Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Part 3: Tokyo, Nikko, Hakone

Map of trip to Japan

28.10: KL -> Tokyo
29.10: Tokyo
30.10: Tokyo
31.10: Tokyo
1.11: Tokyo
2.11: Tokyo -> Nikko -> Tokyo
3.11: Tokyo -> Hakone -> Tokyo
4.11: Tokyo -> Kyoto
5.11: Kyoto
6.11: Kyoto -> Nara -> Kyoto
7.11: Kyoto -> Himeji -> Hiroshima
8.11: Hiroshima -> Osaka
9.11: Osaka
10.11: Osaka -> KL

1.11: Tokyo
Hotel Sumisho.
Weather: overcast the whole day. It rains a bit in the afternoon. A bit more fresh than yesterday.

I get up at 10am, leave the hotel at 11:15am and arrive at 12pm at the Yurakucho subway station (near the Ginza area). This is again an interesting area, which I haven't seen before. Luxury shops with expensive Western goods, for instance an Ermenegildo Zegna boutique, wide open tree lined boulevards, large buildings, shops, restaurants and so on. Lots of people in office wear walking around, probably going for lunch for the noon break.

It takes some effort to figure out where the Tourist Information centre is - 10th floor of the Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan building opposite the Yurakucho subway station. The people there are very friendly and speak fluent English. I discuss Hakone and Kyoto. They show me a map of Hakone and Lake Ashi and explain the area. Then they book a hotel in Kyoto for three nights for me, arriving on November 4th. For the hotel in Hakone they tell me to go down to the 1st floor, where there are two travel agencies.

Unfortunately the first travel agency cannot find a free room for November 3rd (a Saturday) and the second one can only find one for 29000 yen, which actually is too much (over 170 Euro). Later in the evening I check the Internet and realise that Hakone is always full over the weekend, most likely because people from Tokyo go there for the weekend.

In the meantime I have lost a lot of time. It's unbelievable how easy it is to lose time in Japan. It's already 2:15pm when I get out of the Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan building. I still have had no lunch and the Tokyo National Museum is only open until 5pm.

I buy a snack on the fly which will fill my stomach until the evening, then rush to the Hibiya subway station in order to get to Ueno. I'm finally at the museum at 2:45pm. The entry ticket is 600 yen for the permanent collections and 1500 yen if you also want to see the special collections. I get a 1500 yen ticket and get in.

Until 5pm I'm in the museum. There are some interesting artifacts of Japanese and Asian origin, for instance Buddhist statues from Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the special collection section there is an exhibit of the 17th-18th century Shogun period. Some very impressive armours of the Tokugawa shoguns and other artifacts of that time.

After the museum I walk back to the Ueno station, where I fetch the subway to Akihabara station which is on the way back to the hotel. An interesting area full of shops, modern buildings, interesting architecture. Huge stores selling electronics devices on several floors.

I'm in Akihabara until 6:30pm then get back to the Ningyocho subway station and have dinner in the area at 7pm. At 7:20pm I take the subway to Asakusa station, where I buy a return ticket for tomorrow to Nikko (leaving 10am, returning 7pm). Surprisingly it only costs 4940 yen, not 9000 yen as the lady in the JR East office near Tokyo Central Station told me. By 8:15pm I'm back in the hotel.

2.11: Tokyo -> Nikko -> Tokyo
Hotel Sumisho.
Weather: overcast the whole day. Quite fresh in Nikko (it lies at 560m of altitude in the mountains), actually too cold for just a long sleeves shirt. Should have brought a jacket with me. It rains a little bit in Nikko around 4pm.

Today I get up at 8:30am, get ready and at 9:20am leave the hotel. I'm at the Asakusa train station at 9:45am, in time for the 10am train to Nikko. The train leaves punctually and arrives in Nikko at 11:45am.

From the train station it's a 2km walk to the temples complex (or you take a bus). I reach the red Shinkyo bridge at 12:23pm, then turn right and walk up the hill to the temples complex. The area is heavily forested, with huge and tall trees everywhere. Like a magic Harry Potter forest.

At the ticket counter I buy a combination ticket for 1000 yen, valid for all five temples. For an extra 520 yen you can visit Ieyasu's tomb and the Sleeping Cat. The other option is a ticket for 1300 yen, valid only for the Toshogu shrine, but including Ieyasu's tomb and the Sleeping cat.

I spend all in all a bit less than three hours to visit the temples. You certainly don't need a full day to see the temples, but if you have time to kill you can spend it in the city of Nikko (lots of restaurants catering to an international crowd, lots of souvenir and handicraft shops).

Actually only two temples are really outstanding (the others are not too impressive). It's the Tosho-gu shrine (very impressive decorations and wood carvings) and the Taiyuin-byo shrine (again very impressive decorations and wood carvings, but a bit smaller than the Tosho-gu shrine). The Taiyuin-byo shrine lies in a pretty impressive setting - on a cliff completely surrounded by tall trees.

By the way, the shrines are only open until 4pm and won't let anybody in after 3:30pm. In any case, by 3:30pm I've had enough of the shrines and I start walking back to the train station.

At 4pm I'm at the train station. I'm booked on the 6:52pm train, but want to go back to Tokyo now. So I change the booking (cost is 300 yen) and I take the 4:20pm train, which arrives in Tokyo Asakusa at 6:15pm.

