Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hakone, 箱根

You think you know Japan, at least the basics of it and then it just surprises you yet again!

I think it's the concept of the LOCAL train that makes things easier to access, discover and learn.

Today, we made a random choice to head from our little beach resort, with NO idea of what we should do, but a simply lust after some greenery. Well, in Japan, make a wish and it might just come true.

We passed through Odawara on the Tokkaido line with a vague plan of going to Yokohama, although we didnt' really want to, nor did we want to stay in Atami, so where should we go! With NO INTERNET (shock, horror!) to access and guide us, we were left to the formerly popular methods of following our hearts!

Odawara is a transfer station to the Hakone express amongst others and we changed here to have a quick peek at what there was. Apparently there was a 'red train' and that kind of went up a mountain. One of the stops had the kanji for 'forest', so we decided it was a winner.

Aboard the 'red train', there was the nicest man, who made some conversation with us in PERFECT English and even gave us some pamphlets.
Basically, Hakone is NOT just hot springs (done), Mount Fuji (done) and rollercoasters (done and done again). There is more to the area than the lakes (done), and vague sightseeing (about to be done..). Hakone is a town in the Izu-Hakone-Fuji national park. 
We were about to see a whole lot more!

We took the red train from Odawara to Hakone - Yumoto and then took the Tozan railway. It's apparently the oldest mountain railway in Japan and is not short of a few train geeks (including me!) at some stations taking pictures!

We rode until the end station, Gora. 

From there, you can take a cable car across that will lead to the lake Ashi and some of the museums in the area.


rather funny - watch out for these creatures! boars, I think!

Something for the meat lovers too!!!

We walked uphill towards the park and craft house. It was too hot to think about wandering inside the park - all the flowers look the same with squinted eyes, I think!  

The magazine on the train back even had a review of the little French cafe!

Randomly, we found a beautiful looking French cafe, next to the photography museum (it's marked on the map, so if you find the museum, you know you can eat well! It's probably the cake menu for which they are most famous for, yet, we stuck to the savoury options, craving a quiche, a taste from almost-home! It was delightful and I cannot wait to return one day! The cafe is run by a couple - the husband is a well-known Hakone photographer and his work is on sale there too. He has had an exhibition in France for ten years now.


Quiche craving - fully satisfied!

Back down the hill, we walked towards the next station down. This is in fact where the open air museum is. There is a lot of picasso's works here, but I cannot report on this as again, it was tooooo hot (blistering) by this point to wander about any more in the sun! Promising to return in the Autumn as there are many, many BEAUTIFUL onsen ryokans that we want to stay at!!

I realised today that I haven't even touched the sides when it comes to sightseeing in Hakone!! SOOOOooooo much to see and do there!! 
The romance car back! Faster and better than a local train!
Yums for the journey  Hakone Inari!

Hatsushima Island, 初島

What a discovery lay before us! 

Hatsushima is a small island, with one hotel (GRAND XIV), a harbour hangout for fishermen, small fish restaurants, seafood BBQ restaurant, a diving centre, an onsen and a swimming pool (to be found at the 'Island resort'). As if all this wasn't enough, there is an adventure park for the more active amongst you, and a park where you pay 800 to enter, but you can eat, drink and sleep in the hammocks provided! If you have any energy, you can wander around the tropical gardens and admire the flowers and plants, or even steal some aloe vera for your sunburn (!).
aloe vera

When the boat docks, the first thing you see is kakigori - crushed ice. This is always a summer must, so we DID!
Strolling around the west of the island, you will walk past some eateries. they all have fresh seafood, although some of their fishing methods are questionable given the fish hook injury we saw on one (large) fish (in a tank way too small.)

This is, in short, a welcomed paradise to be found from the seaside resort town of Atami. Guaranteed, you will be feeling a LOT more mellow after a few hours here!!

