Where is Hakone?
Hakone is just 85 minutes away from Shinjuku with the Odakyu Limited Express "Romancecar". Located at the foot of magnificent Mount Fuji, situated in the southwestern part of Kanagawa, and is part of Fuji Hakone Izu National Park. Hakone has always been a favorite destination; in fact you'll be following in the footsteps of 400 years of Japanese and foreign visitors. Since the start of the Edo period in 1603, Hakone has flourished as a favorite spa destination, and still attracts many visitors from all over Japan and the world.
In Hakone, there are many fine hot springs (onsen) and locations with grand views of Mount Fuji. Treat yourself and enjoy the scenery of majestic Mount Fuji in so many different ways; onboard a Hakone Sightseeing Cruise, from the shores of Lake Ashi, high up in the sky gondola of the Hakone Ropeway, or while bathing in a hot spring. They have about 20 different qualities, nicknamed "Hakone Seventeen Spas."
A view of Mt. Fuji is not the only view that you can enjoy in Hakone. There are a number of spots to visit, including O-waku-dani (where volcanic fumes still bear a trace of the Hakone Volcano), Lake Ashi-no-ko (created in the crater of the Hakone Volcano), Susuki-sogen (silver grass field) of Sengokuhara, a stone Buddha and stone towers situated in Moto-Hakone. Various methods of transportation, such as mountain railway, cable car, ropeway, and cruising boat, are available to bring you to these spots.
And if that isn't enough, be sure to visit such historic attractions as Hakone Checkpoint or the stone paved avenues of Kyukaido (Ancient Highway), or for those art lovers, there are unique art museums including the Hakone Open Air Museum. For nature lovers, it's easy just to stroll through the beautiful scenery and watch the seasons as they change. Around Kowakidani Station, there is a hot spring theme park named Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, a Mediterranean-style public bath. It is divided into two sections, in one you bathe with your bathing suit on and the other you bathe without. You can choose the one you like. In the former section, you can enjoy various unique baths, such as a coffee bath or a wine bath. In the latter section, you will relax in the cypress bath, in the magnificent nature of Hakone.This place is one of the most popular destinations among Japanese and international tourists looking for a break from Tokyo.
The nearest airports to Hakone are in Tokyo. Note that if you have a reservation at a ryokan in Hakone, unless your plane lands in the morning, it is recommended that you spend your first evening in Tokyo or Yokohama, or else you might miss out on (and be charged for) dinner at the ryokan, or worse, you may be locked out of (and be charged for) your room at the ryokan's curfew time, if there is one. Allow about 2 1/2 to 3 hours to reach Hakone from Narita Airport by train, and about 1 1/2 to 2 hours from Haneda Airport.
The fastest and most expensive method of reaching Hakone from Tokyo is to take a Tokaido Shinkansen Kodama train from Tokyo to Odawara, then transfer to the Hakone-Tozan Line for the run to Hakone-Yumoto (trains operated by Odakyu Railway). The one-way ride lasts one hour with a good connection, and costs ¥3430, but if you use the Japan Rail Pass, you need only to pay ¥300 for the Hakone-Tozan line. There is no longer a discount for JR Pass holders.
Be aware that the JR East Rail Pass does not provide access to the Tokaido Shinkansen and to make use of this pass you will need to ride the regular Tokaido Main Line to Odawara. From Tokyo, a convenient choice that is valid with the JR East Pass is the "Odoriko" limited express train service. These trains have bigger windows and better seating than the regular commuter trains, and seat reservations can be made. As of March 2007, there are at least four daily runs, arriving in Odawara one hour later; there may also be additional runs on certain days. All trains make a pickup stop at Yokohama, while a few also stop at Shinagawa and Kawasaki stations.
Weather in Hakone
Hakone Kowakien Yunessun
A hot spring theme park with a full lineup of unique-style baths:
Hakone Kowakien Yunessun is a hot spa leisure facility in the center of Hakone, a representative hot spring resort in Japan. It is aptly described as a “Hot spring theme park,” and numerous unique baths please couples and families. The facility is divided into zones to be entered with bathing suits on and zones to be entered without any clothes on. The main facility of the amusement zone where you wear a bathing suit is the God's Aegean Sea, which is a large-sized spa.
