“With spectacular mountain scenery, soothing onsen and amazing art museums, Hakone makes the perfect short getaway from Tokyo.” Time Out Tokyo
From Kawaguchiko we moved onto the Kanagawa Prefecture to Hakone, a popular hot springs resort town overlooking the picturesque Lake Ashino-ko (Lake Ashi). This whole area is renowned for its natural beauty and numerous wellness resorts, on a clear day it’s the perfect place to view Mount Fuji.
Hakone is home to Fuji-Hakone-Izu, considered to be Japan’s most visited national park. Formed in the caldera (volcanic crater) when Mount Hakone last erupted over 3,000 years ago, the serene Lake Ashi benefits from minimal development apart from a couple of small towns and some lakeside resorts. The best views of the lake and Mount Fuji are from Moto-Hakone or from the observation deck on one of the sightseeing boats that cruise around the lake. Cloud cover thwarted our chances of a clear view of the mountain (again) but we did manage to glimpse the summit from the boat.
Sightseeing boats operate between Moto-Hakone (get off here to see the Hakone-jinja Shrine), Hakone-machi, Togendai and Kojiri, you can hop off and on to explore further. We took a Izu Hakone sightseeing cruise, a large boat with glass and outdoor viewing decks, other options include wooden pirate boat cruises or renting a swan shaped pedalo (it’s a big lake so you need to be pretty fit). Any keen anglers can rent a fishing boat and rods and try their hand at catching some rainbow trout, black bass and Japanese lake smelt.
Hakone-jinja Shrine, also known as Hakone Gongen, is a historical temple located in the forest accessed by a cedar-lined walkway. The small temple It’s famous for its red peace torii archway that appears to hover over Lake Ashi. The torii gate attracts lots of visitors so be prepared to form an orderly queue if you want a photograph. Other activities include the The Hakone Open Air Museum (Hakone Chōkoku No Mori Bijutsukan) a family-friendly venue with indoor and outdoor sculptures, shops, cafes and children’s areas. you can also ride Japan’s oldest mountain railway, the Hakone Tozan Railway and take a gondola trip on the Hakone Ropeway.
If you have time (unfortunately we didn’t) visit Owakudani, the active volcanic area that surrounds the crater caused by the Mount Hakone eruption. Here you can experience sulfurous fumes, steam vents, hot springs and hot rivers and get brilliant views of Mount Fuji, weather permitting. Try black eggs, the local delicacy, that legend says lengthens your life by seven years. The eggs are cooked in the hot springs where the sulphur causes the shells to blacken. Active folk can hike from Owakudani to Mount Kamiyama and then onto Mount Komagatake where you catch the Komagatake Ropeway back down to Lake Ashi.
After a Japanese dinner and breakfast we (I) was craving some Western food and luckily we stumbled across Box Kitchen in Moto-Hakone, a trendy burger place that also served craft beer, milk shakes and % Arabica coffee. The perfect place for a quick lunch, the burgers were excellent (even the veggie option) and I would recommend the restaurant to grab a non-Japanese bite to eat.
We were only in Hakone for one night but if you are staying longer you may want to consider buying the Hakone Free Pass, a discounted excursion ticket for all the popular sightseeing destinations. The pass offers unlimited transportation on Odakyu-affiliated buses, trains, boats, cablecars and ropeways in the area and discounts off admission fees to some tourist attractions (if used on consecutive days). The pass can also be used for a cheaper round trip from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station to Hakone Yumoto station.
If you fancy some cut price retail therapy visit the Gotemba Premium Outlets near Hakone. We took the bus from Kawaguchiko to Gotemba City on the way to our Hakone hotel. If you have been to Florida’s outdoor outlet malls you will recognise this similar Japanese set-up. The two-hundred international branded stores are surprisingly well stocked with the latest season’s products at discounted prices as well as reduced past season merchandise. There’s also restaurants, a food court and a ferris wheel. Stores accept all major credit cards and there’s coin operated lockers to store all your luggage.
We stayed at Hakone Ashinoko Hanaori, a modern Ryokan with panoramic views of Lake Ashi and large, natural hot spring baths and wellness/spa facilities. The hotel offers modern rooms with lake and mountain views and private open-air onsens. The spacious lobby has an open-air terrace and a foot bath counter. Guests, including children, are given the colourful, patterned Yukata (casual kimono) to wear throughout your stay.
Top Tips for visiting Japan
- Purchase a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) for use on the trains available in 7, 14 and 21 day denominations. Purchase online before your trip and pick up upon presentation of your passport at the airport when you arrive. We bought the Green pass (first class) where you can reserve seats in spacious carriages for easy and comfortable travel. Using the JR pass is easy, just show your pass to the guard at entry and exit points rather than using your green tickets in the machine. Be aware that trains are ALWAYS on time.
- Purchase a data-only sim on arrival at the airport for unlimited data during your trip (kiosk opposite the JR desk at Nagoya airport).
- Buy a PASMO travel card for use on the Tokyo Metro (like the Oyster card in the UK) and buses. Cards can be purchased at station ticket machines and credit must be loaded in cash. English and International instructions available so it’s pretty straightforward.
- Cash is king although most places do accept credit cards.
- Consider using a luggage service (wish we had on parts of the trip). Luggage is collected and sent to your next destination so you can travel lighter on the trains.
- Carry your passport with you to avail of tax free shopping for purchases over ¥5000. Receipts are stuck in your passport and removed by custom officers at immigration on departure.
- Convenience stores, such as 7/11 and Family Mart, are on every street and sell everything from hot and cold takeaway food, fresh fruit, baked goods and alcohol to medical supplies and toiletries. Be mindful that while it’s not illegal to eat and drink in the streets it is frowned upon. Bins are few and far between so keep your bags for rubbish.
- Some hotels offer complimentary HANDY smartphones in your room that you can use for FREE throughout your stay. It offers unlimited 4G internet access, local calls and guide to the city you are staying in. Use it for google maps and restaurants recommendations etc.
Read more about Japan in previous post In Pictures | A Postcard From Japan, Discover Japan | Nagoya, Discover Japan | Kyoto, Discover Japan | Osaka, Discover Japan | Hiroshima, Discover Japan | Kawaguchiko and Fufu Kawaguchiko | Japan
The views in this post are all my own based on my experience. Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2019. All rights reserved. Map used with courtesy of www.fujihakoneizu.com