Journey to Hakone: Exploring Japan's Scenic Paradise

by Nana Young

Introduction to Hakone: Japan's Scenic Gem and Retreat Destination

Hakone Ropeway at Owakudani Volcanic Valley with sulfur vents and hot springs in Hakone

Situated in the heart of Japan's Kanagawa Prefecture lies Hakone, a captivating town renowned for its breathtaking natural landscapes, rejuvenating hot springs, and rich cultural heritage. This picturesque destination, surrounded by lush greenery and graced by the presence of Mount Hakone, has long been a favorite retreat for travelers seeking serenity and relaxation.

Getting to Hakone: Navigating Your Journey from Tokyo

Odakyu Electric Railway local train and Romancecar limited express.

Traveling from the bustling metropolis of Tokyo to the tranquil landscapes of Hakone is a delightful adventure filled with scenic views and convenient transportation options. One of the best and affordable ways to explore Hakone is with a Hakone Free Pass, a discounted ticket tailored for exploring the region. This pass grants unlimited rides of Odakyu-affiliated buses, trains, boats, cable cars, and ropeways, allowing travelers to navigate Hakone's attractions effortlessly. Additionally, it provides discounted admission to select tourist destinations for either two or three consecutive days.

Below are other public transport options available to explore Hakone:

  1. By Train:

    • Odakyu Electric Railway (Romancecar): The fastest way to travel directly from Tokyo to Hakone is via the Odakyu Electric Railway. Take the Odakyu Limited Express Romancecar from Shinjuku Station to Hakone-Yumoto Station, the main entry point to Hakone.

    • JR (Japan Railways): With a JR Pass (Japan Railway), you can catch the JR Tokkaido Shinkansen from Shinagawa Station or Tokyo Station. You also have the option to use rapid or local trains on the JR Tokaido Main Line or the JR Shonan Shinjuku Line to reach Odawara, although this route generally takes more time. Upon reaching Odawara, transfer to a local train to get to Hakone-Yumoto Station. Keep in mind that JR trains only go as far as Odawara, requiring non-JR trains to access the Hakone area.

  2. By Bus:

    • Board the Odakyu Hakone Highway Bus at the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Stop (located at Shinjuku West Exit), heading towards Gotemba in northern Hakone and then continuing to Hakone Togendai by Lake Ashi. This journey usually lasts slightly over two hours under favorable traffic conditions.

Hakone Shrine: Discovering Sacred Beauty Amidst Nature

Mount Fuji, Japan. Lake Ashi view in Hakone

Nestled amidst the picturesque landscapes of Hakone lies a hidden gem of spiritual tranquility and natural beauty—the Hakone Shrine. This sacred Shinto shrine, steeped in centuries of history and tradition, stands as a timeless beacon of Japan's rich spiritual heritage and cultural splendor.

One of the most striking features of Hakone Shrine is its iconic Red Gate of Peace (Heiwa no Torii). Positioned at the water's edge of Lake Ashi, this grand gate serves as a symbolic threshold between the earthly and spiritual realms. On clear days, the magnificent silhouette of Mount Fuji provides a stunning backdrop for photography enthusiasts.

Behind this majestic gate, a staircase lined with centuries-old cedar trees and torii gates leads up to the main shrine building, which features a distinctive vermillion-color facade adorned with intricate wood carvings and ornate details. The shrine complex also includes various visitor amenities, such as a museum showcasing a collection of historical treasures, five of which are designated as Important Cultural Properties. Additionally, there is the Kuzuryu Shrine, a sub-shrine dedicated to the nine-headed dragon believed to be the guardian deity of Lake Ashi.

Dedicated to multiple deities renowned for safeguarding against disasters and ensuring safety of travelers, Hakone shrine attracts numerous visitors seeking blessings for safe journeys, harmonious marriages, prosperity, travel safety, and success in their endeavors.

Hakone Open-Air Museum: Immersing Yourself in Art and Nature

Symphonic sculpture in the Hakone open-air museum.

Opened in 1969, the Hakone Open-Air Museum is Japan's first outdoor gallery, showcasing a whopping 120 sculptures dotted throughout its grounds against a scenic backdrop of valleys and mountains. This setting achieves a seamless integration of nature and art, harmonizing the museum's artistic treasures with the natural beauty of its surrounding. The juxtaposition of art against nature's ever-changing canvas creates a dynamic interplay of form, texture, and space, with each season imbuing a distinct atmosphere and mood.

Aside from sculptures by renowned artists like Henry Moore, the Hakone Open-Air Museum also features the Symphonic Sculpture, designed like a tower that allows visitors to climb a spiral staircase enveloped by vibrant stained glass to reach a viewing platform overlooking the park and mountains. Additionally, the museum houses the Picasso Exhibition Hall, displaying two levels filled with over 300 works by the acclaimed artist, including oil paintings, prints, and ceramics.

Lake Ashi Cruise: Sailing Across Scenic Waters with Mount Fuji Views

Mountain Fuji and Lake Ashi with Hakone temple and sightseeing boat in autumn

Formed within Mount Hakone's caldera following its last eruption 3,000 years ago, Lake Ashi allures visitors with its serene charm and invites them to embark on an enchanting cruise experience. Setting sail from one of the lake's picturesque ports, such as Moto-Hakone, Togendai, or Hakone-en, the cruise takes you on a captivating voyage across the beautiful Lake Ashi, unveiling stunning vistas at every turn. One of the highlights is the sight of Mount Fuji, especially on clear days when its iconic peak is reflected in the calm waters of the lake, creating a postcard-perfect scene.

