Hakone: Hot Springs and Nature as Far as the Eye Can See

Hakone is a perfect place to visit if you want to get away from the hectic and overwhelming city of Tokyo. Located 100 miles away from the city, it is an easy 30 minutes train ride away. Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and it’s considered one of the best places to see Mt. Fuji from. That is if you’re lucky and the clouds don’t get in the way. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky.

But splendid views of Mt. Fuji is not the only thing the area has to offer. Hakone is famous for its hot springs and natural beauty as well as a collection of unique museums. I got over my initial disappointment quite quickly as Hakone proved over and over again why it’s one of the most popular destinations around Tokyo.

Getting to Hakone

With your trusty JR Pass you can easily travel from Tokyo to Hakone. I suggest buying your ticket the day before so you can reserve seats on a Shinkansen, the fastest train in Japan that would get you to Odawara in 30 minutes.

After you get to Odawara, you must purchase a train ticket to take you to Hakone-yumoto where you can begin your adventure in Hakone.

The Hakone Free Pass

I highly recommend purchasing the Hakone Free Pass, a discount excursion ticket that allows you to take full advantage of the area. If you purchase the pass at Odawara, the trip to Hakone-yumoto is covered. The pass also includes 8 different types of transportation you can hop on and off of as many times as you like. And if you thought it couldn’t get any better, it gives you discounted admission to the many attractions in the area. The ticket costs ¥4,000 for a 2-day pass and ¥4,500 for 3 days.

(For more information on what’s included on the Hakone Free Pass click here)

Unfortunately, one of the main attractions of Mt. Hakone, the Hakone Ropeway was closed. The 30 minutes ropeway offers sweeping views of Mt. Fuji, Lake Ashinoko and the Owakudani Valley, an active volcano zone with hot springs and hot rivers.

(For more information on the Hakone Ropeway, please click here)

A Boat Trip on Lake Ashi

With my Hakone Free Pass in hand, I boarded the Hakone Tozan Bus and got off at the Hakone-machi stop. Then I walked a short distance to the departure location of the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise. I waited at the pier and took in the grandness of Lake Ashi. Getting on a boat is one way to experience the lake but I saw many people who rented some odd duck shaped boats to paddle along the water.

View from the Hakone-machi pier / Photo by Alexandra Pamias
View from the boat as we leave the Hakone-machi pier / Photo by Alexandra Pamias

The boat trip was only 10 minutes long but what sights! The lake seemed to stretch on forever and on the hillside of Mount Komagatake was this single torii gate overlooking the water. The torii gate is part of the Hakone-jinja shrine, hidden from view in the forest. Visitors who want to visit the gate from the forest side are treated to 800-year-old cedar trees that line the pathway to the water. The foreboding grays of the sky and the thick clouds rolling down the mountain gave the torii gate a background to really stand out from.

(For more information on the Hakone-jinja shrine please click here)

The Hakone-jinja shrine seen from the boat / Photo by Alexandra Pamias
Mt. Fuji is hidden behind those clouds / Photo by Alexandra Pamias

The boat trip ended at the Moto-Hakone pier where I hopped the bus again and decided to treat myself to a relaxing trip to the hot springs.

(For more information on boat routes and piers, click here)

Soak Up And Relax In a Traditional Onsen

I decided to try out the hot springs at the Hotel Kowakien Yunessun, a place a friend had told me really impressed him. The hotel offers two different experiences: a traditional onsen, Mori Yo Nu, and the famous crazy themed baths, Yunessun.

The Yunessun baths offer visitors the chance to soak in some very unusual baths. Marketed towards families, this co-ed spa boasts of wine, green tea, and ramen baths among many others.

I took the more traditional road and decided to soak in the Mori Yo Nu onsen, mostly because I had forgotten a bathing suit and didn’t feel like buying one. Plus I was looking for a more relaxing experience. The entrance fee was ¥1,900. If you’re interested in visiting Yunessun the entrance fee is ¥2,900 and c4,100 for both.

Traditional also meant no bathing suits which didn’t shock me as much as the first time I visited an onsen in Japan. After a while, your shame goes away and you just soak your bones to your heart’s content.

(For more information on all the onsens Hakone has to offer, click here)

After I left the onsen, fully relaxed and happy, I picked a museum at random and got on the bus once again.

Hakone Open Air Museum: Picasso Surprise

The Hakone Open Air Museum was one of the most unexpected favorite parts of my trip to Japan. I took the bus to one of the cable car stations and got off at the stop nearest to the museum. I don’t remember which one it was but I felt a little lost till I climbed a very steep hill and there was the museum. The ride on the cable car itself was a good time.

The entrance fee for the Hakone Open Air Museum is ¥1,600, ¥1,400 with the Hakone Free Pass. The museum is mostly outdoors with the exception of a few indoor locations, such as the Picasso Exhibition Hall. Yes you read that right, you can actually see a pretty impressive collection of Pablo Picasso’s work in a museum in the countryside of Japan. I was shocked and delighted by this exhibition, which also displayed pictures that David Douglas Duncan took of the artist.

The Picasso Pavilion at the Hakone Open Air Museum / Photo by Alexandra Pamias

The museum is also kid friendly, allowing children to pay among select play sculptures. After a long stroll around the grounds, visitors can also soak their feet in foot baths, something Hakone is famous for.

I’ll let the images speak for themselves but I highly recommend people visiting the Hakone area put this location on their list of things to see.

Statue of two lovers / Photo by Alexandra Pamias
Bridge in the green surroundings of the museum / Photo by Alexandra Pamias
View from the boat as we leave the Hakone-machi pier / Photo by Alexandra Pamias
Giant reflective sphere that hangs over the pathway / Photo by Alexandra Pamias
A giant head with leaves for hair rests in the water / Photo by Alexandra Pamias
One of the many pieces of abstract art one can find in the museum / Photo by Alexandra Pamias

I finished up my visit and hopped back on the cable car to catch the train back at Hakone-yumoto station to head back to Tokyo. But not before purchasing my soft serve ice cream from a funny little shop

A Woody doll welcomes customer into this ice-cream shop / Photo by Alexandra Pamias

What I Wish I Could Have Seen

Hakone has so much to offer and I only scratched the surface during my one day trip to the area. I suggest setting aside at least 2 days to properly experience it. Below I have added links to all the activities I wish I had done and would definitely include in my next visit to Mt. Hakone.

Owakudanai

Hakone Ropeway

Odawara Castle

Hakone Glass No Mori

Gora Park

 

 

 

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