In the Asakusa station I call the hotel in Kyoto where I am booked between the 4th and the 7th November (Kyoto Dai-Ni Tower hotel), asking if the room is available one day earlier on the 3rd. No chance, the hotel is fully booked.

So I get back to Ningyocho station, have a brief dinner, then get back to the hotel. At the reception I ask if I can stay one more night (thinking that tomorrow I might do Hakone as a day trip from Tokyo). They tell me that they are fully booked tomorrow. Some kind of national celebration day, all of Japan apparently is on the move for a couple of days.

In the hotel room I do a web search and call 13 hotels in Kyoto. Except for one guesthouse which has a dormitory place, they are all fully booked. Pretty scary, where am I going to stay tomorrow? In the end I go down to the reception and I explain the situation. The guy say 'no problem' and that he will find a hotel for me in Kyoto.

Sounds great, but no such luck as he is unable to find a room for me in Kyoto. Finally we find a hotel in Tokyo, in walking distance of the Sumisho hotel. Good news finally.

Tomorrow I'll do Hakone as a day trip from Tokyo. The day after I'll go to Kyoto by Shinkansen.

3.11: Tokyo -> Hakone -> Tokyo
Hotel Villa Fontaine Nihonbashi, Tokyo. www.villa-fontaine.co.jp. 8600 yen for a nice small room, bigger than the Sumisho hotel one, with the same set-up: phone, LCD TV, alarm clock/radio, fridge, A/C, fast DSL Internet line, tea cooker, hair drier, table with chair. Attached bath, much bigger than the one of the Sumisho hotel. Breakfast included (simple, buffet style: bread, pastry, jam, tea/coffee, salad). This hotel is so much better than the Sumisho hotel!
Note: the staff at the Sumisho hotel is great and deserves a medal for good service. They found this hotel for me yesterday, and today while I was on the trip to Hakone they brought my luggage here. What an excellent service.
Weather: overcast in the morning in Tokyo. Sunny in Hakone and blue sky starting from 1pm. Quite fresh and windy in the Hakone area.

I get up at 8am, pack my things and at 9:30am I am down in the reception and check out. The guy takes my bags and says he will bring them to the new hotel. Too friendly, I almost tell him that I can't accept so much friendliness. These guys deserve a medal for good service.

I walk to the train station, arriving there in 15 minutes. At one of the machines I buy a ticket and a reserved seat for 3640 yen on the Shinkansen to Odawara at 10:23am. Very easy, in less than two minutes I have the tickets. Then since it's a bit early I walk around a bit. Interesting station, full of people and activity. A few stalls selling Japanese and western food.

The Shinkansen leaves punctually Tokyo at 10:23 am and arrives in Odawara on time at 11:02am. Then I get a Hakone Free Pass for 3900 yen and I wonder if I really saved some money, because if you just do a round trip (train to Hakone-Gora, cable-car to Togendai, boat cruise to Motohakone, bus from there by bus back to Odawara) you might actually spend less than that. On the other hand you don't lose time purchasing individual tickets.

After Odawara the trip becomes very slow. I first take the train to Hakone Yumoto (very crowded, long queue of people before before being able to board the train), arriving in Yumoto at almost 1pm. Then there is another queue and I am finally on the cable car at 1:30pm. Two and a half hours have passed since I arrived in Odawara.

The cable car stops in Owakudani station, a very interesting place with natural hot springs and sulphureous emissions. I'm there between 1:30pm and 2:20pm. You basically leave the cable car station and do a short 10 minutes walk along the hot water springs and gas emissions (strong rotten egg smell). In one place they cook eggs in this hot sulphureous water, which then get a black shell. Great direct view of Mt Fuji, which however is limited by a considerable amount of haze. By the way, the Owakudani station can be reached also by road.

At 2:30pm I take the cable car down to the Ashi lake in Togendai. It is also possible to walk down along a path. Togendai is a nice scenic spot, but there is not much to do besides admiring the scenery, so I take the 3pm boat to Motohakone. The boat is plastic and steel replica of a 18th century galleon, complete with plastic statues of pirates and ship officers, for the perfect photo opportunity.

The lake Ashi cruise takes 45 minutes. Nice lake, nice scenery but you can't see Mt Fuji from the boat. In Motohakone I have a short meal (noodle soup), then I take the 4:40pm bus to Odawara. The town of Motohakone itself is quite geared towards the tourists. I think you can spend a few days in the area without getting bored - lots of activities are possible: hot baths, trekking, there are several museums, you can take a bus to Mt Fuji for a closer view etc.

The bus arrives in Odawara station around 6pm. I take the 6:23pm Shinkansen to Tokyo, arriving in Tokyo around 7pm. Then I walk towards the Ginza area. It's Saturday evening and the area is humming with activity. Lots of people, many young women dressed in a stylish manner. Neon lights everywhere, great visual effect of the buildings, cool and elegant architecture, many retail outlets of designers.

At 8:20pm I get back by subway to Ningyocho station. After a brief dinner (bowl of noodle soup), I head to the new hotel. What a positive surprise. This hotel costs a little bit more, but is so much better than the Sumisho (see the above description). Excellent service of the Sumisho hotel however, who brought my luggage already there. After arriving I process my photos of the day and check my emails.

Copyright 2007 Alfred Molon