Jul 16

Japan 2015: Hakone ropeway; onsen at Hotel Green Plaza

Date: 31 March 2015

After the cruise across Lake Ashi on a pirate-themed ship, next I was going to take the Hakone Ropeway (cable car) to get to Ubako Station.

Hakone Ropeway Togendaiko station Japan

The ropeway is one of Hakone’s main attractions

Hakone Ropeway queue Japan

The Hakone Pass I was holding covered the ticket fares for the ropeway

If you would like to know how much the one-way and round trip fares for Hakone Ropeway are, click here.

Cable car Hakone ropeway Japan

This would be be my 3rd cable car experience, after Langkawi and Hong Kong

Inside cable car Hakone Ropeway Japan

It’s definitely not as impressive an experience as the one in Langkawi or Lantau Island (Hong Kong), but I guess maybe it’s because the ‘wow factor’ has been lessened after being on other cable car rides now

Hakone ropeway cable car Japan

The views are alright

Views from Hakone ropeway Japan

You get decent views of Mount Fuji along the way up

Hakone machi ropeway tower station

My stop was the very next one

Green Plaza Hotel Fuji view Japan

I walked to Hotel Green Plaza which is very close to Ubako Station

The lady who sold me her half-used Hakone pass recommended the onsen at Hotel Green Plaza, for its splendid views of Mount Fuji as you bathe in the hot springs.

Lobby Green Plaza hotel Hakone Japan

This is the lobby of the hotel

I had to pay ¥1600 (₹1000/$15/€13) to use the spa. I don’t know if that was pricey or standard for Hakone, but I didn’t care. It’s not like I had time to find some other onsen resort. And the view of Mt. Fuji was tempting.

Onsen spa Green Plaza Hotel Japan

I headed to the spa / onsen section. There are separate onsens for men and women.

For those who don’t know, an onsen is a natural hot spring, in many cases a pool of mineral-rich hot water pumped or gushing up from underground. Why does Japan have so many onsens? Because Japan is a nation with high volcanic activity, so water below the nation’s surface is constantly hot. Mount Fuji is a volcanic mountain too, but the last time Fuji-san erupted in anger was back in 1707. So I should be safe today.

This would be my first proper onsen experience. And by ‘proper’ I mean, get completely naked and bathe in the open pool along with other men. I got used to a communal bath in Japan right on the very first night I arrived in Tokyo. But those were usually with one or two other men in the bathroom.

Anyway, here’s how it goes down at an onsen.

You have a change room first. Outside it you have shoe rack with slippers. Keep your shoes & socks out and wear a pair a slippers before entering the change room. You are given a locker where in which you can leave your clothes and other valuables in. There are plenty of clean towels for you to use as well. Take a big one and a small one. The small towel has a specific use which I will explain later.

Then you have shower area, which isn’t a standard stand-up-and-use shower. You sit down on a plastic stool, then use the shower to cleanse yourself before entering the hot spring. This is customary and pretty much the procedure one must follow. Then, you enter the hot spring slowly. It really is quite hot, so feet in first, get your body adjusted slowly and then immerse yourself. Trust me, it’s an amazing feeling!

The above ‘procedures’ also apply to Sentous, or public bathhouses.

As for the view of Mount Fuji, it was worth the hype! Fortunately I had no clouds obstructing my view and this was the largest (and closest) view of Mount Fuji I got. Unfortunately all I have are my words to describe the view from the hot spring. Photography is strictly prohibited inside an onsen, for obvious reasons. Plenty of naked men and boys all around. But man, I so wished I could take a photo 🙁

Hotel Green Plaza mens onsen Mount Fuji

These are photo’s from the hotel’s website. Trust me, what I saw looked better than this photo.

Hotel Green plaza onsen view

Apparently this is the view from the women’s onsen. I don’t remember seeing pillars obstructing my views.

It’s easy to see why hot springs are particularly popular in Japan, where it’s relatively cold for nearly half the year. When I went, temperatures were in the upper single digits (I use celcius) at the altitude I was in. So imagine soaking in mineral-rich hot water from under earth in such cold times. I just didn’t feel like getting out!

Oh, as for the smaller towel. Since your head is out in the cold, you soak the small towel in the hot water and then place it on your head. It’s to keep your head warm and avoid catching a cold with the contrasting temperatures. I did fully immerse myself a few times but it’s advisable not to stay in for too long. They say the mineral-rich water is good for your skin but water eventually damages your skin if you are in it for too long. So I got out, sat by the pool with a towel around me and my feet in the water. In this weather, I just couldn’t stay away from the hot water.

If you want to learn more about onsens and why they are so popular in Japan, then here is an episode of Begin Japanology that tells you all that you need to know.

All in all, I spent around 30 minutes in the hot spring before I felt I had enough and needed to leave. I slowly went back in, cleaned up again, dressed and made my way back out. I’m glad I could achieve my onsen experience, and that too in a place like Hakone. Was it awkward being naked around many other Japanese boys, men and one other foreign tourist? Yeah, initially it was — but I didn’t know any of them — and hey, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Maybe one day when I’m rich enough, I’ll bring my family to one of those hotels that have private hot baths in your own room, so that they could all enjoy the onsen experience… minus the embarrassment.

If you are embarrassed to enter a common hot spring and would instead pay extra to enjoy a private bath, these are are some of the hotels in Hakone that offer hot spring pools/tubs inside your room itself.

Hotel Okada – 4 star hotel. Does not offer views of Mount Fuji from the guest rooms.

Hakone Hotel Kajikaso – 3-star hotel, the baths look better than the one above. Does not offer views of Mount Fuji from the guest rooms.

Kozantei Ubuya Ryokan – 4 star; rooms offer views of Mount Fuji

Fuji Kawaguchiko Onsen Konansou – 4 star; some rooms offer views of Mount Fuji

This link has some more hotels with private baths.

