Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture, a part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park that is about one hundred kilometres away from Tokyo. It is a popular relaxation area near Tokyo famous for its picturesque scenery and rejuvenating onsen (hot springs). The easiest way to get from Tokyo to Hakone is a train. Take an express train, from Odawara Station. Hakone is the best place to have a calm weekend for Japanese and international tourists who look for a break from Tokyo’s noisy routine. Hakone offers plenty of magnificent views such as Mount Fuji (Fujisan), Lake Ashi, and numerous hot springs. For nature lovers, it will be enough just to stroll through the wonderful scenery and admire how the seasons change. Let us have a look at the places where to go and what to do in Hakone.
1. Where to visit in Hakone, Japan
1. Lake Ashinoko
This lake with Mount Fuji in the background is the symbol of Hakone. It was formed 3000 years ago after the last eruption of Mount Hakone. The most amazing sights of Mount Fuji in combination with the lake can be seen from the Hakone Detached Palace Garden, Moto Hakone and simply from the boats cruising the lake. You can consider yourself lucky if you had a chance to get a clear view of the mountain, as it is often blocked by clouds that create poor visibility. It is better to visit these views during the colder seasons of the year to admire the cloudless landscape. There are two companies (Hakone Sightseeing Boats and Izu Hakone Sightseeing Boats) that operate cruising boats. It takes approximately 30 minutes and costs 1050 yen to take a boat cruise from one end of the lake to the other.
2. Hakone Hot Springs
For centuries the most popular hot springs resort of Japan has been Hakone. Hot springs also called open-air baths or rotenburo are mineral waters that provide therapeutic and medicinal benefits and a kind of old-fashioned spa. There are more than a dozen springs that provide hot spring waters to different bath houses and ryokan (wooden houses in traditional Japanese style) in the Hakone region.
The most popular hot spring in Hakone is Yumoto, situated at the entrance of the region near Odawara. Generally, it is famous for the quality of its water, long history and numerous baths and inns. These spring waters are open not only for people who stay in public bath houses and ryokan, but also for daytime visitors. The admission fee of daytime visitors is between 500 – 2000 yen, while staying guests can use the baths for free.
3. Hakone Tozan Railway
Hakone Tozan Railway is Japan’s oldest mountain railway line that is highly appreciated by extreme emotion lovers. The small trains are passing through a very narrow, densely woody valley over numerous tunnels and bridges and stop off for a few minutes at its small stations along the way to change directions at three switchbacks. The Hakone Tozan Line has two sections. The first one from Odawara to Hakone – Yumoto is not particularly significant and is used by Odaku trains from central Tokyo. Another one from Hakone – Yumoto to Gora is of higher importance and is served by the small mountain trains. It takes 35 minutes to ride from Hakone – Yumoto to Gora and if you want to enjoy every moment of this ride you should take it in June and July when thousands of ajisai (hydrangea) burst into bloom. The ajisai are especially best in this season and can be seen from the trains and around the stations. As the uniqueness of these flowers is in their illuminating features, during the blooming season there are special trains that depart in the evenings, twice in each direction to show visitors illuminating flowers. When these trains reach Gora, visitors transfer to the cable car for Lake Ashi.
4. Hakone Glass no Mori
The Hakone Glass no Mori is a small theme park about Venetian glass designed in Italian style. Every museum, shop and cafe in this park contain symbols of Italian modern and classical culture. If you visit this park you will have an opportunity to stroll in the large garden surrounded by a canal like pond and observe numerous glass sculptures laid about it. Outside there is also a cafe with an open terrace where approximately every evening live Italian ballads (canzoni) are held.
In the collection of the Hakone Glass no Mori Venetian Glass Museum it is counted more than one hundred pieces of Venetian glassware that display art works in all forms such as vases, sculptures, lamps, goblets, etc.
5. Odawara Castle
Situated at the entrance of the Hakone region, Odawara castle presents one of the old monuments of Japan’s history. It was built in the mid 15th century but soon was handed to one of the most powerful clans, Hojo Clan, who used it mainly as a base to control the region around modern-day Tokyo during the Warring States Era. The castle was destroyed numerous times. In 1703 it suffered from the earthquake but then was quickly rebuilt, in 1870 along with numerous buildings it was ruined and sold. It was rebuilt less than one hundred years ago thanks to drawings and models saved from the Edo Period. Nowadays, it is the closest castle near Tokyo. The castle has three stories on the outside and four on the inside. The interior features of the castle maintain symbols of Japanese history and display numerous items such as swords and armour. Enjoy wonderful views of the city and park from the top floor of the castle. In March and early April, it becomes a popular spot for cherry blossoms and many other flowers like plum blossoms, iris, azalea, lotus blossoms, wisteria and hydrangea. Near the main entrance of the Odawara Castle grounds, you can visit Ninja Museum, where you can learn more about ninja skills and culture as well as experience being one. Inside the Tokisaki Gate that is built across from the castle, you can also find a small Samurai Museum.
6. Choanji Temple
There is a Temple called Choanji with lots of Rakan statues in its garden. It is situated in the Sengokuhara area of Hakone and presents the Soto school of Zen Buddhism. Choanji Temple was established in 1356 in a quiet area on the basis of a hill. Garden creates a specific atmosphere with its wonderful walking trails and wooded grounds and cemetery. However, the main part of the garden is in its numerous statues of Rakan (disciples of Buddha) that are spread all along the temple grounds. The first statues appeared in the 1980s and have been accruing ever since. Each statue in the garden has a unique face and shape, express different emotions, seem to be contemplative and serious, others more humorous and casual, and many others represent a modern edge in their expressive and artistic style. In autumn, the main attractive part of the garden becomes not only Zen Buddhism style creatures but also color-changing trees which usually reach their peak color in the mid of November.
