Okay… So one month after I came back from my self-drive holiday to Hokkaido, I was on yet another self-drive holiday in Japan. The previous trip was kind of boring for the kids, so this time round, I went about planning a trip that would be absolutely AWESOME for the kids!
The trip was a pretty impromptu decision, and I completed the planning, booking of air tickets, accomodations and car rental in less than 2 weeks! I didn’t have a very fixed itinerary for this trip, what I did prior to the trip was to find a list of places that are kids-friendly, noted down their phone numbers (since Japan’s GPS system uses phone numbers) and only decided where to go based on the weather and our mood during the trip itself. But this was not the first time I drove in the Hakone / Mount Fuji region (see this post for my first trip), so I was pretty familiar with the places and roads and approximate traveling times, hence not much planning was needed beforehand.
Eventually, this was how the road trip went, starting and ending at Odawara Station, which is the nearest shinkansen stop from Hakone.
Day 1: Odawara -> Hakone Open Air Museum -> Yunessun -> Fujiya Hotel
We left Tokyo in the morning and opted to take a local train to Odawara (rather than the popular Romance Car because hubby and I had done it before). We could also have opted for the faster shinkansen, but it would cost double.
Just outside the West exit of Odawara station, you can find Nissan Rent-A-Car and Nippon Rent-A-Car. We opted for Nippon because I wanted to get a Toyota Fielder. We had booked the car earlier via Tocoo website. I loved the fielder for its huge boot.
The drive from Odawara to Hakone took us past the Odawara Castle.
Although the distance was pretty short, the drive took much longer than expected because the road from Odawara to Hakone was a one-land road dotted with numerous traffic lights. Plus it was koyo (autumn-foliage) season in Hakone and hence many people were visiting the region.
Once we passed Hakone-Yumoto station, the traffic eased and the scenery became really beautiful with autumn colours at its peak. Our first destination was the Hakone Open Air Museum.
You may wonder why an art museum was considered a kids-friendly place. The museum encouraged interaction with the art, so there were sculptures that doubled-up as playgrounds. There were 3 play areas there for kids, all of which were awesome fun!
We spent more time than expected here, because MF was having so much fun! We decided to go Yunessun next since it closed later than most other attractions in Hakone. Plus, they had a super discounted ‘Sunset Pass‘ for entry after 3pm.
The kids had fun in the kids pool, which was indoors and heated. There was also a seasonal miso soup bath which was kind of amusing.
There was a section called ‘Yutopia’ where there were many types of spa: Coffee, red wine, green tea, sake etc just to name a few. It was outdoors, which meant I had to brave the cold (it was about 0 degrees outside) to try them out. But having came all the way here, it would be a waste not to try them out!
We were there until they closed at 6pm, after which we had dinner at the restaurant in the Yunessun complex before returning to our hotel.
Day 2: Fujiya hotel -> Lake Ashi sightseeing cruise -> Hakone Ropeway -> Fuji Safari Park -> Hotel Fuyokaku (Fujisan Station)
In the morning, we went for a stroll around our hotel, Fujiya Hotel, which was a pretty historic hotel and a destination in itself. The autumn colours in the garden were simply gorgeous!
For this day, we were trying to decide whether to visit Grinpa Amusement Park, or go for the Hakone sightseeing cruise and ropeway. The weather made the decision for us. Hubby and I had done the latter before, but we did not manage to see Mount Fuji from the cruise and ropeway the last time due to bad weather. The sky was very clear and blue this time round, so we decided we should try it again. Anyway MF super loves taking cable cars.
After our morning stroll and breakfast, we drove to Togendai, which was the station that served both cruise and ropeway. We started with a round trip cruise on the pirate ship. MF was super excited to board a pirate ship!
We made the correct decision to take the cruise, as we were rewarded with the classic postcard view of Mount Fuji from Lake Ashi!
Next, we went on the Hakone Ropeway. The ride between Togendai and Owakudani provided a spectacular view of Mount Fuji.