There are also many numerous humorous-style baths, including Wine Spa, where there is a huge wine bottle 3.6 m tall and you can enjoy the rich aroma, Green Tea Spa containing rich catechins, Coffee Spa, which contains coffee extracted from coffee nibs using the drip method in the relatively low temperature of hot springs, and Japanese Sake Spa, where real Japanese sake constantly drips into the bathtub from a huge cask. If you are lucky, you can get coffee poured on your head in the regular performances of adding coffee into the bathtub a few times a day. A special recommendation for women is foot bathing with doctor fish, which nibble away at old dead cells from the skin.
The cypress bath and open-air baths in the no-clothes zone are definitely high quality, as you can expect from a hot spring in Hakone. You can spend a relaxing time by looking at the mountains of Hakone.
The Great Boiling Valley Owakudani
Owakudani is the area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone some 3000 years ago. Today, much of the area is an active volcanic zone where sulfurous fumes, hot springs and hot rivers can be experienced. Additionally, Owakudani has good views of Mount Fuji on clear days.
A short walking trail (about ten minutes one way) leads from the ropeway station into the volcanic zone to a number of steam vents and bubbling pools. Here you can purchase eggs, cooked in the naturally hot water, whose shells are blackened by the sulfur and which are said to prolong one's life by seven years.
For the more adventurous, a hiking trail leads from the ropeway station to the peak of Mount Kamiyama and continues on to Mount Komagatake from where you can catch the Komagatake Ropeway down to Lake Ashi. The hike takes about 2 hours one way and can be rocky or slippery as well as quite windy. Proper hiking shoes and rain gear are recommended.
Alternatively, about 30 minutes past the peak of Mount Kamiyama a trail splits off down towards Lake Ashi. It leads down the mountain and along the lakeshore, ending at Kojiri not far from Togendai, from where the Hakone Ropeway connects back to Owakudani. The round trip takes about 4.5 hours.
Owakudani is a station along the Hakone Ropeway between Sounzan and Togendai. Sounzan is accessible from Hakone-Yumoto by Hakone Tozan Railway and cablecar with a transfer at Gora Station. Togendai is on the shores of Lake Ashi and is connected by boat with Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi.
Lake Ahshi (AshinoKo)
Lake Ashinoko (Ashinoko) was formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone after the volcano's last eruption 3000 years ago. Today, the lake with Mount Fuji in the background is the symbol of Hakone. The lake's shores are mostly undeveloped except for small towns in the east and north and a couple of lakeside resort hotels.
The best views of the lake in combination with Mount Fuji can be enjoyed from Moto-Hakone (a few steps south from the sightseeing boat pier), from the Hakone Detached Palace Garden and from the sightseeing boats cruising the lake.
Note however, that clouds and poor visibility often block the view of Mount Fuji, and you have to consider yourself lucky if you get a clear view of the mountain. Visibility tends to be better during the colder seasons of the year than in summer, and in the early morning and late afternoon hours.
Two companies, Hakone Sightseeing Boats and Izuhakone Sightseeing Boats, operate boats between Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi at the lake's southern shores and Togendai and Kojiri at the lake's northern end. A boat cruise from one end of the lake to the other takes roughly 30 minutes and costs 1000 yen. The Hakone Free Pass is valid on the pirate ship shaped Hakone Sightseeing Boats but not on boats operated by Izuhakone.
Hakone Tozan Railway
A ride on the Hakone Tozan Railway (Hakone Tozan Densha), Japan's oldest mountain railway, is a treat for more than just railway fans. The small trains wind themselves through a narrow, densely wooded valley over many bridges and tunnels, stopping at small stations along the way and changing directions at three switchbacks.
The Hakone Tozan Line consists of two sections. The lower section from Odawara to Hakone-Yumoto is used by Odakyu trains from central Tokyo and is not particularly noteworthy. Far more spectacular is the upper section from Hakone-Yumoto to Gora, which is served by the small mountain trains. At Gora, many travelers transfer to the cablecar for Lake Ashi.