2. What to do in Hakone, Japan
Now when every must visit place is briefly observed, let us find out what to do in Hakone.
1. Explore art
Hakone is known not only for its hot springs and wonderful nature, but also for numerous reflections of art. There are many museums and galleries in this region, but if you do not have much time to attend all of them, make sure to visit one of the following:
1.1. Open Air Museum
The first one in this list is Open Air Museum due to its unique style that creates a harmonic balance of art and nature. This balance is reached through various sculptures on its ground with the wonderful scenery of the mountains and valley in its background. The Hakone Open Air Museum has different exhibition spaces and sections outdoors and indoors. One of them is the Picasso Exhibition Hall where you can find two stories of paintings, numerous sculptures and ceramic works by the artist as well as his photos at various periods of his life. There are a lot of abstract sculptures by the Japanese and international artists outside. A huge part of the museum is surrounded by colorful stained glass from which you can have a view to park and the surrounding mountains. A very good advantage of this museum is that you can attend it with your children and they surely will not be bored as one of its halls has Zig Zag World where children can play and have fun among soft art installations.
1.2. Pola Museum
Pola Museum was founded by the skincare and beauty products company (the POLA group) in 2002 to show the huge private art collection of the company’s owner. It was built amid a forest with rare beech trees in a way that does not disrupt the surrounding natural environment. For this reason, the major part of the building is located underground. In this museum, you can explore modern and contemporary sculptures, paintings, glassware by mostly Japanese and European artists. There are also rotating exhibits that are drawn from its permanent collection such as works by Renoir, Monet, Cezanne and Picasso.
1.3. The Okada Museum of Art
The Okada Museum of Art is a large museum referred to East Asian Art. If you consider going there, be aware that the museum’s security measures are rather strict and you will not be allowed to take phones, cameras. This strictness is justified as inside the museum there are art pieces dating from antiquity to the modern era. Opened in 2013, the museum tends to be one of the richest museums of East Asian art. The basis of the museum’s collection is a huge collection of Japanese and Chinese ceramics and sculptures, Chinese bronzes, Tang and Ming porcelain that is located on the first and second floor. The upper floors are mainly concentrated on a variety of Japanese art forms and time periods. Generally, you can find basic information about these artworks in English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean on displays.
2. Go for a hike
If you consider yourself adventurous and like going for a hike you can visit Owakudani in the Hakone region, where there are special hiking trails that lead to Lake Ashinoko. Owakudani was created 3000 years ago after the last eruption of Mount Hakone. A short walking trail leads from the ropeway station to the hot springs and bubbling pools. Here you can feel lucky if you taste eggs boiled in the hot water, blackened by the sulfur and which are traditionally said to prolong life for seven years. Hiking from this zone to Lake Ashinoko will take 2 hours one way and can be quite windy as well as rocky and slippery. Hence, we recommend you to take hiking shoes and rain gear.
3. Go shopping
If you love the shopping process you will surely like the Gotemba Premium Outlets that are not far from Hakone. It is Japan’s most popular Outlet with 300 stores and restaurants, numerous food courts, a hotel and a public open-air bath. In the Outlet, you can find stores of internationally known brands of not only fashion or sport but also of household goods, electronics and even luxury goods. In general, it is a good place for one-day shopping, where prices are cheaper than in regular Japanese shops. Most of the stores in the outlet accept credit cards such as Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Diners. Coin lockers are available as well.
3. Where to stay in Hakone, Japan
Finally, if you have not already decided where to stay in Hakone, feel free to use this list of hotels. For your comfort we have divided the hotels by their prices.
1. On budget:
GuestHouse Azito, situated near Hakone Yumoto Station is very popular among the tourists for its low prices and is rated 8.4 from 10.
Hakone Gora Villa, a 2-star guest house is located 2.3 km from Hakone Open-Air Museum and offers shared WiFi and family rooms.
Hakone Hostel 1914 is around a 36-minute walk from Hakone Gora Park, 6.1 km from Pola Museum and 7.9 km from Owakudani.
2. Medium Budget:
Emblem Flow Hakone, located 600 meters from Hakone Gora Park offers its visitors shared WiFI, a restaurant, free private parking, a bar, a shared lounge and is rated 9.3 from 10.
Condominium Mirahakone set 9 km of Hakone Open-Air Museum, 11 km from Hakone Shrine, 12 km from Pola Museum offers its visitors rooms with air conditioning, private bathroom, shared WiFi, microwave and provides free parking.
Hotel Musashiya with its boasting hot spring baths that provide wonderful scenery to Lake Ashi is just a one-minute walk for sightseeing cruises. It offers breakfasts and dinners and is rated 9.1 from 10.
3. High Budget
Gran Terrace Le lien Hakone, one of the most expensive hotels in Hakone, offers its visitors accommodation with a restaurant, garden, free parking, spa and a wellness centre each of them with picturesque views.
The Hiramatsu Hotels & Resorts Sengokuhara, set in 2.7 km from Hakone Botanical Garden offers room service, accommodation with a restaurant, fitness centre, garden, free private parking, hot spring baths and concierge service and a seating area in every room.