We were unable to experience the onsen because a) it was HOT and b) we have tattoos! This also meant we couldn't go in the pool BUT, if you cover up with a rash guard you are able to use the public pool - good to know if you are out with your families.

pad thai
We found the park, willingly paid our 800yen and lazed around in the sun eating snacks and drinking delicious beer!
banana haru maki with ice cream!
no booze!!

There is a reduction ticket you can buy for 
boat + onsen
boat + pool
boat + onsen + pool

I didn't see one for boat + park, but maybe we could have save 10yen! lol


There was a random little supermarket and the main and best souvenir I could find from the small, small island was the wine - small bottle priced at 950 yen, perhaps not worth it, but I shall never know! I didn't invest! :)

Hatsushima was an amazing surprise discovery! We really relaxed and found a little bit of the tropical and a little bit of the green wilderness that we love and need so much!!

Atami, Shizuoka prefecture. 熱海、静岡県

Reasons NOT to visit Atami!

I shall begin this blog, not as a joyous account of our time spent in the onsen (hot spring) town of Atami, but more so, pointing out what I thought to be a fair few faults, none of which lessened the enjoyment of our time there it must be said!

For a famous onsen town, it is bizarrely neglected and forgotten about. Our hotel was a block back from the main sunbeach but, to access it, you had to climb some stairs up an alleyway and walk past a large, disused car park. It was all quite surreal.

The only restaurant we walked past showing some life!
We arrived in the evening around 8pm and you would have expected a few places to be open to serve food and entertain the visitors, but no. It was so quiet, it was hard to believe that there was a massive festival about to happen to celebrate 'sea day' (umi no hi, 海の日), save for the banging on the taiko drums by some of the locals on the streets. (Thankfully, this was a pleasant, rhythmic sound and I am a fan of the great Japanese drum!)

There are a couple of shopping ginzas, although, out of the few shops that were open, there was only dried fish was on sale!

The beach itself is OK...there is sand, it isn't black, but the water isn't clear either! But, maybe ignore my rants...I am a fussy beach-er and I like my tropical paradises a bit too much!!

Let's talk about reasons TO visit Atami!!!

Atami is a famous onsen town in Shizuoka prefecture and at the beginning of the Izu-Kanto penninsula. 

If you are staying at one of the many lovely-looking onsen ryokans, you will have little need to venture out to the quiet town outside as food is usually provided.

It is a harbour town, which means there are boats AWAY from there! From here, there is a boat to OSHIMA (45mins, about 5000yen) and Hatsushima (25min, 2500yen) and you don't have to stop your journey there at all - keep going to Shimoda, Ito and you can enjoy even more of the Izu peninsula! 

The Atami landmarks near our hotel - the sunbeach, 400 metres of dark sandy beach, with parasols to rent for the day too.

If you want to venture out, there are boat trips where you can snorkel (around 4000yen) or scuba dive (12000yen). There is a shipwreck that can been seen on a dive - my friend writes about it here -
Bonnie's Atami shipwreck blog entry

Sunbeach by night
Sun beach claims to be a no smoking beach,
although there is a smoking corner which I believe defies the rule.

We found a Hawaiian restaurant, called 'Halekai'. They had all the usual offerings from Hawaii and I think they provided us with the real holiday vibe each night, making us forget the raw vibe outside.

Hotel Grand View Atami

We used and stayed at what sounded like a decent place. Walking there from the station was not the six minutes stated on the description, nor was the location grand, nor the view anything even visible. The rooms however, were basically a converted studio apartment, so it was a spacious tatami matted room with everything you needed, including hob (and wine opener!) if you wanted to cook.
HOWEVER, reviews had all complained about the breakfast there, and I will give the hotel its dues - for 500yen, you get a mixture of Japanese / French (ish) breakfast and to be honest, who can really complain about that! The oranges were the freshest I had eaten in a while and there were none left for the other guests when they came down! I might even go so far as to stay I would stay there again, although I would have to go back to Atami first and that I cannot be sure of!