The 35 minute train ride from Hakone-Yumoto to Gora is especially beautiful in June and July when thousands of hydrangea (ajisai) are in bloom along the tracks and are illuminated during the evenings. The ajisai are usually best around the beginning of July and can be seen from the trains and around the stations.
Special trains run from mid June through mid July between Hakone-Yumoto and Gora Stations for the viewing of the illuminated flowers. They depart in the evenings, twice in each direction, and require seat reservations.
You can find the best vantage point to observe Mount Fuji from the crater of Hakone, taking one of Hakone Ropeways to the top!
Two funitels or cable cars are in service on the slopes of Mount Hakone, each with its specific interests and above all a great view of Mount Fuji.
The Hakone Ropeway from Sounzan down to Togendai on Lake Ashinoko via the boiling Sulphur pits of Owakudani. Currently (early 2016) owing to volcanic activity the cable car is closed from Sounzan to Ubako, but there is a bus shuttle service between the two. You are able to ride between Ubako and Togendai. On a clear day there is an excellent view of Mt Fuji on this section
Hakone Shrine (Hakone Jinja) stands at the foot of Mount Hakone along the shores of Lake Ashi. The shrine buildings are hidden in the dense forest, but are well advertised by its huge torii gates, one standing prominently in the lake and two others over the main street of Moto-Hakone.
A path leads from the torii gate in Lake Ashi up a series of steps flanked by lanterns through the forest to the main building of the shrine, which sits peacefully among the tall trees. The shrine is beautiful throughout the year, and is particularly breathtaking when shrouded in mist.
A second shrine, Mototsumiya ("original shrine") stands at the summit of Komagatake, one of Mount Hakone's multiple peaks. It is accessible by the Komagatake Ropeway from Hakone-en or via hiking trails.
Hot springs with water in five different pastel shades:
Gora is a town of hills and hot springs, located on a gently-sloping mountain in Hakone, one of Japan's leading hot spring resorts. The terminus of the Hakone Tozan Railway, Gora has an abundance of things to see and enjoy, including a park that makes the most of the beautiful natural environment, Japan's first outdoor art museum, and a cable car.
A comparatively newly-developed area of Hakone, until the beginning of the 1900s, Gora was a barren wasteland scattered with immense rocks that had tumbled down the mountain. It is said that the name of this area derives from these rocks, which resembled the hard shell (kora) of a tortoise. Development of the area progressed rapidly once the railway was laid in 1919, and an excellent hot spring was also discovered there, so Gora is numbered among the renowned 17 hot springs of Hakone.
Gora hot spring is the best in Hakone in terms of the number of types of spring water. As the spring quality differs in each part of Gora, it is often described as “the hot spring with five pastel shades.” The transparent hot water is soft and gentle on the skin; the yellow hot water leaves the skin velvety-smooth; the milky-white hot water is said to be good for those who feel the cold easily; the deep brown hot water soothes away stress; and the pale green hot water is said to be gentle on the stomach. You'll want to try all five types.
Hakone Yumoto-Onsen Hot Springs
Hakone-onsen is a generic name for several hot springs located around Mt. Hakone-yama, situated in the center of Fuji Hakone Izu National Park. This hot spring was very popular during the Edo Period (1603-1867) as an important site located on Tokaido Street. Each hot spring has a different atmosphere and spring quality, and many variations of Japanese hot springs can be enjoyed here. Also, there are a number of sightseeing points such as the range of mountains from Mt. Kami-yama (the highest elevation in Hakone) to Mt. Komagatake over the central cone, Lake Ashino-ko (a caldera formation) on the crater basin, sacred Mt. Fuji in the west, and the magnificent scenery of Suruga-wan and Sagami-wan bays in the southeast. It takes only 90 minutes from Shinjuku (Tokyo) to visit this hot spring, one of the most popular in Japan.
