Hey guys. I’m back, reporting in from my first holiday in 2.5 years, my first trip to the land of sushi and anime, Japan!!! I’ve always loved Japan and everything about it; the scenery, the culture, the food, and the girls (LOL) so I was always looking forward to visiting the country some day. Well the day finally arrived a few weeks ago and I definitely wasn’t disappointed, though the cold weather kind of screwed my photographic plans for the trip, I spent more time than expected looking for shelter from the wind. Here’s part 1 of my pretty long photojournal into the land of the rising sun, covering my first 3 days spent in Hakone
Day 1: HELLO JAPAN!!
Aboard the Narita Express into Tokyo
Super excited when I touched down at Narita Airport at 8am, some 30mins before the expected arrival. Spent 30 mins searching for the place to collect my sim card, another 20 mins to set up the sim card and attempt to make my first call back home, and another 30 mins figuring out which train to take into Tokyo. Finally settled on a round trip ticket on the Narita Express, which I finally boarded at 9.40am, almost 2 hours after I landed in Tokyo D=
Kinreisou, the guesthouse I stayed at in Gora, Hakone
Next part of the journey, getting to Hakone from Shinjuku Station. Spent another 30mins trying to figure out which line to take before I finally gave up and asked one of the train conductors. Finally boarded the train at about 12pm. Journey up to the guesthouse way up at Gora (literally the end of the train line in Hakone) took till 3pm. Unfortunately I wasn’t in a good enough seat to catch the famed scenery of the Hakone Tozan Railway up to Gora
tl;dr version: I unfortunately spent my first 7 hours in Japan purely on travelling
Trainspotting in Hakone
By the time I finished unpacking and ate the bento I bought way back in Shinjuku for lunch, more or less all the attractions nearby were preparing to close (Japan apparently closes most of their attractions earlier during winter), so I’m sadly pretty much left with nowhere to go anymore for the first day, so I spent my first day strolling along the train tracks shooting trains passing by.
Day 1 dinner: Gyozas at Gyoza Central
Gyozas for dinner because it happened to be the most crowded dinner place I passed by in the area, so it must be decent (typical SG mindset lol). The most expensive meal I had in my 8 days, but hey, considering the airline skipped my breakfast by not waking me up, and the fact my lunch was a 100 yen bento from a convenience store I might as well splurge a bit. 14 gyozas + rice + miso + something else for 2k yen, superbly filling, though it started to taste a bit oily past the 6th. Went back to the guesthouse immediately after that for a heavenly soak in the hot spring bath, complete with volcanic water (it tastes sulphur-ish, which was part of the reason I decided to stay there despite the lack of wifi and proper heating. Perfect after experiencing the Japanese winter air for the first time.
Random shit that happened to me that day: on the way to dinner this random guy came over to me on the train and started chatting with me entirely in Japanese LOL. In my limited Japanese knowledge I tried to hint to him that I was hungry and heading to dinner, and apparently he understood but refused to stop talking. Ended up standing in the cold at Gora station for more than 30 minutes listening to him ramble on before he finally decided he needed to leave, after letting 2 trains previously leave. He must have been a lonely guy.
DAY 2: MOUNT FUJI EVERYWHERE!!!
Superb view of Mt Fuji at the cable car station at Ubako
Ropeway down to Togendai Station with a wonderful view of the lake
My embarking on the typical Hakone day trip route, with literally a whole day to do it. Due to volcanic activity entry into the Owakudani area was blocked, which was just as well since I only just covered everything I wanted on time. Started the cable car ride down to Lake Ashinoko from Ubako station, and got treated to a superb view of the lake, unfortunately the photo doesn’t do it justice. And oh, did I mention the station had the most amazing view of the legendary Mount Fuji?
Ashinoko lake from ground level
The "pirate ship" that ferries tourists to the other side of the lake
Plenty of kids having fun aboard the ship
Spent a while at the souvenir shop buying food before heading for the ferry. TBH a bit disappointed with the journey, I was expecting a pretty awesome view of Mt Fuji from the boat after reading articles online, but all I got was a small glimpse as other hills blocked the view completely. Not much else to see during the journey as well apart from water everywhere, so I basically spent the 20mins or so doing my favourite idling activity: watching people.
Entrance towards the Hakone Checkpoint
Mount Fuji here
Mount Fuji there
Mount Fuji EVERYWHERE!!!!
