Ashinoko Lake

Hakone Tozan

I fancied being away from a city, plus I saw a picture in a guide book of a pirate ship, so we went to Hakone Tozan. The guide book listed all sorts of activities, like hot springs and cable cars and temples (Japan has lots and lots of temples) but all I wanted was a little countryside with a view of Mount Fuji…and maybe a pirate ship. (If I’m honest, I might not have mentioned the pirate bit to Husband.)

Now, although I mainly married my husband because he makes me laugh, an added bonus is that he is exceptionally good at planning trips. So by the time I woke up the following day, he had sorted a rather complicated series of steps, ending at Lake Ashi in Hakone.

We got a train into Tokyo, then the shinkansen (a bullet train) to Odawar. There we were able to buy a two-day pass to the Hakone area. We took the local tourist train (Hakone Tozan Railway) to Hakone Yumoto. Here, we caught a bus, which went up the mountain, to Lake Ashi, also known as Ashinoko Lake. It’s a crater lake, formed on the side of Mount Hakone.

Lake Ashi was exactly what I’d hoped. As we arrived, the sun was shining, and there, in the distance, was Mount Fuji. It kept clouding over, and an iphone is not necessarily the best camera for taking views, but if you look very carefully, you can see it. In real life, it was very clear, and very exciting. The lake has ferries, which take you to various tourist spots, and one is designed to look like a pirate ship. I could tell Husband was impressed. (Actually, if I’m honest, his only comment was to wonder how they managed to get full-sized ferries onto a mountain lake. Did they build them on site, or were they helicoptered in?)

The whole area is a well known tourist spot, so there were lots of facilities (and luckily for us, not too many tourists). We bought lunch in a 7-Eleven (which is, interestingly, a Japanese owned chain) and ate next to the lake. Then we walked to a view point, across a bridge where you could see koi, up two hundred steps through a woodland hill. There were birds calling, the weather was warm and humid, the air felt green and peaceful. It was all pretty perfect.

We considered hiring a rowing boat or peddle boat, taking the ferry across to a temple, or going to see the hot springs. But really, to simply sit in the sun and listen to the water lapping and the birds singing, was all we wanted. That and a bin for the rubbish – Husband was strangely fixated on finding a dustbin.

We then caught the bus back to Hakone Yumoto. We bought tickets for the Romance Train, which was a slower and cheaper way to get to Shinjuku, where we could go on the JR line to the hotel. A ‘Romance Train’ is not, by the way, romantic. Kissing in public is considered indecent in Japan, and we saw very few people even holding hands.

Fabulous day out.


Thank you for reading.

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and non-fiction books. You can find her work in bookshops and Amazon.

If you enjoyed this, you will love my new book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary.
I have always written a diary on holiday, so last Christmas, I decided to find all my old diaries and blogs, and make a book for my children. However, several other people also asked for a copy, so I have written a public version – it’s available on Amazon and has been described as “The Durrells meet Bill Bryson”!

Why not buy a copy today? I think it will make you laugh.

The US link is here:

The India link is here:

The UK link is here:



Travel in Japan

Travelling Around Japan

For the foreign traveller, Japan has a very user-friendly transport system. I have explained the Tokyo underground system in a previous blog, so I’ll tell you about the bullet trains and buses, and general other tourist stuff. Japan seems to be one of the safest countries I have ever explored, so if you are a nervous traveller, come to Japan.

Everyone knows that Japan has bullet trains. They are quick and easy. They are not the cheapest way to travel though. In 2018, a trip from Tokyo to Kyoto takes about 2 hours and costs about £200 return. It’s a few pounds more if you want to reserve a seat. Announcements on the trains are in Japanese followed by English, and an onboard sign shows which station you are approaching. Each carriage has a map of the train, marking toilets, bins and crew positions. The seats are comfy, forward facing, and recline. When passengers disembark, they replace their seat to the upright position (Japanese people are very polite, they don’t leave things in a way to inconvenience other people).

Buying tickets was relatively easy. We went to the ticket office, and staff spoke enough English to be helpful. They also told us which platform we needed. Platforms can be confusing, as different ends of the same platform have trains going to different places, but we found that other passengers were willing to help. Carriage positions are marked on the platform, so you can queue in the correct place. Stations have a shortage of seats, so don’t go to the platform before you need to unless you enjoy standing.

Local trains stop at more stations, and have less comfy seats, but are still clean. The onboard facilities depend on the train.

Taxis can be hailed anywhere (unlike in Singapore, where there are special places, like bus stops for hailing cabs). When they are available, they have the Chinese symbol for ‘free’ lit in red lights in the windscreen.

In some places (like Hakone) you can buy a ticket that covers trains, underground, and buses. The buses run to timetable, so be at the stop on time. The timetable will show the bus number or letter, which you then match with the sign on the bus stop. If you don’t have a prepaid ticket, you take a ticket when you get on the bus, and pay the driver when you leave (though I think this varies, as some have machines for paying). The next stop is shown on a sign at the front, and you press a button to request a stop. I think eating on a bus is impolite, as is blowing your nose. So you might want to sit separately from your husband. (Just saying.)

When you arrive, stations have good facilities. There are often shops and cafes. Tokyo station even has tunnels full of market stalls!

Public toilets are clean, and tend to have both traditional toilets and European style ones. All the ones I found were free to use. They also provide loo paper (some countries don’t). ALSO, Japan is the first country I have ever been in, where there is one cubicle designated for mothers of young babies. Inside, in the corner, there is a seat where you can strap a young child. This is SUCH a good idea – why do all countries not have them? Using the washroom with a young child tends to involve either abandoning them in a public place strapped into their buggy where you can’t see them, or leaving the door open so the whole world can watch you pee, or attempting to hold them while you use the toilet (which they always see as a time to wriggle unhelpfully). On behalf of mothers everywhere I would like to say, well done Japan!

Walking around cities is safe, as pavements are clean and well maintained. Any building work or obstacles have men who wave red flags at you so you notice. Signs are in Japanese, so you need a good map. Roads have crossing points, with lights. Everyone obeys the lights. Sometimes you have to wait for a long time, but they tweet at you when the light is green, which is a helpful indication that you should stop writing emails if your wife has decided to ignore you. (Just saying.)

Trains in Japan are a good way to see the countryside. We saw houses, which tended to fill the whole plot, so gardens were tiny. In rural areas there were flooded fields (I assume for growing rice) and temples and mountains and plains. Here are a few fuzzy photos taken from the train:

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and non-fiction books. You can find her work in bookshops and Amazon.


Thank you for reading.