Hakone Open-Air Munseum
Spend a spiritually rich time surrounded by huge field sculptures and nature of Hakone
The Hakone Open-Air Museum opened in 1969 as the first open-air art museum in Japan. It is located in grand nature of Hakone that was once called one of the most rugged paths in Japan. The garden with a view of the mountains of Hakone and changing four seasons provides an ideal outdoor setting to show oversized sculptures.
There is a permanent exhibition of about 120 masterpieces of modern and contemporary sculptors in the world. The Picasso Papillion exhibits in series one of the world's best collections of Picasso consisting of about 300 items. There are four other indoor exhibition halls: main hall gallery, multi hall, art hall and Ryokuei gallery to guarantee a day to appreciate works of art in a relaxed manner even when it is raining.
The museum's collections include about 100 masterpieces of Rodin, Bourdelle, Miro, Moore and others in the garden; and Brancusi, Morie Ogiwara, Boccioni, Lipchitz, Modigliani, Shin Hongo and others inside. Enjoy huge artworks up-close in the open air. Strolling in nature you may unexpectedly come across an inspiring sculpture under a green shade. Children are playing energetically among sculptures. This is a place to spend such a wonderful time. Hakone is also famous for foot bath. It is another pleasure to relieve the fatigue of walking with a footbath in the museum.
Venetian Glass Museum (Hakone Glass no Mori)
The Hakone Venetian Glass Museum (Glass no Mori) features Italian styled buildings housing a museum and shops. Outside is a large strolling garden surrounding a canal like pond. The garden has a number of large glass sculptures laid about it, as well as a cafe with an open terrace at one end where live canzoni (Italian ballads) performances are held.
The Glass no Mori's Venetian Glass Museum houses a collection of over 100 pieces of Venetian glassware. It displays both modern and classical works in all forms including vases, goblets, lamps and sculptures. The Hakone Glass no Mori is run by the Ukai Group, an operator of themed high class restaurants, which also owns the Kawaguchiko Music Forest at Kawaguchiko in the Fuji Five Lakes region.
Hakone Detached Palace (Kyū Hakone Rikyū)
Hakone Detached Palace (旧箱根離宮, Kyū Hakone Rikyū) used to serve as a summer palace for the Imperial Family, but was later opened to the public. It is located at the southern shores of Lake Ashinoko on the peninsula between Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi.
Only a relatively small and simple building remains of the former palace complex. It is surrounded by a beautiful park, known as Onshi Hakone Park, which offers nice walking trails and scenic views of Lake Ashinoko and Mount Fuji, if visibility permits. Visibility tends to be better during the colder seasons of the year than in summer, and in the early morning and late evening hours.
Sengokuhara Pampas Grass Field
Covering a portion of the west slope of Mount Hakone in the Sengokuhara area of Hakone is a large, rolling field of pampas grass (susuki). Referred to as the Sengokuhara Pampas Grass Field (Sengokuhara Susuki Kusahara), the tall grasses here cover the hillside for hundreds of meters, changing color with the seasons and offering stunning views. The field attracts visitors especially during the autumn when the grasses turn a shimmering, silvery gold color.
A single, wide walking path extends into the field from the west base of the hillside, offering expansive views along the way to a dead end at a higher vantage point further up the slope. The path accommodates both ascending and descending traffic, and it is generally discouraged to walk off the trail through the grasses.
While the field is most visited in autumn, the grasses go through a series of seasonal changes throughout the year that are also attractive, changing from bright green in the summer, to a mix of green and light yellow around September, to a brilliant whitish gold by early November. In winter, the grasses turn brown and die. In spring, the field is routinely cleared through a controlled burning in order to prevent other plant life from growing amongst the pampas and to promote regrowth.
Old Tokaido and Hakone Checkpoint
Hakone used to be an important checkpoint to control traffic along the Tokaido (Tōkaidō), the highway which linked Tokyo with Kyoto during the feudal Edo Period. Today, a short, cedar lined passage of the old Tokaido and a reconstruction of the Hakone Checkpoint (Hakone Sekisho) are located between Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi along the shore of Lake Ashinoko.
