The Hakone loop is beautiful, and well worth it any day of the year. It can be a day trip from Tokyo although we decided to stay the night. If you have the time do that. It just gives you a bit of breathing time. We took an early morning train out of Tokyo. The earlier the better (the train is called the Romance Car). Before boarding don’t forget to pick up a bento box for breakfast. You will never go hungry in Tokyo, and never on the train. the station has several places where you can choose from one of the dozens of bento boxes, all with different combinations of sushi, noodles, pickles and served either hot or cold.
Tokyo lasts for ages but it is so interesting to look at. There are still bursts of cherry blossoms as we make our way out into the countryside. At a certain point the city disappears and if by magic, Mt Fuji with its snow capped peak appears in the distance. Judging by the reaction from the train, including some of the locals, this doesn’t happen everyday.
At Hakone station you can drop off your bags with one of these fantastic services that deliver your bags directly to wherever you want them delivered. We used it a lot in Tokyo and it is just such a fantastic idea for visitors and locals alike. That means that we didn’t have to worry about them and we were free to start the loop which includes buses, trains, boats, trams, gondolas and lots of stunning views. You buy one ticket for the loop and it is very easy to follow. It wasn’t busy today but you can see by the space provided for the lines that this look gets very busy at peak times. We did the loop over a full day, taking our time, stayed the night and then took a morning train to Kyoto the next day. Having two days there though allows you a bit more time to breath.
After taking the first train up the hill to Gora, just at the exit there is a pristine silver airstream caravan parked outside. It has been transformed into an intimate, mobile coffee shop. Jazz music surrounded it and carried us forward to take another peak. A handful of blackboards outside promised not only hot and cold drinks but clam chowder and other items we were definitely not expecting to see. They also serve alcoholic drinks but it was a bit early for that. Of course I was looking for a hot chocolate. A few people came out so we went in and took their places because there is really only room for 6 people inside (although he does offer take out).
Inside was like entering another, wonderful world. A man, the kind of this castle, is behind a very small counter making everything. Apparently he had a career in music production before retiring and deciding to start this business. He makes everything slowly, including the coffee which Rich said was very good. The hot chocolate was made in a tiny little bot on an equally tiny stovetop using dark chocolate and hot milk. It was exactly what I was looking for at that moment so I thoroughly enjoyed it and the whole experience.
If you continue up the hill your next stop will not be for hot chocolate but for black eggs. These are cooked in the volcanic gasses and sold either at the station or you can take a 15 minute walk uphill and buy freshly boiled ones.They don’t taste any different than any other egg but they are black and when in Hakone….
Verdict: Miss the gondola and take the next one. This is well worth a stop (and anyways, you can take the next one). Plus the views from the parking lot are stunning. Cafe Ryusenkei, Gora, Japan.