After spending a couple of days in Yokohama on my journey through Japan, I boarded another train and arrived in the beautiful town of Hakone. Situated around 100KM from Tokyo, Hakone is a beautiful retreat in the mountains, with lakes, volcanoes and hot springs aplenty. No wonder it is a popular tourist destination for both foreign visitors and Japanese Nationals, this place is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
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- Visa – As a British National I was exempt from requiring a visa to visit Japan for less than 90 days, however, some nationalities will require a visa. For the most up to date information visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
- Immunisations – some are required, check out my go-to website for up to date information: https://nathnac.net
- Safety – Just like London, Hakone is a very safe place to visit. You should use usual common sense, around protecting valuables to avoid pick-pocketers, and staying safe at night.
- Currency – Japanese Yen
- Language – Japanese
From Yokohama I boarded the JR Tokaido Line which stops at Odawara, from Odawara station, I then used the Hakone Tozan Railway line to take me to Gora Station, which is one of the main stations in Hakone and where you can pick up the Hakone Tozan Cable Car. If you are travelling from Tokyo you will follow the same route, and board a train stopping at Odawara. For those who have the JR Pass, you’ll just need to purchase the Hakone pass for the second part of the journey.
However for those who don’t have a JR Pass, you can just purchase a ticket for the above, or there is a ticket available which takes you from Shinjuku Station to Hakone Yumoto Station. Here you’ll be able to choose two class options the Romance Car which is direct and offers scenic views or the standard car which you will still need to change at Odawara for. It seems complicated but train travel in Japan is actually very straightforward. For the most up to date information visit Hyperdia.com for the latest train times visit Japan-rail-pass.com for more information.
I stayed at Hakone Guest House Gaku, which I found through booking.com, and offered clean, welcoming and basic accommodation in a ryokan style. I was meant to be sharing with up to two other people but was lucky enough to have the room to myself the first two nights. The traditional ryokan set up does not have any beds, rather a folded up futon with sheets and pillows, separated by a small room divider. The futon was so comfy and it was great having an actual room as opposed to a bunk in a dorm hostel!
There aren’t really any hostels in the Hakone area as most of the accommodation is Ryokan Style or even hotel resorts with their own Onsen, which sadly I could not afford, I know bummer. If you can splash the cash do it for a hotel resort with an Onsen! There are some truly beautiful places which have private onsens attached to rooms overlooking mountains which I imagine are pretty spectacular.
So as I mentioned previously you would have needed to purchase the Hakone Pass, to make the final leg of your journey from Odawara into Hakone. You can purchase either a 2-day or 3-day pass, for which there isn’t too much of a difference in cost, but it depends on how long you are visiting.
As well as getting you to Hakone the Hakone Pass can be used on all of the different modes of transportation in Hakone, including the Hakone Tozan railway, Hakone Ropeway, Hakone sightseeing boats, as well as several different buses. The Hakone pass is a must for anyone visiting Hakone because it will enable you to get around and see all of the interesting sights in the area so be sure to include the ticket fee in your budget for this trip. The Hakone pass does also offer discounts at some attractions too though so double check when you visit where you can redeem the discount.
Open Air Museum
Just a short ride on the Hakone railway line and a quick walk up a hill you’ll arrive at the Open Air Museum. I ended up spending most of the afternoon at this beautiful outdoor gallery, as the weather was great and it wasn’t too crowded either. It’s quite a large museum and I don’t think it should be rushed so give yourself a few hours here to enjoy all of the interesting sculptures and artworks on display.
After visiting the Open Air Museum I headed back to Gora and took the very steep walk up the hill to Gora Park, about 5-10 minutes away. If you wanted you can just hop on the Cable Car to cut out some of the walking. Gora Park is designed in a western style, primarily French, featuring a large fountain and a rose garden. The park also has a greenhouse housing a tropical botanical garden and another contains a flower garden. There is also a small restaurant overlooking the main fountain, as well as a teahouse and arts and crafts centre. The garden isn’t as pretty as the impressive Japanese Gardens I have seen so far, but it is a pleasant park to enjoy a sunny afternoon.
Hakone Tozan Cable Car to Sounzan
Now for a day of taking full advantage of the Hakone Pass, cable cars, ropeways, boats and buses! First up travelling from Gora to Sounzan via cable car. Just a short journey to connect to the Hakone Rope Way, the Tozan Cable Car climbs the steep hill with ease and is a pleasant journey to enjoy.
Hakone Rope Way (bus replacement) to Owakudani
Sadly the Ropeway was closed when I visited for safety reasons (well fortunately in that case) due to increases in seismic activity. Since visiting just a few weeks ago, the seismic activity has continued increasing and Japan Meteorological society has advised visitors to stay clear of the crater area as a potential eruption that will damage the area could occur. After the short bus ride, I arrived at Owakudani, right near the crater, however, there wasn’t very much to see due to all of the sulphur gases.