Made the decision to slowly walk over to the Hakone Shrine after lunch, which eventually became a mission to find the best view of Mount Fuji on this side of the lake. The fact that I visited the Hakone Checkpoint is pretty much secondary at this point. Still, the mission couldn’t stop me from delaying my journey to my final destination, the Hakone Shrine.
Authentic Japanese style street food.
Burning fire to warm hands, perfect for the cold weather
A young family with their prayers for the year (I think)
People queuing to enter the shrine
The shrine area was super crowded, probably since it was a Sunday. There was a whole area dedicated to Japanese street food which I can’t resist, so I stopped for some okonomiyaki, something I always wanted to try. It was unfortunately not very nice, maybe it’s because it’s cheap lol. And in true Singaporean fashion, queuing wherever there’s a queue, never mind the fact that that I am queuing up to pray in a Japanese shrine speaking Chinese in my head. Hey, you never know these guys up there could be multilingual lol. Pretty impressed with how I managed to smoke through the praying rituals myself.
The gate of Hakone Shrine at sunset
Random mystical looking entrace at Tonosawa Station.
Managed to leave the shrine just in time to catch the sunset by the gates of the shrine, which was situated beside the river. Superb sight, and probably my best scenery shots captured on this trip (not really a big deal considering there wasn’t much natural scenery in Tokyo). Hopped on the bus back towards the direction of Hakone-Yumoto, a place I wanted to explore, but traffic jams meant I wasn’t even close after 2hrs. Finally decided to drop off at Tonosawa where there was a public hot spring bath near the train station. Because hey, what’s a Hakone trip without a visit to the public hot spring baths? Damn awesome stuff, especially during the winter period, I seriously wanted to stay in there as long as possible. Plus the heat warms your body so much it’s hard to feel cold even while standing butt naked in the outdoor areas of the baths, no mean feat considering I’m usually shivering while wearing 4 layers.
Day 3 – Kimono girls galore: Coming of age day
The night before, I was talking with the guesthouse owner about the coming-of-age day, where new adults will dress up and attend a ceremony, and where I can see this. In actual fact I was just interested in seeing those young ladies in kimonos (guys were simply in boring suits, mehhhh). The owner directed me to Kowakien Hotel, where they were holding a ceremony at 11am. So for anyone doing a google search about this ceremony in Hakone: Coming of Age ceremony in Hakone can be seen at KOWAKIEN HOTEL before 11am. I’m just doing this cos I myself could not find a single thing about this in Hakone on the internet, so I’m just hoping this helps someone else in the future. Anyway, turns out I was too early, so I decided to hang around a random park in the area until 10.15.
20 year olds in kimonos; some good looking, others not so much
The only one that looked in my direction when I snapped. Personally love how Japanese girls tend to cover their mouths when laughing.
As more of these new adults turned up, I realised I seem to the be only tourist there for the sole purpose of taking photos, which kinda stopped me from approaching them for individual photos. TBH, most of them would have looked better with less makeup on, some of them had makeup so thick it looked pretty scary. Despite sniping all my photos from a considerable distance, I fortunately had the lady in the above photo look in my direction when I snapped. The ceremony seemed pretty small though, a rough estimate of about 50 people including guys. Maybe because it’s a pretty small town, or maybe most of them would be at the Hakone Shrine which is a considerable distance down. I’ll never know either way.
Gardeners at work in Gora Park
Chose to head back to Gora Park to chill since the ceremony looked like a private affair, I had planned to chill here on my first day before dinner but it was closing, and I could afford an hour before heading back to Tokyo. The scenery was kind of disappointing, but maybe it’s cos it’s winter. But still, yay to free entry thanks to the Hakone Free Pass, so at least I didn’t feel so cheated of my money.
Photo of the trip: random cute girl on the train.
After 2 nights in Hakone, it’s time to make my way to part 2 of my holiday, Tokyo!! I managed to catch a great shot of a really cute girl while on the train down from Gora :D. Guess I got lucky with the lighting, I never achieved similar results again despite my numerous snipes at her (thank the heavens for silent shooting on the 6D).
Overall a fruitful side trip, really loved the scenery around the area. After leaving I was suddenly thankful I decided to spend 2 nights in Hakone instead of one like I originally planned. Even with 2 nights there was plenty I had yet to explore; the town of Hakone-Yumoto and the Open Air Museum are just two that spring to mind. Definitely a place I’m likely to visit again, though if it’s in the summer I’d probably think twice before entering a hot spring.
Next up: TOKYO, coming soon 🙂 More photos can be seen on my Facebook album here