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Travel///Hakone

Hakone Story and photos by Julian Ryall

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cloud of yellow-grey smoke billows out of the ground and into the sky. The earth burps a second time a few hundred yards away and another cloud escapes. Within seconds, the air is filled with the pungent, gritty odor of Sulphur. Owakudani is a crater that formed in the side of Mount Hakone around 3,000 years ago and has been releasing Sulphur from deep within this volcano since. Less than 50 miles to the west of central Tokyo, Owakudani is overlooked by its far more famous big brother, the iconic Mount Fuji. The proximity to both the capital of Japan and its most famous landmark has made the town of Hakone the perfect spot for a weekend retreat for anyone who enjoys natural baths and impressive new hotels. The bowl of the Owakudani crater has been stripped down to bare rock that has been turned Sulphur yellow and is crossed by vents of steam. Higher up on the edges of the shallow valley, the vegetation is grey and withered where it cannot survive the constant exposure to gases. The odor is constant. But so too is the danger. Barricades have been placed along the hiking paths that crisscross the hillside since Mount Hakone erupted in 2015 — a full 800 years since the last major tremor shook the region. The volcano has smaller vents that show up as steam rising from the forests that cover its flanks and can be seen from the windows of the cable car as visitors descend back to the shores of Lake Ashi. The shores of this picturesque lake are largely undeveloped, apart from a couple of small communities on its northern and southern tips, where boats designed to look like pirate galleons take visitors on cruises. The ships offer spectacular views of Mount Fuji, although the peak is notoriously shy during the summer months and is often hidden behind banks of cloud. In the winter months, however, its snow-capped peak dominates the skyline. Cruise past a scarlet “torii” gateway that stands in the water just off the shore and catch a glimpse of a flight of stone stairs flanked by towering cypress trees beyond that lead to Hakone Shrine. After disembarking at the southern pier, set out once again in the rental car — by far the best way to explore this part of Japan — for the first night’s accommodation. Hakone Tenyu only opened in 2017, but it has quickly become one of the most popular hotels for visitors to Hakone. Built on a hillside looking down a long valley, the hotel is in a modern traditional Japanese style and every room has a private bath filled with naturally heated “onsen” water on its balcony. Dinner is a seven-course extravaganza of Japanese cuisine that includes sesame tofu with corn sauce and wasabi as one of the starters, assorted sashimi, a Japanesestyle bouillabaisse and a tender Japanese sirloin steak. After a meal like that, enjoy a soak in the onsen before a night’s rest. The next morning, visitors can explore the communities at the southern end of Lake Ashi, including climbing the steps to the Hakone Shrine and washing hands in water that gushes from the mouths of nine metal dragons. Another historic spot well worth visiting is the old checkpoint that stands on the banks of the lake that was where travelers were searched or paid a toll in centuries past. The penalties for anyone who attempted to evade the toll are graphically displayed in the nearby exhibition hall and are not for the squeamish. CONTINUED ON PAGE 6

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Buenas - October/November 2018  

Modern murals: Bold and beautiful | Soft and smooth: Serena Sirena | Student Savings: Get more for less

Buenas - October/November 2018  

Modern murals: Bold and beautiful | Soft and smooth: Serena Sirena | Student Savings: Get more for less

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