Perhaps the oldest and most famous vacation spot in Japan, Hakone’s natural scenery and hot springs are still frequented by millions of visitors every year. Back in the Edo Period (1603-1867) the Tokaido Highway was the main route connecting Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. Hakone was perhaps the best-known, or at least most beloved stopping post for travelers making the long journey. Royalty could often be found soaking in the onsen and enjoying the spectacular views of Mt. Fuji. Nowadays, it is part of Fuji-Hakone National Park, and it’s convenient location makes it a great daytrip from Tokyo. However, if you truly want to appreciate the magic of this historical area, it’s best to put yourself up in one of the many hotels, or better yet, traditional Japanese style inns and try to imagine the sounds and smells of years gone by.
Hakone is an international tourist resort renowned for the magnificent views of Mt. Fuji over Lake Ashinoko. Hakone retains the atmosphere of a post-station town on the highway Tokaido in the Edo period. Odawara Castle was the residence of Lord Hojo, a feudal lord in Japan’s Warring States period. Yugawara is a town famous for hot springs. This area is rich in natural beauties, hot springs for relaxing experience, and valuable historical assets.
There is more to Hakone than just hot springs and history. Hakone also offers some great outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling and walking trails, parks, water sports and much more. In the winter, you can even enjoy skiing, snowboarding and skating. For less active things to do you can visit the open-air museum, take in the views from a cable car, cruise around Lake Ashino-ko or just check out the volcanic hot springs.
This town is mainly used as a transit point for those entering and leaving Hakone. There isn’t that much of interest in the area, but if you happen to be there in spring you should head for the castle. It’s about a 10-minute walk from Odawara station and is open from 9am to 4:30 pm – admission is Y250. The castle itself is a reconstruction of the original, but the grounds feature over 1000 cherry trees that are beautiful when in bloom.
Hakone – Yumoto
The most popular hot spring resort area in Hakone, Yumoto has all the features you would expect of a Japanese onsen town. There are lavish hotels, elegant ryokans, and all the shopping and souvenir shops a visitor in Japan could wish for. However, if you seen this sort of thing before, don’t get discouraged because there are also breathtaking views of Fuji-san and many interesting historical and cultural attractions. Soun-ji Temple of the Rinzai sect is definitely worth a visit. You can also stay in a one of the quieter areas in the mountains or stay overnight near Lake Ashino-ko. Simply put, there’s something for everyone.
Hakone Shissei Koen (Hakone Botanical Wetlands Garden)
Between March and November, you can see various wetlands plants in bloom. The botanical garden features about 1,700 species of plants. There is also an exhibition hall that contains exhibits and interesting information about the wetlands as well as Japanese trees and wildflowers.
Getting there: From Hakone-Yumoto Station (Hakone Tozan Line), take a bus to Sengoku Annaisho bus stop. 10 minutes from the bus stop.
Gora is the end of the Hakone-Tozan line. If you are off to Togendai on Lake Ashino-ko, this is also where you’ll start. If you’re hungry, head straight for the Gyoza (Chinese dumplings) Center where you can fill up on nine different kinds of dumplings. If you get off at Chokuku-no-Mori Station, one stop before Gora Station, you’ll find the Hakone Open-Air Museum. The museum is open from 9am to 5pm (closes at 4pm November – February) and costs Y1600 to get in. Although it’s a bit pricey, you can get a discount with you Hakone Free Pass, and there are some great exhibits of 19th and 20th century Japanese and western sculpture. The exhibits are carefully set amongst exquisite gardens, ponds, glens and meadows. All together there are close to 700 sculptures displayed outdoors and indoors as well as a Picasso Gallery that features more than 200 of his works. If you have kids there is even an area for them to climb and play.
Another place to visit is Gora Park. Located at the foot of Mt. Soun, this French-style park is open year-round and opens from 9am to 5pm (until 9pm July 20th – August 31st). Admission is Y900 for adults and Y450 for children.
If you are heading on to Sounzan, cable cars leave Gora every 15 minutes and take 9 minutes to get there. There are several stops along the way. One of which is Koen-Kami, which is only a 1-minute walk from the Hakone Art Museum. Here you’ll find Japanese pottery and ceramics from the Jomon Period to the Edo Period. Arguably the best part of the museum is the small moss garden and teahouse.
From Sounzan you can jump on the gondola for a trip over the mountain to Togendai. Three thousand years ago this mountain erupted and left behind a large crater. The crater still emits smoke and steam and you can even see pockets of boiling magma. For a closer look you can follow the walking paths around the crater or jump on the ropeway for great view of the whole area. If you wish to hike the Owakudani Nature Trail, get off at the first stop before reaching Togendai. The 30-minute walk will remind you of the volcanic activity in the area as you see and smell the sulfuric steam rise out of fissures in the rock. Like many volcanic areas in Japan, you’ll find people peddling eggs boiled from the boiling waters.
