Exploring Hakone hot spring resort

A Sure Way of Escaping Tokyo’s Summer Heat and Humidity

Where is a good place to escape the suffocating heat and humidity of Tokyo? How about Hakone, that holiday mecca out Kanagawa way. So that was the decision we made a couple of months back and glad we decided early as the rest of Tokyo evidently had the same idea. The milder temperatures combined with a plethora of hot springs onsens draw crowds year round and being only 100km from downtown Tokyo makes it a convenient weekend escape.

Leaving early by car permitted us a head start on the masses while allowing us to break up the trip. On the way up we used the turn pike toll road which circumvented much of the traffic. Once at the top the temperature had dropped to an agreeable 24 degrees and felt more like autumn with the surrounding fog.

The highlight of the trip was riding the Hakone Ropeway 箱根ロープウェイ between Sounzan and Togendai which offers picturesque views of Mt. Fuji on a clear day. Getting on the funitel (a fancy name for a gondola) involves battling some rather horrendous queues allowing plenty of time to note its Guinness World Record feat for the most paying passengers – a little of 2 million in 2009 can well be imagined. Reaching the highest point delivers views of the surrounding valley and provides an opportunity to sample black eggs kuro tamago 黒玉子 which are cooked in the nearby hot springs.

The ride terminates at Ashinoko Lake 芦ノ湖 where the hordes eagerly board one of three ‘pirate ships’ which crisscross the lake. Passengers can opt for an economy or first class cabin which we were sagacious enough to side step altogether. These Disneyland inspired ships are the epitome of Hakone which at times seems ensnared between a trumped up theme park and tacky European museum. The Hakone Glass no Mori 箱根ガラスの森 is case in point, which in fairness had several worthy pieces but were reached only after navigating the glut of souvenir shops which overran the complex.

Our ryokan though a little rough around the edges had a pleasant ambience and provided some much needed relaxation. Hakone lived up to its image and would definitely consider returning to the area for some off season hiking.