By Lindsay Wong
The Kanto region is close enough for short excursions from the bustling metropolis of Tokyo. These include nearby Kawagoe, Fuji Q Highlands, and Gotemba Premium Outlets (read more about Tokyo and its surrounds here).
One of the most popular weekend trips from Tokyo for both locals and travellers is Hakone, situated in the shadow of Mt. Fuji.
Hakone (Kanagawa Prefecture)
Hakone is the perfect place to de-stress, experience Japanese tradition, and get away from city life. Just two hours away by train from Tokyo near iconic Mt. Fuji, it’s the ideal place to soak in hot springs and enjoy incredible views of nature.
Visitors come here mainly to enjoy the hot springs. HAKONE YUTOWA, a new chic hotel in Gora, offers standard rooms as well as condominium-style accommodation with a kitchen (and laundry facilities in the common area), and scenic views can be had from the en suite bathtubs. Apart from the large public baths, you can also relax in the gorgeous library, and have free drinks from the drink corner.
Nature Sightseeing Trips: Owakudani & Lake Ashi
Created by Mt. Hakone’s volcanic eruption 3,000 years ago, Owakudani (Hell Valley) – accessible via the Hakone Ropeway – is where you can see Mt. Fuji on clear days. People come to this volcanic zone to see the steam vents and bubbling pools; for the adventurous, there are walking/hiking trails.
Here, you can purchase black eggs, which are cooked in naturally hot water, with its shells blackened by the sulfur. It’s said that eating it will prolong your life by seven years!
Lake Ashi is a caldera lake that affords gorgeous views of Mt. Fuji and its scenic surroundings. Taking a sightseeing cruise from one end of the lake to the other allows you to fully appreciate Hakone’s beauty. The striking cruise ships look like pirate galleons!
Enjoying hot spring baths: Yunessun & Hakone Yuryo
You can’t visit Hakone without trying out hot springs! Yunessun in Gora is an amusement park that specialises in unique hot spring baths filled with green tea, wine, Japanese sake, or coffee! Each bath has healing qualities and benefits.
Yunessun’s other attractions include a fish spa, waterslides, hot spring cave, sauna, outdoor hot spring baths, and a zipline area. There are thematic baths based on the months and seasons, like chocolate baths in February for Valentine’s Day.
You can stay at the neighbouring Ten-yu resort, where every room has its own private hot spring!
The traditionally-styled day-resort of Hakone Yuryo near Hakone-Yumoto station is an onsen paradise. Soak in the fresh hot spring water, which is gentle on the skin, at the resort’s large communal baths, including indoor, open-air, and pottery baths.
Traditional Japan: Choanji & Hakone Shrine
For a taste of traditional Japan, the famous Hakone Shrine (founded in 757) was the worshipping site for samurai families, including the Tokugawa family, the last shogunate of Japan. Hidden in a forest off the shores of Lake Ashi, it has 3 huge torii gates, including one standing prominently in the lake. An Insta-worthy shot comprises this ‘floating’ gate with Mt. Fuji as a backdrop.
Established in 1356 Choanji is a Zen Buddhist temple that’s famous for its collection of rakan (stone statues of Buddha’s disciples); there are currently 300 pieces – and growing – scattered around the temple grounds, each with unique caricatures. You can explore them along walking trails through the temple’s quiet wooded grounds.
Arts & Crafts: Gora Park & Open Air Museum
Gora Park is a Western-styled landscape park located on a steep slope, with several gardens and a teahouse. There’s also a Crafthouse where you can unleash your creative potential with glass and pottery crafts, with activities ranging from glassblowing and vintage beading to pottery painting. From 2,000 yen, you can have your own handmade souvenir!
For a unique ready-made souvenir, the yosegi zaku (wood mosaic) is a traditional Edo-era woodcraft unique to Hakone. Featuring geometric patterns, you can get specialty handmade puzzle boxes at souvenir shops all over Hakone.
For modern art, visit the Hakone Open Air Museum which features over a thousand works of art from the likes of Picasso, Henry Moore, prominent Japanese artists, and many others. The Picasso Pavilion houses 300 of his masterpieces!
Getting There & Around
You can get to Hakone from Shinjuku in 80 minutes via the Limited Express Romancecar train. Alternatively, the Hakone Freepass lets you travel on the Odakyu Line (from Tokyo), with unlimited use of the transportation network in the Hakone area including cable cars, ropeways, buses, and sightseeing cruises.