Hello foodies! Who’s excited to travel back up north into central Japan? When I left you (sorry it’s been so long!), we had just had an incredible weekend in Oita. After waking up super early, we made it to the station so we could make a mega Shinkansen (bullet train) journey, up to Hakone. Sadly for us, lots of other rugby supporters had similar plans. This meant that the train was absolutely jammed with people! We sat on the floor in the passage between the carriages and resigned ourselves to fighting a sake hangover for 5 hours until we finally made it to Nagoya – the first foodie destination in this flog. We then went on to visit some amazing areas of Hakone – a region which is famous for its views of Mount Fuji. These travels will involve epic waterfalls, beautiful forest walks and some humbling reminders of nature’s power. It was also the setting for a couple of delicious meals! So, get nice and settled and ready to transport yourself to an absolutely stunning area in Japan.
After hours of uncomfortable travelling, we finally arrived in Nagoya, where we would change for Hakone. We hadn’t eaten anything for ages so we thought we would do a quick ramen examination. We didn’t want to go far, so we walked in to one just down the street. It was called Hongo Tei and looked a bit average, but it was nice and busy, so we gave it a try! As with most Japanese ramen shops, you had to buy a token from a machine on the door and then you use that to order. The downstairs was rammed, so we were taken upstairs to a traditionally laid out area with barstools for seats. Lots of Japanese restaurants have these because you effectively sit at a bar that overlooks the kitchen. This is great because it means you get a chance to watch the chefs at work. I always enjoy this, but sadly on this occasion we were around the corner so couldn’t get a great view. On the bright side, they did have a free salad and soup bar which we got some tasty miso from whilst we waited. We had ordered ‘Shisen Ramen’, which came with delicious pork belly and a spicy broth. When it arrived, we tucked in gratefully to the hot, salty soup and it certainly satisfied our hunger. The pork was lovely and slow cooked with delicious fatty layers and the texture always goes so well with the noodles. I really enjoyed it, and as it was my first real bowl of ramen, I didn’t know how much better it could be. However, the spicy sauce was lacking kick and didn’t have the thick, meaty flavour that the best broths have. Although, it did still fill a hungry hole! Basically, it was decent, without being exceptional.
The Typhoon & the Hostel
After a satisfying feed, it was time to get back on the train and complete our trip to Hakone. We were really excited to get there because Hakone has a reputation of being particularly beautiful. It’s not too far from Tokyo and on the right day, you get amazing views of Mount Fuji. However, there was one big concern when we arrived. Hakone was one of the areas that were badly hit by the huge typhoon, Hagabis, that hit Japan the week before we arrived. It was the worst typhoon in Japan for 60 years and had horrific consequences for many people. Lots of places would have been brought to their knees by such a disaster, but somehow Japan managed to get back on its feet remarkably quickly. All the bullet trains were running by the time we arrived, and Hakone was the only place we went where trains were suspended and some areas were unreachable. On a positive note, these awful events did not dampen to charming and friendly spirits of the people we met in the area. It was tipping it down when we arrived, so we turned up to our hostel dripping wet, after a dark and confusing walk. Luckily, the hostel staff were incredibly welcoming and greeted us with a free beer. This is the best possible welcome and boded well for a good stay. The hostel was called Guest House Azito and the waiting room/bar was buzzing when we arrived.
After checking in and relaxing at the bar, we went to find our room. This turned out to be the distinguishing feature of Azito. Instead of the usual bunkbed set up, the dorm contained multiple private ‘treehouses’. This was a great feature, giving the space real character! It also provides a bit more privacy than a standard bunkbed because you have your own room. Although, for Mark and I, this meant less privacy if anything. That was because we had cheaped out and gone for a double treehouse between us. This was a bit cosy, but actually surprisingly spacious. Once we had moved in, we got to planning our next meal. This was a bit trickier than we expected because some places were closed or inaccessible due to the typhoon. In the end, we decided we’d sample something a bit different and went for a Korean Barbeque restaurant. This wasn’t very far away, but it was still chucking it down, so Mark and I got our wet weather gear on for the journey. It’s always a bit disorientating arriving somewhere in the dark, and this was no exception. We managed to navigate our way to the area where the restaurants were, and after peering through the haze of rain, we spotted the nondescript restaurant we were looking for. It was called Horumon Genya on Google Maps (although the automatic translation on the website says it’s called Bandit Hormone), but the sign was in Japanese, so we went for it based on it being the right type of food in roughly the right place – guesswork at its finest!
The Korean Barbecue
Horumon Genya was up a flight of stairs and had a cool section as you walked in which had a few vintage Asian cooking utensils. This set the scene nicely for a very cool eating experience. The restaurant had multiple flexible chimneys which they could move over different tables. This was because in Korean BBQ, you cook the food yourself, so they need to avoid smoking everyone out! After arriving, getting a drink and ordering a few different types of meat and sides, our tabletop BBQ arrived. This was the real deal, with proper hot coals to impart that lovely smoky flavour that makes BBQs so tasty. We ordered a plate of 3 mixed meats, some beef heart and a mixture of pickled veg which complimented the meat beautifully. The heart had a rich, sweet Korean glaze which caramelised when cooked. The pickled seaweed went particularly well with this sweet stickiness. Then there was some lovely marbled beef which only need a couple of seconds of searing to render the fat and bring out the flavour. It was ‘melt in the mouth’ delicious and just quickly dipped in soy, it made for a super tasty morsel. The only problem was that it was so thinly cut that it disappeared all too quickly! Finally, there was a kind of pork steak which was also lovely. It went really well with a bit of the heart glaze and had a lovely bite to it which was a good contrast to the buttery steak. We also had a bit of rice to bulk things out and that absorbed some of the sauces and juices which is always a bonus. It was a great all-round experience where you couldn’t help but become obsessive about each part of cooking the meat and sampling each lovely slice. The atmosphere was great too. The staff were friendly, and we had a good time chatting in broken English to some of the other customers. All in all, I couldn’t really fault this place apart from it being quite expensive for small quantities. But that is to be expected when you are getting good quality meat!
