Leaving the hotel for the metro we hit rush-hour. At the end of our road there were office blocks. Suddenly, a horde of workers appeared from the metro station. Men and women dressed in similar navy suits with white shirts. They were very orderly, and quiet, as they waited for the lights and crossed, allowing us to easily cross in the other direction. Downstairs, we encountered more commuters, dressed in the same manner, purposely and decorously marching through the station without making contact with others. It was a surreal experience. Totally unchoreographed but somehow unified.
The train journey from Tokyo to Hakone meant a change of train. Standing on the platform we tried to make sense of the sign. There were several staff station around, but they were either getting a train ready to leave or dealing with other passengers. It wasn’t until the train on our left moved we saw the other train lines at the back of the terminus with our train already there. An enquiry to other passengers confirmed we were on the correct train.
The journey gave us a chance to see the countryside and some small towns. We were going uphill so no rice fields but cars, houses and factories. We also had a group of elderly, spritely ladies join us in the carriage. It’s was hard to gauge their age, but I would say 70s. All quite slim, apparently very healthy and smartly dressed.
In Hakone we ate at the self-service railway café. A mix of sandwiches, croissants, salads and microwavable fast food was available. Refreshed we looked for the bus stop to get to our hotel. There were three bus routes, ours was the only one with an hour’s lunch break! We got a taxi. The town was small but there were lots of eateries.
Our hotel was just out of town. If you’ve ever seen the film ‘Seven Samurai’ you would probably recognise its sixteenth-century style. We walked in and lots of slippers had been placed by the step into the room. There were lockers for our outdoor shoes. After signing in we went upstairs (no lifts) to our ‘room’. It consisted of a little hallway with a cupboard for bedding, then the main room with a low table and chairs without legs. A paper-screen wall separated it from another room with windows and a normal small table and normal chairs. A door led to the wash basin, another door into a modern Japanese loo (phew!) and opposite a door onto a balcony where the stone bath was filled with hot spring water. In a cupboard in the main room were kimonos and short jackets (winter wear) along with toiletries.
I’d read about a walk to temples and asked at reception. They were very friendly and helpful, but after showing me directions on a pre-drawn A4 map he went to put it away. I asked if I could have a copy and he said yes of course and gave it to me. We walked down the road and up into the hill. We passed a few shrines and vending machines. It seemed odd, even if useful, to come across these machines by the pathway. We passed a small railway station. We came across a largish shrine and statues. We also came across the biggest ants I’ve ever seen that close! Signs told us we were in a nature reserve and these ants were a protected species, Kieran was impressed. After an hour I was defeated, I wasn’t going to be able to continue to the temples due to breathing problems; the warm humid air just didn’t suit me. I said they could go on but they were happy to come back with me.
Walking back, I was intrigued by the decorated street metal covers.
At our hotel, I rested my limbs in the hot spa bath on our balcony. It was big enough for two. There was a sheet which explained the Japanese bathing ritual where you sit on a small stool and wash yourself before entering the water. In a communal situation, it would be deemed very rude not to follow this protocol.
The authentic Japanese meal was part of the booking. The dining room was on the second floor. Some guests wore their kimonos to the meal and one couple wore the short jackets. Our servers were wearing authentic Japanese outfits. There were no options for the meal. Plate after plate seemed to be delivered to our table and a hot burner to make the ‘soup’. The food was beautifully presented and delicious. As I was not drinking we ordered some sake. It was requested not to bring mobile phones to dinner, so I don’t have any photos of this meal, just the memory of a wonderful evening.
We placed our futons on the floor with a duvet on top. Luckily, we were given western pillows and not a block of wood. Even so sleeping wasn’t easy and the roar of the water outside awoke me. At fiveish I gave up. I sat next door and read my kindle as the light brightened outside and my husband snored serenely inside.
Breakfast was served in the dining room again an authentic Japanese meal with no options. Drinks were self-service with orange juice and various teas and coffees being available. I recall eating an usual traditional fish dish, eggs, rice and tofu which was styled more like a crème caramel texture, although my husband wasn’t keen. It was a very filling meal to start the day with.