Hakone National Park – Owakudani
Owakudani is one of the most beautiful area as famous as the lake Ashi in Hakone. You will enjoy the view of Mt. Fuji with Hakone mountains and also the volcanic landscape created 400 thousand years ago. Do visit Owakudani when you have a chance to come to Hakone.
The Owakudani Natural Science Museum is also in the area. Here you can learn about the natural history of the region. There are displays on the many kinds of fish in Lake Ashino-ko, a realistic simulation of the eruption of Mt. Kami-yama (ground shaking and all!), as well as exhibits on the flora and fauna of the area. The museum is open from 9am to 4:30pm and admission is Y400 for adults and Y250 for children.
If you jump on one of the pleasure boats in Togendai you’ll end up in Hakone-machi or Moto Hakone. These two resort towns are right next to each other on the southern end of the lake. Many famous photos have been taken from here as it has one of the best views of Mt. Fuji in Hakone. If you’re going to Togendai, Odawara or Shinjuku you can catch buses here as well. Buses leave from the boat piers in both Moto Hakone and Hakone-machi.
Hakone town (Hakone-machi)
Hakone Town is one of the most typical sightseeing areas in Japan, and is located in the middle of the Fuji Hakone Izu National Park. Visitors to the area will be spellbound by its scenic beauty, including Lake Ashinoko, Hakone’s mountains and flowers and many landmarks and historical sites.
If you have time, one interesting side attraction is the Hakone Check Point (Hakone Sekisho). When you get off the boat in Hakone-machi, take a left and it is a 5-minute walk down the town’s main street. The road is line with souvenir shops and you should be able to follow the signs. From 1619 to 1869 this was an important check point fro travelers coming to and from Edo. In those days, checkpoints were set up along the Tokaido to check for weapons and the identity of travelers. During that time the Shogun was the highest authority in Japan, but under him there were many feudal lords called daimyo. These powerful leaders were required to spend alternate years in Edo, and their wives were kept their as insurance that they wouldn’t stir up a rebellion in their homelands. The checkpoints were used to make sure the wives and families didn’t try to leave the city. Occasionally, perpetrators were beheaded. You can visit the execution grounds and check out the mannequins that are set up to reenact some of the more dramatic moments of the past. The original checkpoint was built in 1619, although it’s been reconstructed since. Admission is Y200 for adults and Y100 for children.
Near the Check Point, Hakone Detached Garden Palace is another place worth checking out. This used to be part of a summer villa built by the emperor in 1886. The park grounds are a great place to take a quiet stroll and enjoy the great views of Fuji-san and Lake Ashino-ko.
If you’re looking for something more active to do, head for Snow Land. The snowboard park is open from late December to early March 10am to 5pm weekdays, and 9am to 5pm weekends and holidays. The course is 260 meters long and 30 meters wide. A 1-day ticket will run you Y3000 on weekdays and Y3500 on weekdays and holidays. An afternoon ticket (1pm to 5pm) is Y2000 and Y2500. You can rent a full set for Y4000, while a board is Y3500 and boots Y2000 separately. The prices include tax, lounge, lockers, observatory and parking. To get there, take the Izu bus to Hakone-en from Odawara and get off at “Picnic Garden.”
Heading north from the garden, cross a bridge and you’ll see the neighboring resort town of Moto-Hakone. The cedar-lined road across the highway is actually part of the old Tokaido highway. Back in the Edo Period, some 400 cedar trees were planted along this historical road. Here you can enjoy a pleasant 2-kilometer walk around the edge of Lake Ashino-ko and imagine how it felt to make that long journey from Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto. It is also possible to walk the Tokaido all the way to Hakone-Yumoto Station. It takes about 3 ½ hours and you pass by Sounji Temple and the Tokaido Road Museum.
From December to early March, the Hakoneen Outdoor Skating Rink is open from 9am to 5pm. To get there, take the Izu-Hakone bus to Hakone-en from Odawara. Built in 757, Hakone Shrine is a great place to stop and take in the tranquility. Finding it shouldn’t be a problem as it’s very difficult to miss the red torii gate rising from out from the lake. It’s open from 9:30am to 4pm and it costs Y300 to enter.