The view of Mount Fuji from Owakudani was just amazing.
If you are thinking of saving the money on the ropeway and driving up to Owakudani for its view of Mount Fuji instead, my advice is DON’T. Everyone was thinking the same way and the one-lane road up to Owakudani and small carpark at the top simply couldn’t handle the traffic on this clear day. The traffic jam along the road up to Owakudani was just insane. Anyway there was a lot of construction going on up on Owakudani. Not sure what they were building, but I sure hope they build a bigger carpark.
We did not continue the rest of the ropeway ride to Sounzan, although it was included in our one-day cruise + ropeway ticket, because we wanted to spend more time at our next destination, Fuji Safari Park.
Here’s a parting shot of Hakone at Togendai, which was surrounded by beautiful autumn colours:
After about an hour’s drive, we arrived at Fuji Safari Park.
First, we went to the Safari Restaurant for lunch, which was a very child-friendly restaurant with cute kids meals and many high chairs and children’s utensils at your disposal.
After we had filled our stomachs, we started our Jurassic Park-style safari tour with our own rental car. You can choose to drive in with your own vehicle, or take the park’s animal-shaped buses (at additional cost). I prefer driving: own-time-own-target.
The animals could come up really close to your vehicle (it’s not called a safari for nothing). A lion brushed right past our car – and MF totally freaked out.
Only after we entered the herbivorous animals section did MF start to calm down and enjoy the safari tour.
And since it’s FUJI Safari Park, you can see Mount Fuji from the park on clear days.
After we completed one round, we decided to go for a second round. MF was more warmed up and enjoyed the second round more. After that, we went to see the kangaroos.
After we completed our visit of the safari park, there was still time, so we decided to drive up to Snowtown Yeti to see some snow. It was kind of lame, considering that we had no intention to ski or snowboard, but we are Singaporeans and suckers for any opportunity to see snow.
The visit was a total waste of time and money (yes, you need to pay to enter even if you are not skiing) as the family play area was not open yet! And the kids playroom was so pathetic we did not bother letting the kids play there.
On our drive back to the hotel, we saw signs to the Mount Fuji 5th station and decided to try driving there. However, the road was closed in winter. So it was back to the hotel.
Our hotel, Hotel Fuyokaku, was located right next to Fujisan station which houses a department store and supermarket. So we did a little shopping and had our dinner there before calling it a day.
Day 3: Hotel Fuyokaku -> Fuji Q Highland -> Sagamiko -> Lake Shoji
In the morning, we woke up bright and early and went to Fuji Q Highland. With 2 kids in tow, it was difficult to go for all the thrill-rides at Fuji Q, so we only bought admission tickets without the free pass. The main aim of coming to Fuji Q was for its Thomas Land, as MF was a big fan of Thomas!
Thomas Land was kind of at the end of the park, so we walked around the park a bit to see if there were any rides MF and MY could ride. The carousel allowed MY on it and we bought individual ride tickets for it.
The Hamtaro rides looked awfully cute and fun for kids, but sadly MF did not meet the minimum height requirements.
We just walked around taking photos until we finally reached Thomas Land!
Thomas Land was an awesome place for toddlers and even babies! MF could ride on everything except Rock n Roll Duncan (which was under maintenance when we were there anyway) because he was not 3 years old yet. Even 10-month old MY (who was able to sit without support) could ride everything except Rock n Roll Duncan and Go! Go! Bulstrode.
MF went for all the rides, except Rock n Roll Duncan. Me and my hubby took turns to go with him, and we only had to buy one ticket for the adult as all the rides were free for MF who was under 3!
Other than rides, there were also giant models of Thomas and Percy for kids to take photos with.
There were also self-drive vehicles that cost only 100 yen per ride! MF didn’t know how to drive one initially and hubby accompanied him. After one round, he was able to manage and went for another 2 rounds on his own.
