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Hakone, the Japanese town known for its curative and beautiful hot springs with Mt. Fuji views, is where Toyko residents go to relax and unwind. Less than two hours each way from the central Tokyo Station, I found that relaxation begins upon arrival at the Odakyu Station, the place where visitors purchase the Hakone Free Pass (approximately US$39), which covers all public transportation in the countryside spa town.
Before arriving at the collection of natural hot-spring baths, each property called an onsen, guests are treated to a picturesque journey. The Free Pass covers the funicular railway, a cable car trip and a boat that crosses Lake Ashinoko before leaving guests at the grouping of onsens. The circuit is painfully simple to navigate (it is meant for the masses, afterall) but feels adventurous all at the same time. Views vary from wooded forested areas to a sulphur pit.
Roundtrip time of the full circuit is stated at three hours, but visitors should plan on spending at least eight to 10 hours to fully appreciate the museums, restaurants, shops, and of course the hot springs that are such a treat at the end of the journey. The train conductor was optimistic that we’d be able to see Fuji given the day’s clear skies, and there are three spots on the roundtrip journey with sightlines to the mountain. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch sight of the mountain, but it hardly detracted from the otherwise perfect day.
Popular spots along the way include the Open-Air Museum displaying sculpture from the greats including Alexander Calder, Auguste Rodin and Pablo Picasso. Another must-do is sampling the town’s famous black eggs, which are boiled in sulphurous water. Confession: I passed on trying this delicacy, but regret it now as legend has it that the eggs adds another seven years to one’s life.
Night was just beginning to fall as I stepped off the bus at Hakone Yuryo, the newest onsen in town that opened in the spring. The price of admission to the pristine pools was about US$15 for an hour. There are nearly 20 open-air baths separate for men and women, some communal and others large private ceramic tubs, set in a traditional “folk-house” style building. The waters are at a steaming hot 104 F and felt remarkable after a day spent on nearly a half-dozen modes of transportation.
The only thing needed to top off the spa experience was the beer vending machine on our way out the door. A Sapporo has never tasted as good as during the cool down from the time spent in the warm waters.
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