the lake. I can imagine the shoreline teaming with people in the summer. In October it is beautiful, but decidedly quiet. Our highlights were walking around the lake capturing the shrines and stillness of the water. That and the paddle boat ducks of course!

Wandering back through the town to the bus station, there are definitely other sites to see. The Ide Sake Brewery and the nearby Sake shops are definitely worth a look. If you visit earlier in the year around brewing season, embarking on a tour to see the brewing process would certainly be a sight to see.

From here it was back on the bus to enjoy the last spectacular sites of Tokyo. Check these out in our day four Tokyo highlights!

Day 5

Today we leave Tokyo to continue our journey west. Hakone is a short journey from Tokyo. This is our first opportunity to ride the Shinkansen! For this unfamiliar, this is the famous bullet train that can reach speeds of up to 320km/h. Definitely puts the speed of my morning commuter train in London to shame!

Odawara serves as one of the main entry points to Hakone. A short walk from the station is Odawara castle, built during the Sengoku civil war. Similar in style to the Tokyo Imperial Palace, it was a nice deviation on our journey.

Before we know it we are in Hakone. This area is know for its mountains and hot springs. One further reputation unbeknownst to us before we arrived, was the sheer number of different transport mechanisms used to get around. It makes the London commute of switching trains seem far more straightforward.

Our first stage was utilising the Hakone Tozan railway to get to Gora. This is definitely the first time I’ve had a train change direction several times over the course of the journey.

Following a post-stop ramen break, we take the cable car to Sounzan.

Then several ropeway connections to Tokendai-ko. From the cars you can get spectacular views of Mount Fuji, the hot springs, the vast forests and Lake Ashi.

The Lake Ashi pirate ship, yes I did say pirate ship mateys, gives stunning views over the lake. This was the perfect opportunity to capture some of the red gates floating in the water.

Our final transportation of the day was the bus to Hakone-Yumoto station. Following a brief stroll through the town, and saying hi to Darth, we arrived at our hotel for the night. With this being the most varied journeys I’ve taken to date, I’m going to at least try and complain slightly less about the London commuter parody for at the the first couple of days after we return!

Tonight we are staying in a Ryokan, or Japanese inn. Often they have both traditional Japanese and Western style rooms. Thankfully, we got the former. The room itself is initially laid out for sitting, and will be converted to sleeping quarters later in the evening. We also had an outside bath area backing onto the river, which was pretty peaceful.

Dinner is included with your stay. The set menu covered various different delicacies, including conger eel and rice boiled by candle in a cast iron lantern. Depending on guest preference, some choose to eat in their Yukata and Haori. The key difference between a Yukata and Kimono is the fabric is it made from. Don’t worry, we didn’t partake until later! A nice addition in this case was the extra dessert offered for my husband’s birthday. A complete and pleasant surprise.

Ryokans commonly have communal and private Onsens, or baths. It is traditional for all guests to bathe in the Onsen. Culturally this is a pretty unique phenomenon. The closest equivalent for us Brits is booking in for an overnight spa visit. Relaxing in the warm water was a perfect way to recuperate after walking around in the Tokyo bustle. This is the point we put on our Yukatas and settled onto our foutons for the night. Photo evidence was obtained, but I think I’ll leave those for me.

Thanks for reading! The next stops are Hiroshima and Miyajima.

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