Explore the beauty of nature in Hakone

Located at the foot of the majestic Mt Fuji, Hakone has always been a favorite destination of both Japanese and foreign visitors. It’s famous for its hot springs, beautiful scenery of the lake and Mt Fuji, Owakudani, an active volcanic area that smells of sulphur, and the onsen-tamago (eggs boiled in the natural hotspring). It took some time to get there and required a few transfers along the way, but eventually we made it to our first stop, Owakudani.

Inside the Hakone Tozan Train
Inside the Hakone Tozan Train
While riding the Hakone Ropeway
While riding the Hakone Ropeway
Up up we go!
Up up we go!

Owakudani is the area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone some 3000 years ago. Today, much of the area is an active volcanic zone where sulfurous fumes, hot springs and hot rivers can be experienced. It is accessible via the Hakone Ropeway from Souzan. The view from the ropeway was totally spectacular as we could see the whole valley and the steam rising from below. Once we reached the actual site, the smell of sulfurous fumes was incredibly strong and almost intolerable! Despite that, we made our way further up the trail.

View of Owakudani from the ropeway
View of Owakudani from the ropeway
Smelly sulfur fumes from the active volcano was all around
Smelly sulfur fumes from the active volcano was all around

One of the most famous things in Owakudani is Kuro-tamago (literally “Black egg”), a local specialty of eggs cooked in the natural hot springs. Because of sulfur in the water, the egg shells are blackened. Consuming the eggs is said to prolong one’s life by seven years so surely we wouldn’t miss a chance to try it.

Kuro-tamago hard-boiled eggs
Kuro-tamago hard-boiled eggs

We then took the ropeway down to Togendai where we had to transfer to the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise. Before that, we stopped to have lunch at Togendai View Restaurant which is located inside the station building and overlooks Lake Ashi. The highly recommended dish is the fluffy rice omelet made with fresh eggs from nearby Gotemba Plateau and the curry with deep-fried pork cutlet made with pork raised on the Asagiri Plateau. Here we could enjoy our lunches while watching the scenic view of Lake Ashi.

Omu-rice, the no.1 popular menu
Omu-rice, the no.1 popular menu

After finishing lunch, we headed to board the pirate ship-shaped sightseeing cruise. It was cold and windy but the beautiful view was totally worthwhile. Although we could not see Mt Fuji from there because it was too cloudy, we enjoyed a breath of fresh air and the magnificent scenery along the coast.

Hakone Sightseeing Cruise
Hakone Sightseeing Cruise
We’re on board!
We’re on board!

Our next destination is Hakone Shrine which is about ten-minute walk from where we got off the cruise. To get to the main building of the shrine, we walked up a series of steps through the forest where the atmosphere was so peaceful and refreshing. We finished up our trip at Hakone-Yumoto by shopping for souvenirs or soaking in an onsen after a long cold day.

Hakone Shrine
Hakone Shrine
Thanks everyone for a relaxing and enjoyable time!
Thanks everyone for a relaxing and enjoyable time!

By Kate P.

Wintery Christmas at Yokohama

Don’t stay coped up in your home during the winter season, grab a pair of skates! The Art Rink, located by Yokohama’s famous Red Brick Warehouse, pairs illumination lights with ice skating. Each year, an artist is selected to design the exterior. Though not the most ideal location for serious figure skating, this location does provide a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
We also visited the nearby Christmas Market. Visitors can warm up with some hot wine and all sorts of yummy snacks sold by vendors.

Ice Skating with trippiece ^_^
Ice Skating with trippiece ^_^
First time on the ice!!!
First time on the ice!!!
Taking it slowly...
Taking it slowly…
Sunset at the rink. Here comes the sun~
Sunset at the rink. Here comes the sun~
Reindeers are better than people...
Reindeers are better than people…
The Christmas Market at Yokohama
The Christmas Market at Yokohama
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree

Time Travel to Edo Period in Kawagoe!

Kawagoe (川越) is a city in Saitama Prefecture located about 30 minutes by train from Ikebukuro, which makes it a perfect day trip from Tokyo. Our first destination once we arrived in Kawagoe was Kita-in, a renowned temple built around 1200 years ago. At the entrance of the temple, we were pleasantly greeted with some red maple leaves, the well-known symbol of autumn.

Beautiful brightly colored leaves.
Beautiful brightly colored leaves.
Temple etiquette: washing hands and mouth before entering.
Temple etiquette: washing hands and mouth before entering.
 The main hall of Kita-in Temple
The main hall of Kita-in Temple.
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Praying and making a wish.
The temple ground as viewed from the main hall
The temple ground as viewed from the main hall.

After walking around for a while, we entered the buildings of the former Edo Castle, the only remaining palace buildings which have survived the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and World War II. Taking photo was not allowed inside the building unfortunately, but we got to see the room which the Shogun was born as well as his dressing room and toilet. From the back of the building, we could have a nice view of the Japanese garden and enjoy some more autumn leaves.

Beautiful red leaves behind the building of Edo Castle
Beautiful red leaves behind the building of Edo Castle.

Our next spot was Hikawa Shrine which was just a few minutes from Kita-in by bus. On the day of our visit, many parents and children dressed up nicely in kimono were there for “Shichi Go San”, a traditional ceremony to celebrate children of age three, five, and seven. Also, there was a wedding ceremony going on when we were there, so we considered ourselves really lucky to have a chance to observe both ceremonies at the same place and same time.

Parents and little kids in elaborated kimonos.
Parents and little kids in elaborated kimonos.
Japanese wedding ceremony
Japanese wedding ceremony

After Hikawa Shrine, we moved on to Kawagoe’s Warehouse District, had lunch and strolled around to take in the historic atmosphere. Definitely, we did not forget to try some local specialties such as sweets made from purple potato, Kawagoe’s beer, takoyaki senbei, and miso bread!

Kurazukuri Street and the Bell Tower
Kurazukuri Street and the Bell Tower
Some of our trip members from various countries
Some of our trip members from various countries
Taisho-roman Street
Taisho-roman Street
Exploring the street of Kurazukuri
Exploring the street of Kurazukuri

On the way back to the train station, we happened to notice that some kind of festival was going on so we decided to step in and have a look. Interestingly, we were told that it was a “Kitsune Matsuri” or literally “Fox Festival” which was held for the first time. There were lots of people wearing costumes and fox’s masks and some even had fox’s tails! It was such a fun and impressive way to finish our trip.

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By Kate P.

Kate is an avid traveler in Japan who can’t wait to expand her journey in Japan and share her amazing experiences with everyone. ^_^