After we had eaten, it was fairly late and still pretty wet, so we only wandered for a little while before returning to our treehouse. Once back, we worked out our itinerary for the next day which was going to be a big one. We wanted to do everything from boiling eggs in sulphur, to seeing the famous waterfalls that the region has to offer. It soon became clear that this wouldn’t be as easy as we hoped. After waking up early, we decided to head to a bakery and stock up with food for breakfast and then a picnic lunch. We looked up what was around and saw that there was meant to be a decent one in the train station. As this was where we were starting our adventure, this seemed a good idea, so we went for it. It was inventively called the Hakone Cafe, and looked inviting, if a bit commercial (but what else would you expect in a station). All the baked goods were displayed around the shop, and you could select what you wanted from their baskets before taking it up to the counter on a tray and paying. This was also where you could order your teas and coffees – you probably all know how cafes work, or at least how they worked pre-covid. At this stage, we chose some doughnuts and bacon pastries to get us going. This came with a pretty bog-standard coffee but was a satisfying enough breakfast. We also got a kind of stuffed bread thing… It wasn’t a roll because the stuffing was actually in the bread. From what I remember it was a ham and cheese affair. We got a couple of similar lunchy things and then hit the supermarket for some strange crisp flavours and some matcha flavoured Mikados.
After assembling our picnic and bulking it out with some water, we set off to the information desk to get advice on what was open after the typhoon. It turned out that lots wasn’t! In fact, the trains had stopped completely. Also, many of the attractions at the top of the mountains had been closed. This included the sulphur eggs. Feeling a little disheartened, we got the bus that would take us as far up as possible. Then, when we were near the famous Chisuji Falls, we got off to try and walk to wherever seemed interesting. This is when we started to see the incredible power of the typhoon and the state that the area was in. There were huge diggers collecting massive buckets of water off the sides of roads and putting them into trucks so that they could be taken down to the sea. There were construction workers try to repair damaged pipes. And there were road closures due to fallen trees and other debris. Mark and I brazenly tried to continue our adventure by taking the road that wasn’t closed up towards the area where the sulphur infused hot springs were. After walking for 10-15 minutes in torrential rain, we came to a police roadblock. We asked why it was closed and they told us that they were carrying out controlled explosions further up the mountain. We had heard the bangs, so this made a lot of sense! From what I understand, they did this to prevent serious landslides, much like ski resorts do to prevent dangerous avalanches. Anyway, we were sent back the way we came, feeling soggy and a little dispirited.
The Chisuji Falls
Luckily, we still weren’t too far from the waterfalls we were hoping to see. We managed to navigate our way to a side-entrance, and we went on into the woods which hid the Chisuji Falls. I’m not sure if we were really meant to be there because there wasn’t another soul in the area. But this could have been because there weren’t any bus tours operating and bringing the usual irritating tourists (yes, I know I’m an irritating tourist too!) Either way, it made for a magical experience for Mark and me. After a short walk, with some pretty massive spider webs to avoid, we made it to the falls themselves. Now, these aren’t the typical dramatic, gushing falls that one might imagine. Instead, they had a much more subtle beauty, with a picturesque dappled flow. Having said that, the extreme weather that preceded our visit meant that it was definitely a heavier flow than normal. Even gushing in some places. The scene as a whole was idyllic. The sun even started to come out, so we had the dappled light coming through the trees and this famous area all to ourselves.
The Unknown Waterfall
After taking this all in, we set off on a walk through the forests to try and find Lake Ashinoko. It was a beautiful route with amazing mountainous, almost Alpine scenery. We trekked up to the top of the hill and tried to find our route down. Somewhere along the way we must have gone wrong though. This meant we had a long way to walk on the road which wasn’t at all ideal. However, as so often happens when you get lost, we stumbled across something beautiful. Just off the side of the road we found another fabulous waterfall. This wasn’t marked on the map and we would never have seen it if we had driven past. But because we were walking, we heard the water and investigated. For this one, I will let Mark’s photos do the talking!
After exploring this waterfall and resting on the rocks next to it, we were revitalised and able to continue our journey to Lake Ashi. We walked on and passed some amazing shrines, lakes and forests before eventually reaching our picnic spot next to the stunning lake. We kept on hoping we would get that coveted view of Mount Fuji but sadly the day was never quite clear enough. It didn’t matter too much though because we had some tasty stuffed bread, crisps and Kirin beer to keep us happy. We also had the amazing views over Lake Ashi and the beautiful Hakone Shrine’s lakeside torii (holy gate), to keep us happy. Luckily for us, by this stage, the rain had stopped, and we could enjoy our beef consommé flavoured crisps in sporadic sunshine. These were really delicious by the way! After taking in the view and resting our weary legs, we needed to make our way back to the hostel to get packed up. We decided we couldn’t face the walk back, so we found a suitable bus and settled into the back seats like the bad boys we are. We sat there eating our slightly odd matcha flavoured Mikados and enjoying the fact we were no longer walking. Finally, we got back to the hostel and had time to get clean before making our way back down the mountain for our next train.
The Plea for Followers
This train would take us to the destination of our next flog: Kamakura. For the diehard foodies amongst you, this will feature one of our best meals in Japan! It was also a really cool place to stay and definitely worth nipping to from Tokyo. Until then, take a look over some of my recent flogs and make sure you like, comment and subscribe so I know you’re enjoying them – also, you won’t miss out on new releases!
Yours in food,