It’s a nice stop though where you can see other views over Hakone and grab a bite to eat. The speciality here are boiled eggs which have been boiled in the sulphuric waters of the volcano, they taste exactly the same (apparently) but come out looking black. I of course, didn’t give them a try but managed to find some photo opportunities with a giant fake black egg instead, oh and I found a hello kitty black egg – of course.
Hakone Ropeway to Togendai
I still got to ride a ropeway! Yay! This was the ride from Owakudani to Togendai and offered beautiful views of the landscape. Each pod can accommodate up to around 10 people, and they leave pretty much constantly every few minutes, so you can spend as long or as little as you like at Owakudani.
Once I arrived in Togendai, it was time to board the boat (mine was called Queen Ashinoko) which would take us across Lake Ashi towards the first stop Hakonemachi-Ko. There is a stop further down the lake which brings you closer to the Hakone-Ninja Shrine, however I wanted to explore the Hakone Checkpoint and Ancient Cedar Avenue first.
For some reason the boats that ferry passengers across Lake Ashi are designed as Pirate Ships. If you like you can also pay a little extra (on top of your Hakone Pass) to access an exclusive area at the front of the boat for uninterrupted views. However, the rest of the boat is absolutely fine and you’ll be able to enjoy lots of different views over the Lake.
There are a few restaurants and some little stands to buy some lunch or a snack, I went for a short walk to the Hakone Checkpoint, and then stopped for some traditional Japanese sweets while I enjoyed the views of Lake Ashi.
The Hakone Checkpoint was reconstructed in 2007 to represent the original checkpoint which was in place during the Edo Period. The checkpoint served as a means of security and controlled what travelled along the main highway linking Tokyo to Kyoto. The newly constructed Checkpoint now features replicas of the gates, fence, housing for officers and foot soldiers, a prison chamber and a lookout tower. There is also a small museum with various related exhibits called the Hakone Sekisho Shiryokan within the complex.
Ancient Cedar Avenue
Closely linked with the Hakone checkpoint, Cedar Avenue is a man-made forest created purposefully for shielding travellers from the wind rain and sun and providing cover during treacherous conditions. The entire stretch is around 500 metres and there are well over 400 cedar trees, and they are over 400 years old. You can see from the pictures below just how huge these trees are. It was a very enjoyable walk and provided some shaded respite from the midday sun, just as intended!
Hakone’s, most famous Shinto Shrine, stands at the foot of Mount Hakone, along the shores of Lake Ashi. The shrine is probably most famous for one of its tori gates which sits in Lake Ashi, and via a set of stairs and steep path leading to the Shrine. Once you arrive, as you can see, the Temple is surrounded by dense forest and is very tranquil and peaceful.
Torii Gate in Lake Ashi, at Hakone-Jinja Shrine
The Hakone-Jinja Shrine is probably more famous due to one of its Torii gates being located in Lake Ashi and offering great photo opportunities. I of course, didn’t want to miss out and joined the apparent queue to take a photograph with the Torii gate. As you can see though the queue was quite long travelling up part of the staircase and hill, 30 minutes later I was elated to have my photograph taken!
Bus all the way home to Gora
After a fun-filled day exploring the various landscapes of Hakone by cable car, ropeway, bus and boat it was time to head back to Gora, for which I jumped on a bus by Lake Ashi all the way back, covered under my Hakone Pass.
With most accommodation offering meals included in the Hakone area as part of the whole Onsen Ryokan experiences, there is a limited number of eateries in Hakone Town Centre (closest to Gora Station). Although you will find several restaurants around the Lake Ashi area. Luckily my Guest House was able to recommend a nearby accommodation with a restaurant attached – Emblem Flow. They offer a varied menu, fully stocked bar, and their chef was kind enough to prepare something vegan for me off the menu which I really appreciated.
I didn’t visit an Onsen while I was in Hakone, part of me was a little shy at the thought of getting totally naked in front of other people and then also a little confused as to where I could and couldn’t visit having a tattoo. Surprisingly despite Japan’s forward thinking concerning technology and other endeavours tattoos are still heavily associated with Japanese Akuza gangs, and so ordinarily people who have tattoos Japanese or otherwise are not allowed to enter Onsens. Although there are more and more establishments who do not share these views and also allow their more shy visitors to wear swimsuits.
If you wanted to experience an Onsen but also have a fun day out then you could always try the Yunessun Hot Springs Resort and Spa. Here you can get the best of both worlds there is part of the property which is traditional, completely naked no tattoo Onsen, and then there is another side which in typical Japanese style is a bit crazy. You can wear swimsuits and have tattoos but they should be covered up, so where’s the crazy? Well, how about bathing in an Onsen of red wine…coffee…sake? With over 23 Onsens to choose from you will surely leave feeling completely relaxed and quite prune-like by the end of the day!
I hope you enjoyed reading about my weekend in Hakone, and I’ve given you some inspiration for your own trip. If you’ve already been to Hakone what did you do differently? I would have loved to stay in a Ryokan with its own Onsen, so luckily I have an excuse to come back some day! I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below, get in touch with any questions or queries.
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