Lake Ashino-ko (Lake Ashi or Hakone Lake)
The lake is the anchor of the Hakone recreation area and most of the attractions lie near it. If you want to explore the lake yourself, you can rent rowboats or pedal boats at Hakone-machi, Moto Hakone or Kojiri. Those willing to reach deeper into their pockets can get a motorboat with a driver. If you enjoy water skiing or wakeboarding, there is a ski school where you can get lessons or pay for a 15-minute ride, however it’s not cheap. If you’re looking for a great place to relax, check out Onishi Hakone Park. The park covers the entire peninsula that extends into the lake. It’s also a nice place to find graceful Swans that have made Lake Ashino-ko their home. To get there, you can catch a bus from Hakone Yumoto Station to Onishi Park Mae bus stop. Lake Ashino-ko Skyline Road is a 22-kilometer toll road that takes you over a mountain pass to an observation platform where you can enjoy views of Mt. Fuji from the other side of Lake Ashino-ko.
Komagatake is another good place to get a view of Mt. Fuji and Lake Ashino-ko. To get there, take a boat from Togendai to Hakone-en where a cable car will take you to the top for Y610. You can either come back the same way or jump on the cable car for a 5-minute descent to Komagatake-nobori-kuchi. From there you can catch a bus to Hakone Machi (Y350), Hakone-Yumoto (Y550), or Odawara (Y800). At the foot of Mt. Komagatake lies Hakone Picnic Garden. This family park is a great place to let the kids loose and spend a lazy afternoon. It is open from 9am to 7pm April to November. Also relatively close to Komagatake-nobori-kuchi are an interesting bunch of rock figures. Buddhas and other images are carved into the rocks between Mt. Komagatake and Mt. Kami. Evidently they date all the way back to the Kamakura era (1192-1333). When you get off the cable car, turn right until the road stops, then take a left and then another left until you see the rocks about 400 meters up the road.
This traditional Japanese garden covers a steep slope and features walking paths lined with beautiful plants and flowers. It’s located in Kowakudani Onsen across from Mikawaya Inn. Many people visit in May when more 30,000 azaleas from nearly 40 different species are in bloom and the garden is alight in reds and pinks. Admission is free and it’s open year-round.
Getting there: Near Kowakudani Onsen Station on the Hakone Tozan Line.
These waterfalls can be found just 20 minutes from Kowakudani Station. The falls careen over the rocks and make a good place for quiet contemplation.
From Tokyo Station to Odawara takes about 1-½ hours by ordinary JR train on the Tokaido line. Trains run about every 15-30 minutes and it costs about Y1500. Limited Express trains take 1 hour and 10 minutes and are slightly more. If you’re in a hurry you can get there in 42 minutes by Shinkansen, which costs about Y3600 with trains leaving about every 20 minutes.
If you wish to leave from Shinjuku Station, you can use the Odakyu line. This private company features the invitingly named Romance Car, which will take you to Odawara in an hour and twenty minutes and is a fast and relaxing way to travel. The trip costs about Y1700. For around Y2000 you can go all the way to Hakone Yumoto.
To travel on to Gora, you can change to the Hakone-Tozan line at Odawara or Hakone-Yumoto. This delightful two-car electric tram climbs through the mountains and takes you through scenic forests, streams and canyons as you make your way to Gora. The trip takes about 45 minutes and trains leave every 10 or 15 minutes. There are several stops along the way including the small onsen resorts of Tonosawa and Miyanoshita. These two old towns were once along the Tokaido Highway and many of the ryokan date back hundreds of years.
Although not as interesting, perhaps the most direct way to get into the Hakone area is by the Odakyu express bus service. Buses go directly to Togendai on Lake Ashino-ko and Hakone-machi for about Y1850. There are 11 buses a day that depart from the west exit of Shinjuku Station. The trip takes about 2 hours.
Ferry services run on Lake Ashino-ko about every 30 minutes between Togendai, Hakone-machi and Moto Hakone and cost Y1000. Two of the boats are copies of pirate ships and the third is an imitation of a Mississippi paddleboat. Yes tourism has reared its ugly head, but it definitely provides something a little different. The lake crossing takes about 30 minutes and the view from the southern end of the lake is said to be one of the best in Hakone.
Hakone Free Pass
One inexpensive way to visit the Hakone area is with the Odakyu line’s Free Pass. Although it’s not free, it will definitely save you some money even if you’re only visiting for the day. The cost is Y5500 for adults (half-price for children) if you purchase it at Shinjuku Station. If you are traveling in Japan on a Japan Railpass, you can buy the Hakone Free Pass at Odawara for about Y4200. The pass allows you to use any kind of transportation within Hakone for 3 days and saves you the hassle of having to buy individual tickets all the time. It also includes the round-trip fare on the express train from Shinjuku to Odawara and it even gets you in free, or at least a discount, at many other places around town. If you can get time off during the week, not only is it less crowded, but there is also a weekday pass that is even cheaper and some hotels may offer cheaper rates as well.
