Saturday, 8 March 2008

大涌谷 Sulfur Springs

The second weekend with my visitor Philipp from Germany. So what to do with it? I pulled out a map and looked where I have not been yet. Ah I see 箱根 Hakone.
A town west of here, where the 小田急線 Odakyuu line, which I usually take to 新宿 ends. Seems to be some kind of health resort or something...
Well let's check Wikitravel. Ah I see lots of 温泉 hot springs, something Philipp wanted to try anyway, a nice lake with view on 富士山 Mt. Fuji, 倭寇船 Pirate Ships and ... wow sulfur springs names 大涌谷 The Great Boiling Valley. Sounds good enough! Off we go then!

The train from 厚木 Atsugi to 箱根 Hakone takes about an hour, so about two from 新宿 Shinjuku. There are fast trains directly heading to the resort, but they cost as much as three times the standard express train.

箱根 Hakone

In the town itself you find lots of the usual tourist stores, expensive hotels and 温泉 hot springs. But first we wanted to see the sulfur springs, so we needed to get on the top of the mountain, where they can be found.

To do so you need to take three means of transportation or walk:
1> Ye Olde Train. A really old and nice train is climbing the mountain in a criss cross manner. Meaning it will go like this:

left - stop - right - stop - left - stop - slowly up the hill. At each stop the train operator left the front car and entered the rear car, since the train would now go in opposite direction. Very slow, but very cool and romantic.

mountain train

2> Cable Car. Next you either climb on by foot or take the cable car which pulls itself up slowly a more steep mountain part.

cable car

3> Last is the rope way, which is surely nice, but very expensive (800 Yen one way). You can also walk this last part (about 1 hour), however when we went all the hiking paths to the top were closed, possibly because of snow and ice. Or If you don't want to walk and save money anyway, there is a bus going up to the top for 300 Yen.

rope way

Special Tickets

At Hakone itself you can buy a day ticket for the train and the cable car (the rope way is not included) for 1.500 Yen. You can also buy the Hakone Free Pass from the 小田急線 Odakyuu line, which is however quite expensive with 5000 Yen. You have to calculate if you will save using this pass, but I don't think so, even if you go from Shinjuku:
Shinjuku - Hakone 1000 Yen
Train / Cable Car 1 day ticket: 1500 Yen
Bus 2x: 600 Yen
Hakone - Shinjuku: 1000 Yen
= 4100 Yen which is still cheaper then the free pass.

大涌谷 Great Boiling Valley

Taking the above means of transportation and our legs, we slowly approached the valley. Most of the last part, we went by foot and could already smell the sulfur.
Philipp: Where to go now?
Mika: *sniff* *sniff* just follow your nose!

After some detour, because I missed a Kanji on a sign, we reached the valley and a magnificent view presented itself to us. The smell was less magnificent, but that was to be expected. It reminded us a lot of pictures of Iceland.
A path leads up to the middle of several sulfur springs, which you can thus see and smell up close. Alas the path is pretty short and you can not walk a lot. Also, going on weekends, this place is crowded by tourists.

tourist crowds

Apparently the short path is leading to a kind of platform, where you can / are supposed to make some pictures and then leave again. How very Japanese, but alas not pleasing an adventurous heart.

One more attraction to tell are the black eggs 黒玉子, which are boiled in the sulfur spring itself and then sold 6 eggs for 500 Yen. Legend has it that by eating these eggs your lifespan will increase by seven years.
Whether we believed the legend or fell for a clever marketing strategy, we bought six eggs and ate them.

eggs are boiled in here and sold in the wooden shat

We were both a little exhausted and sick, so we decided not to continue our journey through the mountains towards the mystic sea mentioned above, and thus also missed the pirate ships. Instead we went back to Hakone by bus, cable car and train.

ascending the mountain always following our nose

天山湯治郷 Tenzan Tojig Onsen

There were nice little Onsen all the way back to Hakone and in Hakone itself, but Philipp wanted to go to a really big one, so we decided to follow Wikitravel again and go to the recommended 天山湯治郷 Tenzan Tojig Onsen. When we looked at a map, a Japanese girl overheard our conversation and asked us in German, whether she could help. Asking her, where she has learned such good German, she answered it was entirely self taught. Wow!

With her help we easily found the Onsen after a nice walk through the city of Hakone. The entrance is alas quite expensive with 1200 Yen, but the Onsen is really nice. It is entirely on the outside, but because of the partly extremely hot water the air outside is so warm, that you can walk around naked in winter.
There are several different "pools" all made out of natural stone, which give the Onsen a really nice feeling. Alas we could make no pictures, because you can't make a picture without photographing naked men and they might mind being pictured naked ;)

Some of the pools were hot and other were boiling hot (45 degrees! maybe even more, we didn't ask). There is also one cold whirlpool and a sauna.
Relaxing in the hot spring really helped us, and we regained much strength.

when the sun slowly began to set

Philipp and me went to the Onsen and got wet

Afterwards we went back to the station, made a brief stop in 小田原 Odawara, where we had dinner, and then we headed back to 厚木. In the train we noticed that although we cleaned ourself out cloth still stank a lot of sulfur ^^
I can't imagine the locals in Hakone, who will be confronted with this smell every day in every public mean of transport...


Can you see the burn marks of the mountain fire, they make for special festivals

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