There are endless reasons to go to the small resort town of Hakone, although for me personally it was an urge to spend some time in nature and breathe fresh mountain air. Close proximity to Tokyo makes is a perfect escape for a day trip, or overnight stay. I soaked up a lot of sun, took long strolls in the woods and took tons of photos. Duh. Without further adieu, I’d like to share some of the highlights of my trip and give you some tips on how to plan getaway there.
Stay in a ryokan & relax in onsen
Hakone has a centuries-old reputation for being a top resort destination for those who would like to soak in hot springs and experience traditional bath – onsen. Typically, these are public and there is a strict etiquette to follow. Although if you are not shy to splurge, you can book a room in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) with a private onsen and have your own luxurious spa retreat. There are numerous ryokans are all over Hakone area, nestled in the woods as well as along the shore of Lake Ashi with gorgeous views and serene atmosphere. It truly seems like a perfect way to decompress and experience first-hand traditional Japanese lifestyle. Angie spent a night in luxurious Gora Kadan, for example, and has the fondest memories of her stay. Although, there are plenty of other onsens and ryokans you could pick.
The Hakone Open-air Museum
Hakone’s Open-Air Museum is a unique space with fascinating and at times mind-boggling exhibits. Beautiful mountains and verdant lawns provide dramatic and beautiful backdrop for the abstract art creating truly pleasant atmosphere for an afternoon stroll. As a huge fan of Pablo Picasso I was particularly thrilled to see an entire exhibition hall dedicated solely to his work. The exhibits, which are organized in various categories, traced his creative career from the early through to the latter stages. Each piece of art was accompanied with a brief narrative describing either the story and inspiration behind that particular piece, or the technique he used. Overall the entire exhibition was truly enjoyable and very educational.
Lake Ashi & Hakone Shrine
One of the biggest draws of Hakone is undoubtedly picturesque Lake Ashi with breathtaking scenery: red torii gate floating on the water, the “pirate” ship taking tourists on a cruise and most importantly, the majestic Fuji-san in the back ground (granted you are there on a clear sunny day). I also wouldn’t miss the ancient cedar avenue, where centuries-old cedar trees form a scenic and somewhat eerie alleyway.
One of the stops along the Hakone Ropeway brings you to the top of the hill covered in sulfurous vapors. This area was created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone and is an active volcanic zone with hot bubbling pools. A popular thing to do is to purchase eggs, cooked in the naturally hot water, whose shells are blackened by the sulfur. According to the legend, these eggs can prolong your life by seven years.
Planning a trip to Hakone
Navigating Hakone to see all the main sights can be a bit tricky – you will be circling the region on five different modes of transportation to see all the sights. From Tokyo Shinjuku Station, take a rapid express train on Odakyu Line to Odawara. Purchase a Hakone Day Pass that will cover all your transportation needs that day (4000 yen or ~$35). Catch a local train/bus to the resort town Hakone-Yumoto, and choose where you want to go from there along the “loop”: catch a bus to Lake Ashi and see the shrine > cruise across the lake to the Hakone Ropeway > stop at Owakudani > change to Hakone Tozan Cable Car in Sounzan to get to Gora and see the Open Air Museum > close the loop by getting back to Hakone Yumoto on a Hakone Tozan Train. You can do all this by going counterclockwise and starting in Gora first. Either way, there is a lot of ground to cover and how much time you spend in Hakone is totally up to you. Ideally, staying there overnight would give you just the right amount of time to explore AND enjoy it all, although you could do the entire loop in a day as well, I’ve tried and tested the route myself. Here’s a good source for planning your route and a good list of all the sights in Hakone.
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