Given my class schedule, I luckily have Mondays off. This affords me a three-day weekend, allowing me to take short trips in and around the Tokyo area. I accompanied a friend on a trip to Hakone. Hakone is one of the more popular vacation sites for international tourists. This is apparent from the long stretch of souvenir shops outside the station.
Hakone is known for its natural beauty, particularly the mountains and Lake Ashinoko. Though, its preeminent attraction is undoubtedly the hot springs or Onsen (温泉).
We traveled to Hakone from the Shinjuku Station by means of the Romance Car, a limited express train specifically routed for popular holiday spots (Hakone, Enoshima, Kamakura, etc.). It was a ninety-minute ride, and lunch was served to us slightly after noon. Here is a picture I took on the train of Mount Fuji:
The ride was scenic. We went from the urban sprawl to seemingly endless fields and then wound through the mountains. When we exited the station, we were immediately confronted with the beauty of the forested mountainside. These are pictures from both sides of the overpass connecting the station to the opposite side of the street:
There was one main river that ran through the entirety of the area. The water was clear, and you could see small fish swimming with the stream and turtles sitting on the bank.
On the return ride, this river ran parallel to the tracks for countless miles.
We stayed in a Ryokan (旅館), a traditional Japanese inn. In fact, I learned from one of the brochures that the oldest inn was a Ryokan style, dating back to the eighth century. This style of inn is characterized by tatami-mat floors, futons, sliding doors, communal baths or onsens, and the Yukata (浴衣), kimonos for guests to wear on the premises. This is a picture of the Ryokan at which we lodged:As far as I know, we were the only foreign lodgers.
Dinner was served to us in three courses in our room. It was traditional Japanese fare, or Kaiseki(懐石), which is also characteristic of the Ryokan experience. The quality of the food was excellent, and the dishes captured a wide range of flavors, mostly seasonal and regional.
Here is a picture of Hakone from the porch:
You can see the foot-bath and bamboo mats at the far end of the porch. The water is pumped from a natural source, the same one as the hot spring. An attendant came through once every hour to measure the temperature and pH level.
Before bed, we soaked in the hot spring. Unfortunately, as well as understandably, cameras are forbidden in that particular area, and so I am without visual representation.
The water was hot, but not hard. It had a peculiar quality that softened the skin almost immediately. After about an hour, when I emerged from the water, I was light headed from the steam and had to sit down for a while and regain consciousness before I proceeded to get dressed.