Hakone Japan: What to Experience and Eat During Your Visit
There are a lot of areas you might think of when you think of Japan, but one region that often gets overlooked is Hakone. Hakone is a town in the Kanagawa prefecture that's located in Japan's Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and is known for its stunning mountain views and sensational hot springs. Outside of its picturesque landscape, Hakone is also filled with plenty of historical landmarks, including the Hakone Shrine and Hakone Checkpoint, and even has a few noteworthy volcanoes like Mount Fuji, which is why it should be a must-see destination on your next Japanese vacation.
A Brief History of Hakone
Before you can start planning your trip to the Hakone area, you should study up on the town's history first. The town of Hakone holds a lot of historical significance for many reasons, mainly because it is home to the Hakone Shrine. During the Genpei War, shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo would visit this shrine to pray for victory over his enemies. The town also fell under the rule of the later Hōjō clan of Odawara during the Sengoku period (1467 - 1615) and served as a border to the Kanto region at the start of the Edo period (1603 - 1867). The Hakone Checkpoint, as it was called, required travelers entering or leaving Edo or Kyoto to display their travel permits and have their luggage checked. Between its mountainous background and assortment of relaxing hot springs, Hakone definitely has a unique terrain, partially because the town developed many crater-like valleys from volcanic eruptions that occurred centuries ago.
Popular Attractions in Hakone You Need to Visit
Now that you're all caught up, it's time to get an idea of all the can't-miss tourist attractions, and beautiful scenery Hakone has to offer by reading our travel guide.
Lake Ashinoko, otherwise known as Hakone Lake or Lake Ashi, is a crater lake that is conveniently situated along one of several of the prefecture's inactive volcanoes, Mount Hakone. You can visit the lake to get some great views of Mount Fuji or stop by one of the many hot springs surrounding the area. You can even hop on the Hakone Ropeway at the Togendai Station, located on the shores of Lake Ashinoko, for a one-of-a-kind aerial view of the town.
The lake is nearly three miles long and is located on the main road that connects Kyoto and Tokyo, known as the Tōkaidō road, making it easy to find and hard to miss.
Hakone Hot Springs
The hot springs, or Japanese onsen, are definitely one of the most popular features of Hakone, and it's no surprise why. Some hot springs contain sodium chloride, which is believed to be good for dermatosis and neuralgia, while others contain calcium sulfate for skin beautification or alkaline for nerve pain.
There are quite a few rules that you'll need to follow in order to take a dip in the hot springs. Those rules are:
- Wash up before entering
- Keep your clothes, bathing suits, and towels out of the springs
- Do not dip your head or hair under the water
- No tattoos are allowed
Speaking of hot springs, you can find your fair share of hot springs and hot rivers while taking in the fantastic views at Owakudani. Owakudani, which translates to "Great Boiling Valley," is a volcanic valley that was created about 3,000 years ago after the last eruption of Mount Hakone. If you visit the area, be warned that Owakudani does have volcanic activity, though.
Many tourists will visit Owakudani just to try the local specialty of kuro-tamago, which are eggs that have turned black and given a sulphuric smell from the hot springs. They might look a bit unappetizing on the outside, but it's believed that eating one will add seven years to your life.
Hakone Tozan Railway
There's no better way to experience the mountains than the Hakone Tozan Railway. The railway, which is Japan's oldest mountain railway system, takes its riders on an extraordinarily scenic adventure through wooden valleys and narrow bridges for a breathtaking journey that feels like something out of a storybook.
Trains run every 15-20 minutes between the Gora and Hakone-Yumoto stations, and each locomotive stops at smaller stations along the way, so you can change up your direction or head back home when you're ready.
Founded in 757 during the reign of Emperor Kosho, the Hakone Shrine is considered to be Japan's most famous Shinto shrine. Located at the bottom of Mount Hakone along the shores of Lake Ashi, the shrine contains a collection of historical treasures, including five that have been named Important Cultural Property.
Whether you're going to visit the homotsuden (the shrine treasure house), or you want to see the massive red gate of peace in person, the most exciting time of year to visit the shrine is during Ashinoko Summer Festival Week, which is held every year from the end of July to the beginning of August.
Japan was once filled with toll barriers known as sekisho that controlled the incoming traffic of people and goods until the Meiji government abolished all barriers in 1869. The Hakone Checkpoint was eventually named a historic landmark. In 2007, the toll reopened in its original form, complete with a prison chamber, gates, a lookout tower, and more, after undergoing three years of reconstruction.
As you can probably tell by now, Hakone has no shortage of great views, and Gora Park is no exception. Located above Gora Station, the French-style park features a relaxing landscape of rose, botanical, and flower gardens, greenhouses, and a large water fountain worthy of a photo op. There's even a Crafthouse on the premises that offers unique classes such as dried flower arrangement, glass blowing, and so much more.
Places to Eat in Hakone for Incredible Food
Everyone knows finding the perfect restaurant is just as important as hitting all the must-see tourist sights, so here's a rundown of the best places to grab a bite in Hakone.
Itoh Dining by NOBU
From Premium Kuroge Wagyu Beef to Hakone vegetables, Tsukiji seafood, and everything in between, this popular Japanese steakhouse has something for everyone.
Tamura Ginkatsutei Honten
With options like filets, shrimp, and horse mackerel to choose from, you can treat yourself to a delicious seafood dish after a long day of adventuring. And if you don't eat fish, don't worry because Tamura Ginkatsutei Honten has plenty of tofu substitutions to choose from.
If you need a break from the seafood, 808 Monsmare is a highly-rated pizzeria and gelateria restaurant that might be located in Hakone but is sure to transport your taste buds straight to Rome.
If you're going to go to Japan, you might as well experience the best Japanese food the country has to offer, right? Gyoza Center is a top-tier casual cafe specializing in dumplings filled with meat, seafood, or cheese.
Hakone Yuryo - Irori Restaurant
If you're going to visit Hakone Yuryo for its hot springs and garden, you might as well stop by the on-site Irori Restaurant while you're at it for some fried fish or a rice bowl.
Main Dining Room at The Fujiya
Located in the Fujiya Hotel, the Main Dining Room serves an array of artisanal French and dishes like petit gateau and lobster.
How to Get to Hakone
In order to visit these places, you must first learn how to get there. If your starting point is Tokyo, head to the Tokyo Station and board a train on the Tokaido Shinkansen line going to Odawara Station. Once you've arrived, then board the Hakone Tozan train and stop at Hakone Itabashi Station. Another route you can take is through the Odakyu Line, which runs through Shinjuku Station and Hakone Yumoto Station. In order to board these trains, secure a Japan Rail Pass. The whole journey lasts about two hours, so by the time you arrive, you still have enough time for a quick day trip.
Experience Japanese Culture with Bokksu
Even after your trip to the Hakone region has ended, you can keep the spirit of Japanese travels alive from the comfort of your own home with Bokksu's monthly Japanese snack box subscription! The Classic Bokksu Box contains 20-24 premium snacks, candies, and tea pairings, as well as a multi-page culture guide to walk you through the details of each product's origins, flavors, and allergens. The theme of the Bokksu box changes every month, to celebrate changes in season or bring attention to specific Japanese prefectures.