Hakone: A Weekend Retreat from Tokyo

After training and orientation concluded, it was time for a weekend retreat in Hakone, a town known for its mountainous nature, lake, and onsen (hot springs).  I picked up a tuna sashimi bento from the expansive food court underneath Shinjuku station and boarded the Romance Car (the express train to Hakone) with over 80 other interns and leaders. The ride throughout the countryside was scenic, and the surrounding nature was a welcome sight from the crowded hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

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View of the country from the Romance Car

After reaching Hakone, groups split up to follow different routes of travel to our campground. I joined the group that first took a long bus ride up a mountain, then went to see Hakone Shrine, walked in a cedar forest called Ancient Cedar Avenue, and then rode a pirate ship-looking boat across the lake.

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The first street of Hakone after exiting the station
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Torii gate in the water

As we walked from the Hakone Shrine to the cedar forest, we came across two incredibly cute shiba inus at a cafe.

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Cafe dogs
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Happy under the cedar trees

We caught the last boat ride across the lake and soon set sail. The ride across the lake took quite a while as our pirate ship was pretty slow. As we traveled, it was neat to see the red torii gate of Hakone Shrine floating in the water. Up in the mountains, you could also see the lines of the ropeway leading up the mountains.

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Aboard the pirate ship

After the long boat ride, I was excited to reach our side of the lake and see all of the lush forestry around. We walked to our campsite along Lake Ashi where we had 18 cabins rented out. In groups of six, we settled into our new homes. The cabins had a super spacious common room with large windows, a kitchen and bench. Everything was made out of wood and continued to remind me of fifth grade camp. After settling in, a group of us went to relax in the public bath. It was many people’s first time in a public bath so the idea of sitting naked with others was a little scary/ uncomfortable for them. Eventually however, most everyone got used to it and I enjoyed being able to relax for a bit before overheating and having to get out.

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Lake Ashi

A little while after bathing, it was time for food- outside grill-top bbq cooking! There were many fire pits with grills lined up in outside stations, each one supplied with meat, veggies, yakisoba noodles, sauce, tongs, plates, chopsticks, and cups. As soon as we had enough people at our station, my group got to work right away making the fire and heating up the grill. Soon our fire was roaring with heat so we began cooking all of our provisions. All around us, other groups seemed to be struggling to get cooking, but we were on a roll. We worked together to get everyone fed, all the items cooked and seasoned, and even began cooking for other people whose fires and grills weren’t working. I loved cooking over the fire and being able to eat the food the second it was done. The constant smoke was the only downside of the fantastic (and delicious) grilling adventure.

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Fantastic BBQ team

After everyone had eaten, the camp staff started a gigantic bonfire that was scarily high and looked like it was going to light neighboring trees. It was super warm though so we all gathered around for stories and conversation. There were some after parties in the cabins later that night that reminded me of some good college days, but soon I went to bed, utterly exhausted.

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The massive bonfire

The next morning I woke up, ate a small breakfast since I wasn’t feeling too well, then slowly began to pack up my bags for the trip back to Tokyo. I rode the ropeway down the mountain with two friends, and we stopped along the way at Owakudani, a small area that surrounds a crater that Mount Hakone created 3,000 years ago.

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At Owakudani, amidst all of the sulfurous fumes, we ate special blackened eggs that were cooked in natural hot water and are said to prolong the life of those who eat them by seven years/ egg. By this time, I was pretty hungry so I also purchased a small container of karaage.

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Crater
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Sulfur fumes
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A sulfured egg that prolongs one’s life by 7 years

After finishing our snack it was time to continue down the ropeway and then take a rail car down the rest of the way. At this point, I split away from my friends and went to find the Venetian Glass Museum. I remembered the glass from when I was in Italy, and was excited to see some more. The museum was surrounded by a quaint garden decorated with many glass elements. The trees had hundreds of crystals attached to their branches so that everything sparkled in the wind. The bridge to the museum was adorned with a gigantic arching canopy of crystals. Inside, I was impressed with many of the glass pieces; astounded by the intricacy needed to make each piece.

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Hakone Venetian Glass Museum
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Crystals arching over a bridge
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Crystals in the trees

I was pretty worn out by the time I finished the glass museum. I had originally planned on making it to the Open Air Museum which I had heard was pretty incredible, but I ended up travelling all the way down the mountain before realizing I had missed the bus stop and it was too late to turn back. It was an incredibly long 2 hour train ride back from Hakone to Shinjuku, and the entire time I was in a pretty bad mood due to being extremely hungry and exhausted. One might say I was a bit hangry. Nevertheless, I managed to make it back to Asakusa and was first in line for a ramen shop one street away from my house. This place was recommended to me many times because of their famous clam based soup and housemade noodles. Since I was famished, I was excited to be there the second they opened. I enjoyed watching the chef work his magic behind the counter, heating up the bowls over boiling water, adding a spoon of this, a pinch of that, etc. Soon there was  piping bowl of ramen in front of me and I was slurping it down as fast as I could. I really liked the different taste of the soup, it was full of flavor, yet not as thick and heavy as other soups that I was used to. It was also my first seafood flavored soup base, so I welcomed the experience. Definitely a place to return to!

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Deluxe clam based shio ramen. (Extra meat + an egg)

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