After spending two full days in Tokyo at the lovely Family Inn Saiko, we took the train to Hakone, a very popular holiday destination amongst the Japanese, who love to visit its onsen hot spring resorts.
Hakone is close enough to Tokyo – less than 100km away, in fact – so it is actually possible to do a quick tour of the region in one or two days. However, as we were looking forward to enjoying more of the natural beauty of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park (and perhaps catch a glimpse of the elusive Mt Fuji as well), we decided that we would stay in the Hakone region for one week.
Travel Tip: If you are visiting Tokyo and would like to escape to the countryside for a few days, it’s worth getting the Hakone Freepass which is a heavily discounted travel pass that not only includes a round trip from Tokyo to Hakone, unlimited use of all major transportation routes within Hakone (cable car, ropeway, train, bus and boat) and free or discounted admission to tourist attractions in Hakone!
On the day that we left Tokyo, we were fortunate to witness the Autumn Festival in Ikebukuro.
The festival is usually held over two days, and involves a parade through the suburbs where all the grownups (usually men) dressed in kimonos will drag a shrine through the streets.
The idea is that, once a year, the portable shrine will travel from its usual resting place at the temple so that people in the neighbourhood who are normally unable to visit the temple during the year will have a chance to pay their respects as the shrine passes by their front door.
Occasionally, the shrine will stop and it is polite to offer refreshments to the people who have been helping to pull the heavy shrine through the streets.
At the end of the parade, everyone follows as the portable shrine returns to the temple, where there is a sort of carnival with games stalls, musicians and dancers and magicians and every sort of tomfoolery as well as hawkers selling street food. It’s loud and colourful and the party goes on well past midnight.
On the second day of the festival, there is another parade which involves a smaller, more lightweight shrine, specially designed for children to carry. This is so that the neighbourhood kids get a chance to feel involved in their local temple celebrations!
As you can see from the photo above, the kids are all dressed up in their finery. The shrine stopped in front of the Family Inn Saiko (Obasan had already prepared a table of refreshments for the children), so J took the opportunity to find the two cutest little girls in the parade and shyly asked them for a photo. Aren’t they cute? I love the matching ribbons and kimonos!
Unfortunately, as we were heading to Hakone that day, we were not able to participate in the evening festivities. Instead, we headed to Shinjuku station and hopped onto the Odakyu Limited Express ‘Romancecar’, and made our way to the highlands of Hakone.
There are many ways of getting to Hakone from Tokyo. However, as we were travelling with luggage and two small children, we decided to pay a little bit extra to reserve seats on the limited express train ‘Romancecar’ which goes straight from Tokyo to Hakone without requiring us to change trains. This meant that our travel time from Tokyo to Hakone was a mere two hours long.
Additionally, the Romancecar trains have special observation decks in the front and back cars, which allows us to have clear, panoramic views of the gorgeous countryside.
(Apparently, on a very clear day, the majestic Mt Fuji makes an appearance too!)
Travel Tip: All Japanese express trains require passengers to reserve a seat for an additional fee. Children under 5 years of age enjoy free rail travel, even on the express trains, however, this means that on a crowded train they may not get their own seat. For this reason, it is best to travel during off-peak hours!
J and Little E enjoyed being on the train, as they had the freedom to roam about the cabins and enjoy the ever-changing view of the countryside and mountains. There is a buffet car on the Romancecar which serves hot food as well as snacks and drinks, so I indulged them by letting them each choose a special souvenir bento that can only be purchased onboard the train.
P.S. Here’s a little video that I made of our travel experience between Hakone and Tokyo – it should give you some idea of what a jolly time we had on the train!