In spring 2007, the reconstruction of the Hakone Checkpoint was completed after three years of construction work. The checkpoint now appears true to its original form, including gates, fence, housing for officers and foot soldiers, a prison chamber and a lookout tower. The Hakone Sekisho Shiryokan, a small museum with various related exhibits, stands nearby.
Cedar Avenue between Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi
It is possible to walk a longer passage of the old Tokaido (also referred to as Kyu-kaido, 旧街道) between Moto-Hakone and Hakone-Yumoto. Some of the original stone pavement remains, and the best preserved section leads from Moto-Hakone to Hatajuku (75-100 minutes) via the Amazake Chaya, a tea house serving amazake (hot, sweet rice wine) and various Japanese style snacks.
A few steps past the Amazake Chaya stands the Tokaido Museum, a small museum which features life size reconstructions explaining the purpose of and life along the long road to Tokyo. Between Hatajuku and Hakone-Yumoto (90-120 minutes), the trail follows the road, which is neither particularly scenic nor pleasant to walk due to car traffic and the absence of a side walk for pedestrians.
Okada Museum of Art
Okada Museum of Art was built in Hakone Oewakudani in 2013, which all the eastern art's beauties are gathered. The folding screen of The Wind God and Thunder God (Fujin Raijin) at the entrance welcomes you. It was built where The western style hotel “Kaika tei” was used to be and spreads the Japanese and Asian culture to the world.
After enjoying the Asian taste at on the Japanese, Korean and Chinese arts corrected by Kazuo Okada inside of the museum, you may take a walk at the big yard. The enormous space with spring water and deep green will show you the different angle of beautiful nature.
We can reach the top of Mt. Komagatake in only 7 minutes by using a comfortable and convenient ropeway. The ropeway's lakeside station is at Hakone-en. The total length of the ropeway is 1800 meters, and a return ticket for adults costs 1,080 yen. Going up and facing the mountain, you'll see Mt. Fuji and a chain of Hakone mountains on the left; Odawara, Yokohama, Ohshima Island, and Sagami Bay on the right; and Ashinoko Lake and Suruga Bay behind you. Below you is an afforested area of Japanese cedars halfway up the mountain. The top of the mountain is covered with undergrowth only. There are no trees, indicating that a lava flow there hardened, and so plants couldn't grow well. But basically, the paths are well prepared. At the very first, your eye will be captured by red shrine pillars and a red gate against the blue sky. It's so impressive! If you go left behind the ropeway station, a magnificent Mt. Fuji view is waiting for you. If you go along the path to the right, you will look down a gentle ridge of mountains, and view Sagami Bay and Odawara beyond them. Then go ahead up to the shrine. Just before the red shrine gate, there is a rock with a sacred straw rope.
It is called “Bakou-seki” meaning that God came down on the rock with his white horse. They say there are some holes in it from where the horse stepped. Go and stand in front of the shrine. If you feel something, please feel free to join your hands in prayer before the altar.
You might wonder about some cube-shaped rocks that are scattered around in the back of the shrine. Those rocks had been used for various rituals in the old days. We have a great view of Mt. Fuji from there, and I can imagine that those ceremonies were surely performed under Mt. Fuji's grace.
If you would like to get a nice clear view, a winter morning is your best bet. The later in the day, the hazier it gets. Sunset in late autumn and winter is another good chance. But compared to mornings, the probability that you will see the great mountain and other wonderful views is much lower.
The Museum of The Little Prince
The museum covers an area of 10,000 m2 and is entered through an exact replica of the great gate to the Chateau of Saint-Maurice-de-Rémens, where the visitor is confronted by a statue of The Little Prince on his planet. The visit begins with a tour of a Provençal quarter, where every detail is heavy with symbolism, such as the hotel named after Guillaumet or the manhole covers stamped with drawings of The Little Prince. A little further on, we find a Lyons street circa 1900, representing the year and the place of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's birth. This is also where you will find the museum that retraces the life of the aviator in a series of rooms devoted to his childhood, l'Aéropostale, Cap Juby, Argentina, New York, etc. The walls are covered in period photographs, documents and manuscripts in the author's hand. The next stage in the visit is an exhibition of translations of The Little Prince. Finally, the visitor comes to the formal gardens and a life-size reconstruction of the facade of the Chateau of Saint-Maurice-de-Rémens.
