Rotten eggs and ropeways

Ah, the fresh mountain air! It smells so, well, smelly. Alright, who farted?

Even in the little mountain train ride up we could smell the scent of hydrogen sulphide, aka rotten egg gas. But here we were on the high slopes of Mount Iwakudani where great clouds of steam and gas rose out of the yellow sulphur encrusted ground.

We had purchased Fuji Hakone Free Passes from the Shinjuku Odakyu counter as we planned on visiting the Hakone Open Air Museum. Sadly, the rope playground was under renovation but I figured there was enough to amuse us there.

I was extremely excited to be catching a Odakyu RomanceCar VSE 50000 train, one of the best looking trains around. Many years ago an ex-colleague had brought back a model of one as a gift, but I had yet to go on one.

We were in the rear carriage, but sadly not in the end seats looking out the panoramic rear window.

It was a quite a scenic ride, especially as we left Greater Tokyo, and the peak of Mount Fuji was clearly visible under the clear blue skies.

At the terminus of Hakone-Yumoto we changed to the Hakone Tozan Railway, where two car trains ride up steep slopes of the mountain, utilising a couple of switchbacks to gain altitude. The scenery is gorgeous, especially of the gorge, and it’s a great experience, the opposite of a Shinkansen.

We decided to go all the way to the end of the line, Gora, rather than stop at the museum. As we got higher we could see the green steel derricks of hot spring pumping stations supplying the many onsens with water.

After lunch at Gora we caught the cable car up the slope to Sounzan. Normally you could catch a ropeway to Owakudani, but it was under maintenance, so we were shepherded into a coach instead for the steep and winding ride up the mountain.

As we approached Owakudani we could see steam coming out from the forest floor.

Mount Owakudani has fantastic views of Mount Fuji, weather permitting, which it was today. Access to the smaller vents was closed, but there were still great views of steam gushing out, forming a white cloud rising up into the sky.

We tried the black vanilla soft serve ice cream (just means you get a black tongue) and the eggs supposedly boiled in a hot spring vent (not much difference except they are black).

The ropeway to Togendai, on the shores of Lake Ashi, was still operational so we hopped on board. The glass was a bit scratched but the were still some beautiful views to be had.

The ropeway closes at four pm so we didn’t have time to go cruising in a mock pirate ship across the lake. Instead we caught the ropeway straight back, the the last bus from Owakudani. Miss that and there is no public transport available.

It was a matter then of retracing our steps. I was sad we hadn’t the time to see either the museum or go for an onsen bath along the way. I’d love to return one day.

Instead we had an appointment for dinner with one of B’s cousins who was working in Japan. Another meal of shabu-shabu which left us almost incapable of normal walking due to over indulgence.

Hakone is a tourist destination and a contrived blend of Western and Japanese influences but for all that, it is a fun place to visit. I look forward to experiencing it again.

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