“Hakone 17 Toh” (17 renowned Onsen hot springs of Hakone)
There are seventeen different onsen areas that make up the “Hakone 17 Toh” (17 renowned hot springs of Hakone). Seven of these used to be called “Hakone 7 Toh” (the seven traditional hot springs of Hakone). They included Yumoto, Tonosawa, Miyanoshita, Sokokura, Dogashima, Kiga, and Ashinoyu. All except Ashinoyu were situated along the Haya River in the center of the Hakone region. The ten other onsen – Gora, Ohiradai, Kowakudani, Miyagino, Ninotaira, Sengokuhara, Ubako, Yu-no-hanazawa, Takogawa and Ashino-ko – were recently added to the list that now includes all seventeen. More Details: Kanagawa Onsen Hot Springs
Guide to the Hakone Ropeway and other Transportation
The Hakone Ropeway service departs towards the open skies once every minute: The trip from Sounzan station to Togendai station takes around 30 minutes. The view from the ropeway includes the crystal blue waters of Lake Ashi, the Owakudani crater, and, on clear days, majestic Mount Fuji. Owakudani is one of the, best viewpoints for Mount Fuji, and is also famous for its delicious Kuro-Tamago Black, Eggs, boiled naturally in the sulphhurous spring waters. More Details: Suggested Day Trip From Shinjuku around Hakone By Hakone Ropeway, Hakone Tozan Train, Hakone Tozan Cablecar, Hakone Tozan Bus, Odakyu Romance Car
Hakone Tourist Information Link
Contact – Hakone town (Hakone-machi) Tourist Association (National Park HAKONE): http://www.hakone.or.jp/english/index.html
Hakone Sightseeing Cruise: http://www.hakone-kankosen.co.jp/gaikoku.hp/index.htm
The Hakone Freepass is an economical and convenient way to enjoy an excursion in Hakone using the Hakone Ropeway. Information about the Hakone Free Pass, which gives you free access to all of Hakone’s transportation facilities (Hakone mountain train, Hakone mountain cable car, Hakone aerial ropeway, Hakone tour boat, and Hakone mountain bus).
Hakone & Yugawara Ryokans & Hotels: http://www.nikkanren.or.jp/search2/map/area/C750/local/C
Hakone Rope-way Co.,Ltd: http://www.hakoneropeway.co.jp/foreign/en/index.html
Hakone Area Tourist Information By Japan National Tourism Organization: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/regional/kanagawa/hakone.html
Hakone Area Tourist Information By Kanagawa Prefecture Tourist Association: http://www.kanagawa-kankou.or.jp/english/area/hakone.html
Hakone National Park – Owakudani Tourism Center: http://www.owakudani.com/index-e.html
Transportation in Hakone town (Hakone-machi): http://www.hakonenavi.jp/english/traffic/transportation.html
Odakyu Hakone Tozan Highway Bus: http://www.hakone-tozanbus.co.jp/english/index.html
Hakone Tozan Cablecar: http://www.odakyu.jp/english/sightsee/hakone/Ecable.html
Hakone Mountain Railway (Hakone Tozan Train/ Odakyu Electric Railway): http://www.odakyu.jp/english/sightsee/hakone/Etozan.html
Odakyu Railway (information on access from Shinjuku, Hakone Freepass, Odakyu Romancecar, etc.): http://www.hakone-tozanbus.co.jp/english/index.html
Izu Dream Pass is a very convenient round-trip ticket for Izu Peninsula for unlimited boarding on Suruga Bay Ferry, Tokai Bus, Izukyu Line, Izu Hakone Railway Line, Izu Hakone Bus.
Kanagawa Youth Hostels: http://www.jyh.or.jp/english/kanto/index.html
Hakone Tozan Railway: http://www.hakone-tozan.co.jp/
Hakone-Hotels.com – Travel and Accommodation in Hakone
Odawara City (Odawara-shi) Tourism
Pola Museum of Art: http://www.polamuseum.or.jp/english/index.html
The Hakone Open-Air Museum: http://www.hakone-oam.or.jp/eng/index.html
Hakone Museum of Art: http://www.moaart.or.jp/english/hakone/index.html
Lalique Museum, Hakone: http://www.lalique-museum.com/eng/index.html
Yugawara-machi (Yugawara-town) Tourist Association: http://www.yugawara.or.jp/
Manazuru-machi (Manazuru Town) Tourist Association: http://www.manazuru.net/index.htm
Hakone Town Govt Website: http://www.town.hakone.kanagawa.jp/