Gotemba Premium Outlets
The Gotemba Premium Outlets are Japan's most popular outlet mall, located in Gotemba City at the base of Mount Fuji, not far from Hakone. The mall features over 200 stores along with a number of restaurants, a food court and a 50 meter high ferris wheel.
The stores found at the Premium Outlets are the outlets of internationally known brands of fashion, sports, food, household goods and electronics, and range from everyday items to luxury goods. The prices are not ridiculously cheap, but they are better on average than what you will find at regular retail shops in Japan.
Overall it is a nice place for a day of shopping, with a lot of variety and reasonable prices. Most of the stores accept credit cards such as Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Diners. Coin lockers are available in two locations.
The Gotemba Premium Outlets are located on the outskirts of Gotemba City not far from Hakone. A free shuttle bus operates every 20 minutes between the mall and JR Gotemba Station, stopping at the Tomei-Gotemba IC (interchange or expressway exit) along the way.
Odawara Castle (Odawarajō) was originally built in the mid 15th century and soon fell into the hands of the Hojo Clan, one of the most powerful clans during the Warring States Era who used it as a base to control the region around modern day Tokyo. In 1590, Toyotomi Hideyoshi attacked the castle, and with the defeat of the Hojo Clan, reunited Japan.
In 1703 the castle was destroyed by an earthquake but quickly rebuilt; yet in 1870, the castle keep and other buildings were dismantled and sold. The keep was rebuilt again in ferro-concrete in 1960 based on models and drawings from the Edo Period. Over the following years, the three major gates leading up to the castle were also restored. Today it is the closest castle keep to Tokyo.
The castle keep is three stories on the outside and four stories on the inside. The interior features exhibits on the history of the castle as well as displays of items such as armor and swords. The top floor offers nice views of the park and surrounding city.
Also located on the castle grounds is the Odawara Castle Historical Museum. It has further interactive displays on the history of the castle and Odawara to present day. Although there are some English translations, the interactive displays and movies are only in Japanese. The castle is also a famous spot for cherry blossoms (typically in bloom around late March to early April) and many other flowers, including plum blossoms, azalea, wisteria, iris, hydrangea and lotus blossoms.
Odawara Castle is located about a ten minute walk from Odawara Station's East Exit along Ohoribata Street.
Hakone Daimyo Gyoretu
The festival shouts of 'Down! Down! The Lord comes!' echoing in the hot spring town under the autumn sky:
An annual tourist event held on Culture Day (a national holiday), November 3rd, at Yumoto Onsen, Hakone. A procession of a total of 170 people dressed up as samurai warriors and princesses parades over a distance of some 6 km in the hot spring town.
The procession is reproduced in the style of the Daimyo Gyoretsu (feudal lord's procession)which was also known as sankin kotai during the Edo Period (1603-1867). The suite of retainers, each assigned with his role, and armed with spear, bow and arrow, or gun, march on as they carry their lord in the palanquin to the words, ‘Down! Down! The Lord comes!' voiced aloud by those leading the procession.
The sankin kotai was a system established by the Tokugawa Shogunate reigning over Japan back then to prevent its subordinate feudal lords from rising in rebellion. By obliging the daimyo lords to go back and forth between their domains and Edo (present-day Tokyo) in alternate years, the Shogunate Government aimed at weakening their financial power.
At 10 o'clock in the morning, the Hakone Daimyo Gyoretsu departs from Sounji Temple, and while carrying out diverse activities on the way, arrives at Yumoto Fujiya Hotel, the final destination, a little past 2 o'clock in the afternoon. The festival is made all the more merry by the performances of the marching bands accompanying the daimyo procession at the front and at the very end, and the dance performances by the geigi unique to hot spring resorts (geigi are women who entertain guests at sake parties with song and dance). Another of the delights of the Daimyo Gyoretsu in Hakone is that you can enjoy bathing in an onsen hot spring to relieve your fatigue once the festival is over.