Green Plaza hotel Hakone graden

I walked around the hotel lawn before leaving

Green Plaza hotel Fuji view Hakone

Quite a few hotels in Hakone offer views of Mount Fuji

Mt. Fuji trees green plaza Hakone

Still, the views from Hotel Green Plaza are pretty damn good

Mount Fuji peak Hakone Japan

That said, no matter which hotel promises a magnificent view of Mount Fuji, a cloudy day can obstruct the view

Hotel Green Plaza way to ropeway

I headed back to the ropeway station

Mind you, the ropeway isn’t the only way to get to Hotel Green Plaza. There is a road access as well, so if you come by car, there is enough parking space in front of the hotel.

The next post will about the sulphur-rich springs of Ōwakudani.

Previous posts in this series:

Japan 2015: Getting to Hakone; Lake Ashi sightseeing cruise

Japan 2015: Rikugien garden’s weeping cherry blossom tree

Japan 2015: Cherry blossoms in full bloom at Ueno Park

Japan 2015: Visiting Akihabara a second time, because why not?

Japan 2015: Harajuku at night — Takeshita Street

Japan 2015: Harajuku on a Sunday – Meiji shrine and Yoyogi Park

Japan 2015: Cherry blossom sightings at Shinjuku Gyoen

Japan 2015: Boat ride to Odaiba; giant Gundam statue at DiverCity Mall

Japan 2015: Cherry blossom celebrations by Sumida River

Japan 2015: Denboin garden, near Sensoji Temple

Japan 2015: Shopping in Shinjuku, and exploring Kabukicho

Japan 2015: Nishi-Shinjuku — views from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building sky deck

Japan 2015: Shibuya – the busiest crossing in the world, and home to a loyal dog

Japan 2015: Ueno Zoo – pandas, a lonely polar bear, and more

Japan 2015: Nakamise street, Senso-ji temple, and Ueno Park sakura at half-bloom

Japan 2015: Nadagiku Shuzo Sake Brewery, leaving Himeji for Tokyo — and my last bullet train ride

Japan 2015: Himeji Castle, and the unexpected air show

Japan 2015: Kyoto Station, and arriving at Himeji by shinkansen

Japan 2015: Kyoto – Monkey Park in Arashiyama

Japan 2015: Kyoto – Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama

Japan 2015: Kyoto – Gion Corner Cultural Show

Japan 2015: Kyoto – Kinkaku-ji and Kiyomizu Dera temple

Japan 2015: Kyoto – Fushimi Inari-taisha, and climbing to the mountain top

Japan 2015: Kyoto – Nishiki market and Teramachi

Japan 2015: Kyoto – Nishi & Higashi Honganji, Shijo street, and Gion

Japan 2015: Riding a bullet train for the first time, Tokyo to Kyoto

Japan 2015: Walking around Akihabara and Ginza

Japan 2015: Going to Akihabara, and spending way too much time in Yodobashi Akiba

Japan 2015: Landing in Tokyo… and using a communal bath for the first time

Jul 16

Japan 2015: Getting to Hakone; Lake Ashi sightseeing cruise

Date: 31 March 2015

The second to last day on Japan soil. I had to make the most of it and accomplish a few more things. Experience a proper, natural outdoor onsen (hot spring), see Mount Fuji from closer up, — and eat sushi at a proper sushi restaurant.

Today I was going to be spending the whole day at Hakone, a popular getaway for Tokyo’s residents. Famous for offering great views of Mount Fuji, many hiking trails, resorts and many natural hot springs.

Yesterday, I bought a Hakone pass off a hostel mate who had purchased a two-day pass but only used the benefits of the pass yesterday. I could make use of the pass to avail buses and local trains within Hakone today. But first I had to get to Hakone from Tokyo station.

Tokyo station Odawara platforms

At Tokyo station, platforms 9 and 10 have trains going to Odawara (Tokaido Line)

Tokaido line Okachimachi eki Japan

I forget exactly which stations I had to get down at and transfer trains, but eventually I had to stick to the Tokaido line to get to Odawara station

View from train to Odawara

It was time leave the urban sights of Tokyo

Shinagawa station platform Japan

I think this was Shinagawa station, the second station I had to switch trains from

Odawara station Japan

It took just over an hour because of all the transfers

Bus depot Odawara station Japan

But from Odawara station, I now had to take a bus to get to the docks at Lake Ashi from where the sightseeing cruise departs

Odawara river stream Japan

You could see right away why city-dwellers come here

Continue reading “Japan 2015: Getting to Hakone; Lake Ashi sightseeing cruise” »

Jun 16

Japan 2015: Rikugien garden’s weeping cherry blossom tree

Date: 30th March 2015

The last time I tried to visit Rikugien garden, I was too late. They weren’t allowing anymore people to queue up. This time I arrived earlier, got off at Komagome Station and rushed towards the entrance. Luckily, the lines were still open.

Line to get inside Rikugien Tokyo

But the line was long — both in front of me and behind me

Sakura tree at night Tokyo city

In the mean time, I had a sakura tree across the road to look at

It took me nearly 20 minutes to get inside. There was an entry fee of 300 yen but I was happy to finally get in this time.

Rikugien garden sakura Tokyo

These are the dates for the special viewing of the famous ‘Weeping Sakura Tree’

Inside Rikugien garden at night Tokyo

It was pitch dark with only a few lights illuminating a few trees

Trees at night Rikugien Tokyo

I had my tripod with me

Rikugi-en means “Garden of the Six Principles of Poetry” — which comes from the idea of the six elements in waka poetry, while ‘en’ (as in gyuen) means garden. Continue reading “Japan 2015: Rikugien garden’s weeping cherry blossom tree” »

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