October 7 and 8, 2017
Hakone, a popular weekend and holiday destination outside of Tokyo, is a pretty, mountainous volcanic region with great onsen (Japanese hot springs), lake views and numerous opportunities for that iconic photo of Mt Fuji. We visited the area with our Japanese friends on a holiday weekend in early October. While this is not the ideal time if you want peace and quiet, it is a fun way to experience a Japanese holiday as the Japanese do.
Viewpoint at Owakudani Station
This viewpoint at the top of a caldera can be reach by car or a ropeway (gondola) that connects Hakone town on one side and Lake Ashi on the other. The viewpoint overlooks the Owakudani volcanic valley where numerous vents spout sulfuric gases.
Gases rushing through the pipes make an incredible roar. The valley is the source of the hot spring water that is pumped to the numerous onsen in the area. The sulfur and other minerals are also harvested and sold to the onsen.
Black eggs are a famous regional novelty. Only the eggs cooked in these particular hot springs will turn black. Eating one is said to add seven years to your life. At the view point you can buy your eggs and enjoy them at the convenient eating station set up at one end of the gift shop.
At the Hatajuku Parquet Hall we were given an explanation and demonstration of yosegi zaiku a type of woodcraft where intricate patterns are created by layering different colors of wood and then recombining the cross sections into more intricate patterns. The finished patterned sheets are sliced and made into a veneer that is attached to objects – boxes, trays, leather coin purses and so forth.
They also do a similar less intricate type of parquet where the whole layered block sections are used to create bowls and other objects. It this case the pattern runs through the whole object rather than just a veneer, but the patterns are far less intricate.
Zougan zaiku marquetry is a type of inlay used to create pictures. They use a sewing machine fitted with a type of saw blade in place of the needle to cut the design in the wood.
This type of marquetry is an old tradition starting in the Edo period (1603-1868) that has evolved over the years. There are only a handful of true masters – a licensing process that requires 10 years of study – who do this kind of work.
There are number of hiking trails in the area that climb to various peaks and along Lake Ashi. On busy weekends it’s a nice way to get away from the crowds.
Boat trip around Lake Ashi
A pretty but popular activity, especially with children, is a boat tour on a pirate ship.
The hour long trip around the lake stops at three destinations, where you can disembark and visit the sights at each or just use the boat as transportation across the lake.
When it’s not shrouded in clouds Mt Fuji can be seen from the ship.
On a clear day the Ashinoko Skyline Drive running along the ridge above Lake Ashi offers stunning views of Mt Fuji and the out to the sea below. Our first attempt, in the afternoon, only produced a cloud covered Fuji san, but the next morning there it was, floating on a layer of clouds above the valley.
Viewpoints for Mt Fuji on the road are best visited in the morning to get the sun on the right side.
However, views of Lake Ashi will have the sun behind it at this hour.
The Great Meadow
A curious sight for Westerners are the number of Japanese that flock to the Great Meadow where in the fall the susuki grass turns a pale gold.
Families gather in front of the grass to have their picture taken much like they do in wildflower meadows in the States.
Aside from the beautiful color, the shape of the grass’s seed head has a cultural importance as it resembles that of rice, Japan’s staple food.