Part 4 of Japan: Hakone, Tokyo and Home in Four Days
This fall I spent 12 days in Japan with my best friends from college. You can read the overview of our trip here, Part 1 on Tokyo here, Part 2 on Kyoto here, and Part 3 on Naoshima and Teshima here. Scroll to the bottom for the tldr on where we stayed, what we ate, and what we did.
Before heading back to Tokyo to fly home, we stopped off for two days in Hakone for some R&R in an onsen, the Japanese hot springs.
We thought about spending another morning in Naoshima, but the rise of a second (!) typhoon put an end to that. We hopped on a 9AM Shinkansen from Okayama, and set off on the four hour ride to Odawara.
When we got there, we switched to a local train in Hakone-Yumoto and walked with our luggage from the mountainside train station to the hotel. Turns out this wasn't a great idea because there were a ton of blinds turns and steep hills.
But the views were stunning:
If you go, skip the local subway and walking around blind corners, and just grab a taxi from Odwara to your ryokan. It was only a 15 minute drive and super easy (we did this on the way back.)
We stayed at a ryokan called Yama No Chaya, which was an utter dream. I did a lot of Googling of "Hakone ryokan" and there were SO many results it was overwhelming. I found good reviews for this one on Tripadvisor, and it turned out so much better than we expected (although it wasn't cheap).
If you go, I would look for ryokans with outdoor onsens, since sitting in the bathtub outside in nature was a real highlight. I don't think the bath attached to our room was worth the extra $$$ (although I guess it depends how much you love bathtubs).
We got there late afternoon and took advantage of their many baths. There are both indoor and outdoor baths for each gender, so you have options. The hotel was basically empty when we were there, so we all took turns trying out the different baths in total peace and quiet. Sitting in the outdoor onsen in the middle of a typhoon is an experience I won't forget:
A common theme in Japan is that my feet only fit in men's shoes and slippers:
When I made the hotel reservation, the website was mostly in Japanese and I didn't totally know what I was picking. The reservation comes with both dinner and breakfast served Japanese-style in your room. When picking our dinner, I checked a box that just said "raw fish." The dinner in our room ending up coming with a new friend!
It was insane and totally delicious. We all filled our raw fish quota for the year.
The next morning they served us a Japanese breakfast, which was a good experience but came a little too early before my coffee had kicked in. Japanese breakfast (complete with fish cakes, seaweed, miso soup, mushrooms, tofu) helps you understand why the Japanese are so healthy:
We all took final dips in the baths before checking out, leaving our luggage at the hotel and heading to the train station to pick up Hakone free passes (which is a misnomer, they're not free). We got on the electric railway to head up the mountain.
Hakone-Yumoto sits in the ravine of a mountain, and there's a series of transportation options (electric car, cable car, boat) that take you up the mountain and over to the lake to see Mt. Fuji in what is called the Hakone loop. You can read more about it here.
We planned to visit the Hakone Open Air museum, known for its outdoor sculpture, located about halfway up the mountain. For some reason I thought it would be a quick train ride there, but the handful of stops took about 40 minutes. The train was packed and incredibly hot and humid inside, despite the crisp fall air outside.
So we were really eager to get off at the museum, which was pretty in the fall weather:
Maybe it's just because we were coming off visits to the stunning Naoshima and Teshima, or we didn't properly appreciate the sculpture, but we only spent about 45 minutes there before we were ready to leave. Plus, Cameron fell down the tower (featured above), and I was lacking in the caffeine after our Japanese fish breakfast.
So after a quick perusal of the sculpture, we called it quits on Hakone and headed back to Tokyo. We could have continued up the loop, but we were all eager for more time in our favorite city, and weren't feeling the hot, sweaty journey to the top. I think if I re-did the trip, I would have just spent more time in onsens instead of attempting the loop:
For our last two nights in Tokyo, we used points to stay at the Tokyo Andaz Toranomon Hills. We loved the mid-century modern meets Japanese style, and it was luxurious without feeling stuffy. It was the perfect way to end our trip, just when we wanted Western-style beds and skyline views the most:
The infinity pool on the 37th floor at sunset was a fun discovery:
For our last full day in Tokyo, we all did some shopping and wandering -- I checked out the insane Prada building in Omotesando which we'd learned about from the outside on our architecture tour:
On our last day, we realized our cumulative purchases of knives, ceramics, art books, and Japanese Kit Kats were making our bags quite full. Someone recommended Loft in Shibuya as a great place to find a tote bag for the way home, and she was right.
On luggage floor, there were plenty of inexpensive foldable tote bags which did the trick:
I wish we'd discovered this store sooner. (Although maybe for the sake of our luggage it's a blessing we didn't.) Loft is seven or eight floors of home goods, stationary, ceramics, umbrellas, bedding... everything under the sun, but more practical and affordable than the department stores.
If you go, make your purchases on the top floor where they do tax-free sales for foreigners. And yes, I regret not bringing all of this Hasami porcelain home:
That afternoon we did a cocktail tasting at the acclaimed Gen Yamamoto, which featured six different (small) cocktails using different ingredients and fresh fruits from around Japan. Even if you're not a huge drinker like me, it was a beautiful experience to watch the bartender craft each drink:
And finally, we saved the best dinner for last -- sushi at Sushi Yuu. We stumbled on this a little randomly via a recommendation for a friend, but it turns out it's more famous than we thought. We emailed for a reservation a week in advance, and secured a spot for Tuesday night. The sushi was fresh and delicious, and the chef Daisuke couldn't have been more friendly.
To make a reservation, you can email the address on their business card:
And with that, we wrapped up our stay in Tokyo with one final view, and headed home!
Where we stayed: Yama No Chaya
Where we ate: Meals were provided at our ryokan so we didn't eat in any restaurants here, although we did supplement with coffee from 7-11
Where we went: Hakone Open Air museum
What we read for advice: Hakone is a popular day trip from Tokyo for both Japanese and tourists. I mostly read random people's travel blogs found by Googling Hakone. Examples: here, here, here, and here.
My post from our stay in Tokyo earlier in the trip here has more complete details for the city, but for our final days we had a few important additions:
Where we stayed: Tokyo Andaz Toranomon Hills