Curious and Adventurous. This is how I define myself. As a Sagittarius, travelling makes me feel free. It allows me to experience new things, expand my horizon and comfort zone. It enables me to discover a country’s culture, traditions and customs. Talking with people that I met on the journey also allows me to hear about their stories and their perspectives on different things. From travelling, I get to know myself better.
My friend and I spent five days in Tokyo and Hakone around New Year’s in 2019. If you happen to visit the Kanto area of Japan, I would highly recommend you to put down Hakone on your checklist. Hakone is a town in Kanagawa prefecture which is less than two hours away by regular train from Tokyo. It is even faster if you take a Shinkansen. This is one of the top destinations for locals and travellers if they want to take a break from the busy city life in Tokyo. You can spend a day or two to connect the nature in the Pampas Grass Field to feel the cool breeze in spring and summer or soothe yourself in the Onsens (hot springs) in winter. We stayed one night at Hotel Yoshiike which offers both Western and Japanese-style rooms. It has a scenic garden with a pond, lots of plants and some traditional architectures. In the hotel, there are both public and private Onsens available for you to relax. The number of private Onsens is limited so you need to book in advance. We went to the hot spring pretty late after our five-course dinner at a nearby restaurant so the public hot spring already felt like a private one which was really nice.
The next day we walked pass by the Haya river and checked out some shops selling local confections. Then we reached the Hakone Yumoto station where we could take either a bus or a train to the Souzan station. From there, you can ride the cable car to the most popular attraction in the region, Owakudani. This volcanic valley is said to be the source of the hot spring and the sulfur vents there are still active. It was a clear day so we were lucky to see the Mt. Fuji while waiting for our cable car. The view was already striking even from a far distance.
Before and after our trip to Hakone, we spent a few days in Tokyo. We went up to the Tokyo Tower to see the night city view, did some shopping in Ginza, walked around in Omotesando and Harajuku. We also hung out with my Japanese friend who I met in Sweden. It always makes me so happy to reconnect with some old friends.
It is a Japanese tradition to go to the shrines and temples on New Year’s day to draw an おみくじ (Omikuji), a fortune-telling paper strip to see your fate in the new year. Many people will even go there on New Year’s Eve waiting to get their draw after the count down. We decided to follow this tradition and check out our fortune in Tokyo’s oldest temple, Sensoji. We arrived there at around 10 pm and thought we were early, but our jaws dropped when we saw the crowd. We were directed to the end of the queue and we couldn’t even see the temple from there. After waiting in the frigid weather for hours and moving slowly in the crowd, we finally made it to the temple and got our おみくじ! I got a small blessing which was not too bad. We ended our trip at Tokyo Daijingu, a shrine which is known for bringing good fortune to people’s marriage and relationships. If you are lucky enough, you will see a traditional wedding at this shrine. It is getting increasingly popular among young generations.
If you would like to explore the おみくじ in Japan, it is available in the majority of the temples and shrines all year round. Here are some fun facts about Sensoji: It is said to be the easiest to get a bad fortune paper in this temple as the possibility of getting the worst おみくじ is 30% whereas the best blessing is only 17%.
If you are lucky to get a good blessing, bring it home with you. If not, don’t worry. Just tie the paper at a designated area in the temple so bad luck will not follow you:)
Japan is a small country geographically but has the most polite people on this planet and with a rich and distinctive culture, which I would say, makes me want to go back every year.
If you are interested in Japanese food, click Here to check out what I had on this trip!
Till next time!