My wife and I are currently taking a couple of weeks holiday in Japan. I’ll post more about some of the urban aspects later but I thought I’d start with a day trip we took to Hakone that ended up in us using eight different forms of transport.
We were staying in Tokyo in Harajuku so the first step was to get to Shinagawa. Staying only a couple of minutes walk from the local station and then super frequent services every couple of minutes on the busy Yamanote Line – which stops at Shinagawa – this step was easy.
According to the fountain of knowledge that is Wikipedia:
- The Yamanote Line is a circle line around central Tokyo linking many of key destinations, playing a similar role to the Inner Link in Auckland but on a much larger and busier scale. According to that fount of knowledge that is Wikipedia, it is one of the busiest lines in the world with an estimated 3.6 million trips every day. That’s more people than the entire London Underground carries (3.4 million a day). Tokyo’s fairly extensive subway network is mostly located within the ring of the Yamanote Line
- Harajuku station is a fairly simple affair with just a fairly narrow island platform. Even so it is estimated that over 70,000 people use it daily, that’s more than our entire rail network on a busy weekday.
After a brief 16 minute journey, we were at Shinagawa and from here we could transfer to a high speed Shinkansen to allow us to cover the 70km distance to Odawara in just 27 minutes, reaching top speeds in places of around 270km/h.
- The Tokaido Shinkansen line – between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka – is the busiest (and most profitable) high-speed line in the world. Every day more than 430,000 trips are taken on it. There are multiple service patterns that run and has have trains in each direction every few minutes
- Shinkansen on some lines can reach over 300km/h and the Chuo Skinkansen (maglev) under construction is expected to run at over 500km/h
At Odawara we purchased a pass allowing us to use all other different transport modes listed below. We transferred to small local railway to start our journey up into the hills to the town of Hakone-Yumoto. This train is effectively run as a shuttle service following a river valley up to the hills and taking only 15 minutes with a couple of stops along the way. From about 26m above sea level at Odwara, Hakone-Yumoto sits at 108m. It was a midday on a Saturday and the service was fairly busy, like a morning peak in Auckland.
Upon reaching Hakone-Yumoto it was a short hop along the platform to change to the Hokone-Tozan Mountain Railway. The three car trains that are used are able to climb up the steep sides of the mountains at grades of up to 8% (rising 1m for every 12m travelled) but it definitely doesn’t do so very fast with speeds of only around 15km/h. It takes about 40 minutes to cover 8.9km and along the way there are a handful of stops at mountain villages. There were a couple of switchbacks along the way to help it get up the mountain and which also served to allow trains to pass trains heading in the opposite direction. Winding through the steep bush clad hills the railway was apparently designed to be as hidden as possible.
The train was full of passengers for the ride up to 553m above sea level at the town of Gora.
At Gora it was a transfer to a furnicular for a trip up the side of the steep mountain. This is about 1.2km over which it rises 214m to Sōunzan. The transfer from the mountain train to the furnicular is easy and part of the same building.
Ōwakudani is a geothermal hotspot and is famous for the cooking eggs in the sulphuric hot springs which turns the shells black.
From the side of the mountain it is also a great spot on a good day to get views of Mt Fuji. It just so happened we had a great day for it.
After bite to eat it was time to continue and a second gondola takes riders down to Tōgendai on the edge of Lake Ashi. From there we transferred to one of three pirate ship themed ferries that run along the lake. I have no idea why they are themed as pirate ships but they are. We also had some fortuitous timing, the ferries only run every 40 minutes and we arrived with about a minute to spare, a perfect un-timed transfer.
At the other end of the lake was Moto-Hakone where we took a quick break before boarding the last new mode of the day, a bus. It also happened to be the least enjoyable because it was a small bus, smaller than the stupid small ADL buses NZ Bus use, and was also completely packed with people. They seemed to have a moto that you can always fit one more person on – although even that had its limits. This wasn’t helped by the buses only running ever half an hour and meant that some people got left behind. To go with the cramped conditions, the route was through some mountainous terrain with steep hills and frequent sharp bends.
After getting very personable with others on the bus for about 45 minutes – especially when someone sitting at the back wanted to get off – we arrived back in Hakone Yumoto. From there it was simply a reverse of the first three legs to get back home.
Here is a quick map of the journey
Back at Odawara we had a little wait for our Shinkansen back to Tokyo. The stations are each designed with at least four tracks so that stopping services don’t hold up ones that aren’t stopping. While waiting a number of services in each direction flew past at speed
While waiting for train home pic.twitter.com/pUHXguAnmV
— Greater Auckland (@GreaterAKL) October 15, 2016
Scenery wise, it is very reminiscent of various places around the centre of the North Island, which is why I guess Hakone has a sister city relationship with Taupo.
It was mostly just a day of travelling but it was enjoyable and despite not really being planned and using lots of different services, the transfers seemed to work fairly well. I know a few readers have done this trip too, if you have, what did you think of it.