Hakone – Owakudani – Lake Ashi – Ichinoyu Onsen Ryokan

Owakudani Hakone

Hakone is the historical entrance to the Kanto region of Japan. Surrounded by beautiful mountains as well as huge lakes, it’s a perfect weekend getaway from Tokyo. We were fortunate enough to be coming from Western Japan, so we avoided most of the summer crowd pouring in from Tokyo. Hakone is famous for its ryokans (Japanese style inn) and hot springs making it great for a relaxing romantic getaway. If you’re not the idling type and want to stay active, there are plenty of hiking trails and other physical activities to do. The Hakone Free-Pass itinerary is the most commonly followed by tourists (Odawara->Hakone-Yumoto->Owakudani->Lake Ashi), and you will encounter the majority of crowds if you are on this path.

See & Do

  • Hiking trail near Ichinoyu Ryokan: We got to the ryokan a little early and weren’t able to check in an hour early even though it seemed like the room was ready–rules are rules in Japan. It’s nice to have a consistent set of expectations, but sometimes a bit of inflexibility by businesses can be mildly irritating. To kill some time, we decided to explore some of the hiking trails around the ryokan–there was a nice uphill trail that led us to the tiny Amada-ji temple. At the grounds was an old priest carving away at a piece of wood, and he greeted us with a hearty Konnichiwa. There were surprisingly no tourists at all in this beautiful little forested area, which was a stark contrast to Hakone-Yumoto station down below. As we continued to discover, any sort of attraction off the beaten path eliminates about 90% of Japanese tourists, and anything that is off the beaten path and requires physical exertion eliminates 99%. Rating: 4/5

On the trail to Amada-ji temple in Hakone

Amaji-Temple Hakone

  • Main street near Hakone-Yumoto station: Cute little downtown area along a stream, nestled between several mountains. This is the main drag of “downtown” Hakone and is where you can get all your sweets and fish-based snacks. Grabbing a local draft beer and drinking it out of a cup while walking down the street and people-watching never gets old. Rating: 4/5

 

Hakone local sweet

  • Owakudani(The Great Boiling Alley): The view on the ropeway leading up to Owakudani is pretty great–it looks almost like Aztec ruins. Owakudani is the highest point on the ropeway and is famous for its sulfurous black eggs (see description below). DO try the black eggs and the unique yellow egg flavored ice cream. DON’T bother with the black colored ice cream–it’s a trap, it’s just generic vanilla flavor with black food coloring, it’s not really any sort of exotic flavor. Rating: 5/5
Boiling Black Eggs in Owakudani, Hakone

Boiling Black Eggs in Owakudani, Hakone

  • Walking trail near Lake Ashi: This beautiful trail was pretty much empty, confirming my earlier suspicions about people being a bit pampered around here. You really feel like you’re deep in the forest as you walk through. We encountered these tall trees that seemed to be about 90% bark–seemed like a species that only exists in Asia. Very nice and easy walk if you want to get away from the crowds that you encountered on the Owakudani ropeway. Rating: 4/5

Trail near Lake Ashi, Hakone

  • Lake Ashi: It’s quite a beautiful lake nestled among the mountains. We grabbed some local nigori sake and sat and watched the scenery for a while. You can grab a canoe and explore the lake if you’re willing, or you can take one of the cheesy Disney-looking pirate ships across the lake–we decided to opt out and enjoy the view from the shore since it looked uncomfortably crowded. Rating: 4/5

Pirate Ship in Lake Ashi, Hakone

Eat & Drink

  • Black Eggs: The eggs are boiled in the natural sulfur water in the valley and end up blackened and smelly–don’t worry, though, the insides taste like a fairly normal hard boiled egg. Each egg allegedly adds 7 years to your life and they are only sold in packs of 5 (so you can do the math). That is, if you don’t have a heart attack on the spot by eating 5 eggs in a row. Note that they are super-fresh and VERY hot when you get them so you’ll have to wait a while before being able to eat them. They are also especially hard to peel. Rating: 4/5

Black eggs sold in Hakone

  • Kaiseki Ryori:  Traditional Japanese multi-course dinner served at ryokans. Its origins goes all the way back to simple meals served at tea ceremonies but it has evolved into elaborate dining style among the aristocratic members in Japan. We were welcomed with small dishes of cold appetizers of assorted seafood, tofu and vegetables when we sat down. Grilled miso cod was served right after. Shabu-shabu was the main meal for the night. Everything was exquisitely prepared with local seasonal ingredients. Rating: 5/5

Tonosawa Ichinoyu Shinkan Dinner

Tonosawa Ichinoyu Shinkan Dinner

Tonosawa Ichinoyu Shinkan Dinner

  • Traditional Japanese Breakfast at Ichinoyu: Again, the ryokan treated us like royalty with multiple plates of small dishes. We asked the waitress what to do with the raw egg since we had no idea what to do with it. She told us to break the egg in a small bowl, add the packet of soy sauce and mix it. The mixture then goes inside the steamed rice. Later, we found out this is called Tamago Kake Gohan, which is a common staple among Japanese breakfasts. Grilled fish, soup and assorted pickles were served with rice. One thing we could not bring ourselves to swallow was natto (fermented beans), it is more of an acquired taste as most of the Japanese guests around us were happily eating it with their rice. Rating: 5/5

Breakfast at Tonosawa Ichinoyu Shinkan

Stay

  • Tonosawa Ichinoyu Shinkan: A traditional ryokan (Japanese inn that is similar to a bed-and-breakfast). Over here we got a private room with a private outdoor onsen that has hot spring water piped directly to a tub. Although it’s quite pricey at around $300 for two people, it turned out to be one of the major highlights of our trip, and something that is extremely memorable. Being able to soak in an outdoor bath while looking at the beautiful mountains of the Hakone area is truly a once in a lifetime experience, then going downstairs at dinner-time and being served delicious local delicacies carefully prepared by Japanese chefs was very enjoyable. We spent the evening just relaxing and unwinding in the room, drinking cold beer in the hot tub (as well as enjoying more modern conveniences such as television). One thing to note is that the “beds” are traditional Japanese futons laid out on the floor–quite comfortable and convenient once you get used to it. Rating: 5/5

Visit Dates

  • 08/14/2013 – 08/15/2013

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