Hakone is an onsen region located about 90km south-west of Tokyo, scattered with ryokan whose life-blood is the natural hot spring water that flows into their communal baths. Japanese (at least the more affluent members of society) have been traveling to Hakone since the beginning of the Edo period, and today its proximity to Tokyo and natural beauty make it the most popular onsen destination from the capital. Indeed, long-established hotels like Fujiya Hotel can boast of having been host to Charlie Chaplin, John Lennon, King George VI, as well as numerous foreign dignitaries.
While there are many attractions in the area, those hoping for a bustling tourist mecca with souvenir shops, restaurants, and bars may be disappointed. Hakone-Yumoto—the gateway town to the region—does thrive off tourism, but once you head into the mountains the restaurants and gift shops are few and far between.
The Hakone Free Pass
The Hakone Free Pass is a discount excursion ticket for the Hakone region which gives you unlimited use of public transportation in the region and reduced prices at many of the attractions. You can buy either a 2-day or 3-day pass but the price depends on where you purchase the ticket. From Shinjuku Station a 2-day pass is ¥5,140 and a 3-day pass ¥5,640. Purchased at Hakone-Yumoto the price is ¥4,000 and ¥4,500, respectively. Children get a 75% discount. Although more expensive if purchased at Shinjuku Station, it does entitle you to discounted rates on the train to Hakone-Yumoto.
How to Get There?
The Odakyu Limited Express “Romance Car” from Shinjuku Station departs every 30 minutes and takes you directly to Hakone-Yumoto. It takes 90 minutes and costs about ¥2,000. Seats must be reserved.
Visitors can also take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station to Odawara (approximately 30 minutes) and see Odawara Castle before taking the Hakone Tozan Railway to Hakone-Yumoto and beyond. The Hakone Tozan Railway climbs from Odawara up to Gora (541m) where visitors who wish to continue higher up the mountain can switch to the Hakone Tozan Cable Car. The train itself provides some spectacular views of the region as it zig-zags its way up the slopes
The Odakyu company has created a superb tourist map of the area highlighting the rail and ropeway routes as well as all the key attractions in the region. Download the map here.
Hakone Yumoto is the gateway town to the Hakone region and the destination of the “Romance Car” from Shinjuku. Even if you’re staying elsewhere, it is well worth spending a couple of hours looking around the town. A great place to pick up a souvenir or try the local delicacies. Google Maps.
Hakone Shrine is notable for its large, red torii which stands on the shore of Lake Ashi. The shrine was originally on the summit of Mount Komagatake, but was moved to its current location in the late 17th century. The walk through the forest and up the stone steps is very enjoyable.
Directions. 10 minutes from Motohakone-ko (you will see the red torii standing in the lake). Google Maps
Well-known day onsen near Hakone Yumoto. Beautiful open-air baths and a Finnish sauna with a “löyly” service which will have you dashing for the cool air outside. See here for more details.
Hakone Pirate Ship
Three pleasure boats, decorated as ornate pirate ships, ferry passengers between Togendai, Hakone-Machi, and Moto-Hakone. They provide spectacular views of Lake Ashi-no-ko and, on clear days, Mount Fuji. It takes 30-40 minutes to cross the length of the lake.
- Hours. First and last departures are 9:30 and 17:00 (16:00 between December and March)
- Admission. ¥1,000 one-way from Hakone-Machi or Moto-Hakone to Togendai at the other end of the lake. ¥1,840 return. Elementary school students can ride half price
- Website. http://www.hakone-kankosen.co.jp/foreign/en/
Hakone Sekisho was a key checkpoint along the Tokaido—the main route which connected Edo and Kyoto—and officials were placed there to check travelers for incoming guns and outgoing women (the latter because the system of “alternate attendance” required the daimyo to leave their wives behind in the capital as “hostages”). With the ending of this system in 1862 such procedures became obsolete and the checkpoint in Hakone was dismantled. Fortunately, restoration work began in 1999 and it re-opened to the public in 2007.
- Directions. 2 minutes from Hakone-machi bus station. Google Maps
- Hours. 9:00-17:00 (until 16:30 between December and February)
- Admission. Adults ¥500 | Children ¥250
- Website. http://www.hakonesekisyo.jp/english/
“Great Boiling Valley” is a crater formed about 3,000 years ago from a volcanic explosion, famous for its bubbling pools and steam vents. Kuro-tamago (“black eggs”), which are boiled in the volcanic pools and sold to tourists, are said to increase life-expectancy by seven years. Mount Fuji can also be seen in the distance on clear days. Owakudani may be closed due to volcanic activity. Check with your ryokan or at one of the train stations for the latest information.
Directions. Access from Owakudani Station on the Hakone Ropeway. Google Maps