The self-drive vehicles dispensed a souvenir card at the start of each ride. Can you believe it? 100 yen for a ride and you still get a souvenir card! It kind of entices you to ride more so that you can collect all the different cards.
There was a Thomas-themed restaurant called ‘K’s Thomas Cafe’ which was really cool. The seats were made to resemble train cabins and they incorporated train designs into their food and everything was served in Thomas cups and plates. There was also a snack kiosk called ‘Lady Hyatt’s Afternoon Tea’ selling Thomas-shaped mini pancakes.
The real trap here was the Thomas Station Shop which sold everything Thomas – confectionary, toys, stationary etc.. you name it, they have it. Even Thomas toilet paper.
They even set up tables with train sets to keep the kids occupied while the parents did their shopping – how considerate. Now you have absolutely no excuse to leave the shop empty-handed. You simply can’t.
With much self-control, we left the shop with minimal damage.
With that, we ended our visit of Thomas Land. The kids absolutely LOVED it and we had such a good time!
On our way out, we decided to ride the Giant Ferris Wheel. On a clear day, you can get a nice view of Mount Fuji from it.
Next, we took a one-hour drive to Sagamiko. This part of the tour was totally unplanned for and way off our route. Our original plan was to visit Kawaguchiko next, as they were having their autumn festival. But we saw posters of the Sagamiko Illumillion and were told it was very beautiful, so we decided to check it out. I think the kids had enough of autumn foliage during the Hokkaido trip anyway. And it’s all in the spirit of free and easy travel – to check out something you did not plan for in advance!
The drive via the Chuo expressway was expensive (we paid about 3000 yen for toll), but the illumination was really beautiful. Some of the rides were operating and complemented the illumination.
Beautiful, isn’t it? The Sagamiko Illumillion surpassed the Kobe Luminarie as my favourite illumination in Japan.
It was a long 1.5 hour drive back to our hotel at Lake Shoji, but we thoroughly enjoyed the side-track.
Day 4: Lake Shoji -> Asagiri Highland -> Odawara
Our last morning in the Mount Fuji region was greeted by a beautiful sunrise, viewed from the comfort of our hotel room. There were many people gathered on the shores of Lake Shoji armed with cameras and tripods, capturing the beautiful sunrise against Mount Fuji.. I felt so lucky to be able to do so from the comfort of my room.
Lake Shoji was much less touristy and quiet compared to Kawaguchiko, and our room with view of Mount Fuji at Hotel Yamadaya was much cheaper compared to rooms with similar view at the more touristy areas. Hotel Yamadaya also had private open air baths, with view of Mount Fuji, which guests could book at no additional charge. Great for those who want to try a Japanese onsen but are shy to strip naked in front of strangers.
After our morning soak in the private bath, we started our drive along the Western side of Mount Fuji. First stop was the Asagiri Kogen (or Asagiri Plateau) for a beautiful view of Mount Fuji.
We continued our drive towards Fuji Milk Land, passing by Asagiri Food Park. We decided not to stop at the food park and go straight to Fuji Milk Land for breakfast – bad decision, because the restaurant at Fuji Milk Land was only open from lunch time onwards. So we bought a big cheesecake and milk from the souvenir shop for breakfast. MF was stuffed and happy!
After eating, we went to check out the animal park where one could experience milking a cow, riding a tractor, horse-riding etc.
We went for horse-riding, which costs 700yen for an individual or 1000yen for a parent and child going together.
On weekends and public holidays, when the weather was good, there was a mini old-school carnival at the open field with games for kids. MF requested to jump on the trampoline.
After this, we began our long 2 hour drive back to Odawara to return our rental car. Self-drive holidays are great fun when travelling with kids, and the Hakone and Mount Fuji region was filled with so much fun stuff for kids! I would definitely recommend visiting this area for a vacation with the kids.
> Self-drive to Hakone and Mount Fuji region (November 2008) – the more scenic version, recommended if you are visiting without kids!
This post is archived under my Japan Travel Blog: