I'm sittin' in the railway station, got a ticket for my destination... we arrived in Shinjuku with an hour to spare. That's an older 7000 VSE Romance Car (in service since 1980) train behind her. Very retro looking in a cool way.
K did not get a long summer vacation this year as she shared duties with some of the other teachers at her elementary school - cleaning, watering plants, feeding the animals (no, not the children - I mean animals like fish, rabbits and chickens), so our vacation was a quick three days, and two nights to Hakone and Kamakura. It was a bit hectic and perhaps we should have stayed at one or the other, but we did enjoy both venues and we'd love to do it all again sometime - at a more leisurely pace (and with, ahem, better planning on my part).
We started early, saying goodbye to Momo the Wonder Dog (she was cared for by K's mom) drove to neighboring Itako City (20 minutes) to catch a highway bus to Tokyo Station. (We can take the bus from Kashima City, but it makes several stops before getting to Itako from where it is nonstop to Tokyo, so easier just to catch it in Itako.) Timing was perfect and we walked from the car directly onto 8 o'clock bus. No danger of missing the connection though as the buses run every ten minutes. Along the way we could catnap for the next hour or so as we cruised the expressway across the Kanto plain, passing by Narita along the way.
Direct distance from our house to Fuji-san is about 195 km (121 miles)From Tokyo station, a train took us the short distance to Shinjuku Station - another part of Tokyo and the busiest train station in the world. There we would board the Odakyu Line's "Romance Car", a limited express train that would whisk us off to Hakone National Park at the foot of Mt. Fuji. With its beautiful scenery, views of Fuji-san, hot spring spas, and proximity to Tokyo, Hakone has long been a favorite "getaway".
50000 VSE Romance Car - oh, and KThe Romance Car service is celebrating 50 years. The name comes from the seating configuration, which is paired seats with no arm rest between them. The train in the first picture is an older one (early 80's vintage). Our train was new, built just last year, called the 50000 VSE series, which has vaulted ceilings and wood trim interior. The reserved seating is very comfortable with lots of leg room and the 110 kph (~70 mph) ride is whisper quiet and as smooth as glass. We were traveling with a "Freepass" (5500 yen) which includes return train fare from Shinjuku and allows unlimited travel on all of the forms of transport within Hakone for three days - there are a lot of them as you'll see. It also gives you a discount at the many museums and other attractions. The Romance Car is a little extra (870 yen) over the regular train service, but I think well worth it.
From Shinjuku to Hakone took about 1 hour 25 minutes. Along the way we shared a couple of bento (ordered on board) of lake trout sushi, rice dishes and assorted other goodies.
As the train glided south, the cityscape turned to lower density urban, and then to smaller towns and fields of grain. Mountains replaced skyscrapers.
Above: Stopping next to a Buddhist temple in Yumoto to let a returning train out of the station - the end of the Romance Car line.
At Hakone-Yumoto station, the landscape turns from plain to mountains. Since 1919, the Hakone area has been served by the Hakone Tozan line - a narrow gauge train that makes the 8% grade into the mountainous region, rising 540 meters in just 15 km (about 1800 feet in 9.4 miles), Japan's most steeply graded line. The present trains were built in Switzerland (the departure of the train is announced with a cow bell in honor of that) and the track has some amazingly tight turns - 30 meter radius - which I noticed have safety rails inside the main rails. The cars spray water on the wheels while on those turns to reduce friction, but there is still some squealing. As the elevation rises, the train makes use of tunnels, and of switchbacks three times along the steeply climbing route.
But enough train talk, the scenery is beautiful. The car was pretty full, so I had to stand, but the view was still fairly good. The route is lined with ajisai (hydrangeas) which are fully in bloom in June and July. Though we were late for that, we could still enjoy some blossoms. There are also a lot of maples - the momiji variety with small leaves and large leafed varieties as well. Autumn must be quite a sight there, and in winter there is of course, a snowy landscape, and in spring - new green growth and cherry blossoms. It's always a good time of year to visit Hakone.
Looking down from a trestle over the Hayakawa river, 43 meters below, which flows out of Ashinoko, Hakone's volcanic lake.
The Hayakawa bridge was built in 1888 as part of a different rail line (Tokaido), and was moved to this location in 1917. (Perhaps a good thing we didn't know that until later.) Yes, they inspect and test it to make sure it is still safe.
We would not be taking the Hakone Tozan to the end of the line. Our destination was Miyanoshita, a small onsen town nestled in the rugged mountains, home to Japan's oldest western style hotel, the Fujiya, established in 1878.
Fujiya Hotel accommodates a maximum of 300 guests in 146 western style guest rooms at the 5 hotel houses (Main Building, Comfy Lodge, Restful Cottage, Flower Palace and Forest Lodge) built in 1891 thru 1960 and in 3 Japanese rooms at Kikka-so Inn, a former imperial villa, built in 1895. The old houses of the Main Building since 1891, the Comfy Lodge and the Restful Cottage since 1906, the Restaurant House since 1930, the Flower Palace since 1936 and the Kikka-so Inn since 1895 have been appointed Cultural Assets by Japan's Cultural Properties Protection Commission.
Our room was located in "Comfy Lodge" which was built in 1906. It was very large and the ceilings were about 12 feet high.
Ye olde bathroom. The hotel has an onsen (hot mineral spring spa) which can be privately reserved for 45 minutes for about 2100 yen per person (we passed on that).
We had checked into the hotel at 2PM and looked forward to exploring it more, particularly the extensive gardens behind it, but no time to dilly-dally this afternoon. It was back to the station to catch the train to Chokoku-no-mori, the next stop up the line, to visit the Hakone Open-Air (sculpture) Museum and Picasso collection.
つづく (to be continued).... in "Putting on Airs"