MY DREAM CAME TRUE!
Reviews of bucket-list-worthy things to do all over the world

A Quest to See Mount Fuji

I knew when I booked my 14-day, June trip to Japan that there was almost no possibility that we would see Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji is usually shrouded in clouds during the summer months. Our best chance, or so I thought, would be to journey to Hakone, an area known for its spectacular views of the famous mountain, where we might get a lucky break in the clouds.

From Tokyo to Hakone

Before leaving Tokyo, we purchased the popular Hakone Free Pass for 5000 yen (at the Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center in Odakyu Shinjuku Station). The pass covers round-trip train travel from Tokyo to Hakone and most transportation within Hakone. (Note that JR pass holders can travel for free to Odwara Station and then purchase a 3900 Yen Hakone Free Pass there.) From Tokyo we took an approximately 1 ½ hour train ride to Odawara, then we transferred to another train for the approximately ½ hour trip to Hakone-Yumoto.

The Hakone Free Pass loop

Once we arrived in Hakone-Yumato, we began the “Hakone Free Pass loop,” the sightseeing route in Hakone that makes the best use of the Hakone Free Pass. It involves traveling around Hakone by bus, boat, ropeway, cable car, and train. The loop can be done either clockwise or counter-clockwise. We chose the counter-clockwise direction because I’d heard that it was less crowded and because the view of Mount Fuji (if she was visible) would be more dramatic.

The bus

Our loop began with an approximately ½ hour bus ride up winding roads to Lake Ashi. The ride wasn’t very exciting, but we were dropped off in a cute, lakeside town where people rode swan-shaped peddle boats in the lake, children in scouting uniforms fished, and elaborately carved Disneyesque pirate ships plied the waters. Before we boarded a pirate ship for our trip across the lake, we took a brief detour.

An approximately 10 minute walk north along the water brought us to into a forest of tall cedar trees where there was a photogenic red torii gate on the water. The photo of my friend and me standing beneath the gate is one of my favorite photos of our entire trip.

The boat

We headed back to the ship dock where there were plenty of people waiting to board the next ship, but there was space enough for us to board with them. We stood on deck as the ship set sail. From the ship deck we could see the, now apparently tiny, torii gate on the water that we’d just stood beneath. We continued past picturesque hills. I’d seen photos, taken in the winter, showing that Mount Fuji can sometimes be seen from the ship ride, but, in the distance, we saw only clouds.

When the ship arrived at the other side of the lake, our fellow passengers marched straight to the Hakone Ropeway to continue the Hakone Free Pass loop. This created a long queue due to the lower capacity of the ropeway. My friend and I grabbed soft serve ice cream cones from the gift shop and ate them as we browsed and waited for the crowd of people to dissipate.

The ropeway

When we finally got our turn on the Hakone Ropeway, we were impressed by gorgeous views of Lake Ashi surrounded by tree-covered mountains. On a clear day, Mount Fuji is supposedly spectacularly revealed during this portion of the trip. Unfortunately, we did not see her.

My disappointment was lessened somewhat when I saw intriguing yellow-white smoke rising from a slope known as Owakudani geothermal valley. We disembarked to explore. I was surprised to find a large parking lot filled with cars and tourist buses in what felt like such a remote location. We bypassed the gift shop and followed a tourist-lined trail up toward the steam. The trail crossed small bridges over little rivers of milky blue water that had a very faint sulfur scent.

Near the top of the path, I noticed a miniature ropeway. Unlike the one we’d just ridden, this ropeway was for eggs rather than people. We followed the mini-ropeway to a little shack. Just outside the shack, men dipped wire racks filled with white eggs into bubbling natural pools of water heated by the earth. When the eggs were withdrawn, their shells were dark black. Some of the “black eggs” were sent, via the egg ropeway to the tourist shop below, and some of the eggs were sold right there, fresh from the water. I was excited about trying one, not because, according to some, eating a black egg will add years to your life, but because I wanted to know if they tasted any different from normal hard-boiled eggs.

The eggs are sold in bags of five for 500 yen. I only wanted one, and so I walked up to one of the long wooden tables outside the shack. The tables were littered with black egg shells and lined with tourists cracking and peeling the hard-boiled eggs. “Does anyone have an extra egg?” I asked, offering a 100 yen coin to pay for the egg. “Yes,” an English-speaking tourist with an Indian accent replied, “but no money. It’s a gift.” I thanked him and accepted a still-scalding-hot egg from him. Even though he must have purchased the eggs at least a minute or two ago, it was too hot to hold in my hand, even with a paper napkin between it and my fingers. I made a hammock for it with the bottom of my jacket until the shell was cool enough to touch.

A few minutes later, I cracked the inky black shell and peeled it away to reveal the white egg inside. I took a bite. It was excellent with a fresh, ever-so-slightly-eggy flavor. I savored every bite of the life-prolonging goodness.

On our way back to the ropeway, we stopped at the gift shop, where I decided to try “tamago softo” (egg-flavored soft serve ice cream) for dessert. Although it doesn't sound that appetizing, it was deliciously sweet with a delectable yellow-cake-like flavor. YUM!

Buzzing with delight in my culinary experiences, I reboarded the Hakone Ropeway for a short descent into green hills.

The cablecar

Steps away from the end of the ropeway, we took a slow-moving, disappointingly-viewless ride in the Hakone Tozan Cablecar.

The single track train

We were growing tired when we boarded the Hakone Tozan Train to complete the final stretch of the Hakone Free Pass loop. The train ride was billed as a scenic ride on a single railway track. The ride wasn’t nearly as scenic as the Hakone Ropeway, but had a twist. Because the train was on a single track, we had to wait at one point in a turnout to allow the train traveling in the opposite direction to pass. But even more interesting was that, a few times during our trip, we would stop and then proceed backward along the tracks. The first time that this happened, I thought that we were returning to the last station for some reason, but strangely, we never arrived at that station. I soon realized that we were traveling a series of switchbacks down the mountain. It was definitely a unique experience.

A Hakone onsen

Hakone is known for its numerous hot springs, called onsen. The Hakone Tozan Train dropped us back at Hakone-Yumoto station with just enough time for us to take a side trip to nearby Tenzan Onsen, where we took a naked dip in natural outdoor baths. Soaking in the onsen, was the perfect way to end our day in Hakone.

Mount Fuji

Although we didn’t see Mount Fuji close up during our trip to Hakone, we did see her during our trip to Japan, but it was when we least expected. We did not see her from the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Building or from the Shinkansen train that passes from Tokyo to Kyoto, though she can reportedly be seen, weather permitting, from both of these vantage points.

One morning, my friend returned from the lobby of our hotel, the Park Hotel Tokyo, with news that he’d seen Mount Fuji from the lobby window. I threw on my shoes and followed him to the lobby. He pointed through the large window at some distant clouds to the right of Tokyo Tower. Just below the clouds, sure enough, was Mount Fuji. In case we hadn’t been certain, there was a labeled interpretive plaque below the window.

And so, in the end, although it didn’t happen the way I’d planned, I saw Mount Fuji. And I saw her without even leaving our hotel!
 
P.S. Inspired by my trip to Japan, I wrote a novel called Lost in Tokyo, about a girl finding herself and falling in love. Lost in Tokyo is on sale now at Amazon.com and is FREE with Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime!

I did this in June 2013 in Japan.

Jen (California, USA)