Pirate Ship Cruise: Sailing in Style on Lake Ashi

Mount Fuji, Japan. Lake Ashi view in Hakone

Channel your inner One Piece pirate energy and embark on a pirate ship cruise to discover the enchanting beauty of Lake Ashi like never before. As you climb aboard the pirate ship, you're instantly transported to a world of adventure and imagination. The ship's design, complete with masts, sails, and pirate-themed decor, creates an atmosphere of excitement and intrigue. Today, three types of Hakone Pirate Ships are in operation: the red "Royal II", blue and black "Victory". and green "Vasa." Each ship features distinct decor, providing passengers with a unique experience on board.

Owakudani: Soaking in the Mystique of Hakone's Volcanic Valley

Owakudani seen from the ropeway in Hakone

Visiting Hakone is incomplete without a trip to one of its most famous tourist spotsOwakudani, or the Great Boiling Valley, a geothermal wonder celebrated for its otherworldly beauty and natural wonders. A result of volcanic eruptions millennia ago, Owakudani invites visitors to witness volcanic activity up close, featuring active sulfur vents and hot springs scattered across its rugged landscape. This activity creates a dramatic spectacle, with plumes of steam rising from the earth, creating an ethereal atmosphere that feels like stepping into a mythical realm. In addition to its iconic geothermal features, many tourists come specifically to taste the local specialty called kuro-tamago. These eggs are cooked in Owakudani's hot spring pools, causing their shells to turn black due to the sulfur content. Keep in mind that the area may occasionally be closed due to volcanic gases, so make sure to check beforehand before your visit.

Hakone Ropeway: Soaring Above Spectacular Scenery

Ropeway in Owakudani

Embark on a spectacular journey through Hakone's captivating landscapes aboard the Hakone Ropeway. This ropeway is part of the "Hakone Loop", a scenic route that showcases the region's natural beauty and popular destinations through various modes of transportation—all conveniently covered by the Hakone Free Pass. The Hakone Ropeway journey unfolds amidst panoramic views of Mount Fuji, the Owakudani Valley, and Ashi Lake, offering breathtaking perspective of Hakone's majestic scenery. The ropeway route runs between Sounzan Station in Gora to Togendai Station, with a ropeway car change to Owakudani, serving as a scenic mode of travel for visitors heading to the geothermal wonder. Covering approximately 4 kilometers, the Hakone Ropeway boasts one of the world's longest ropeway rides. Its immense popularity is underscored by its recognition in the Guinness Book of Records in 2010 as the most ridden cable car globally, with over 2 million passengers annually.

Hakone Museum of Art: Admiring Treasures of Japanese Culture

Hakone Museum of Art

For a deeper dive into Japanese art and culture, the Hakone Museum of Art awaits your exploration. Established in 1962 by Okada Mokichi, this museum stands as the oldest in the Hakone region, offering a captivating journey through Japan's artistic legacy. At the heart of the museum lies an impressive collection of Japanese ceramics, spanning epochs from ancient times to the Edo Period (1600-1868). Among its treasures is the Haniwa Burial Statue, revered as an Important Cultural Property, alongside a range of ceramics from centuries past, each narrating tales of exquisite craftsmanship and historical significance. The museum's allure extends beyond its exhibits to its enchanting grounds, which include not just a moss garden but also the sprawling Sekirakuen Garden. This Japanese garden, recognized as a national scenic beauty in 2021, captivates visitors with its serene beauty.

Gora Park: Strolling Through Tranquil Gardens and Tea Houses

Spring Gora Park

For a relaxing retreat, visit Hakone Gora Park, a picturesque oasis of natural beauty and cultural delights. Perched gracefully on a steep slope above Gora Station, this French-style garden is renowned for its vibrant floral displays and stunning landscapes. Among its many attractions, the enchanting rose garden stands out as a highlight, offering a mesmerizing spectacle of colors and fragrances during the spring and summer seasons.

Beyond the rose garden, Gora boasts two greenhouses. One houses an array of tropical herb, creating a verdant haven, while the other showcases an impressive collection of bougainvillea plants, including Japan's oldest bougainvillea, estimated to be over 140 years old.

Additionally, the park provides various amenities, including workshop studios where visitors can engage in craft activities like glass blowing and pottery. Moreover, guests can relax and enjoy a cup of green tea at the Hakuun-do Chaen tea house.

Hakone Hot Springs: Indulging in Relaxation and Wellness

Building and river in Hakone, Japan

Hakone is renowned as a sanctuary of hot springs, or onsen in Japanese, celebrated for their therapeutic properties and tranquil settings. While Hakone boasts over twenty hot springs in total, seventeen are officially recognized known as Ju-nana-yu (Hakone's Seventeen Hot Spring Resources), which includes seven of its original natural onsen dating back to the Edo period, such as the Hakone Yumoto Onsen. A visit to any of these natural hot springs is not just a journey of physical renewal but also a soul-soothing experience that immerses you in centuries-old traditions and the healing power of nature.

The mineral-rich waters, heated by Mount Hakone's ongoing hydrothermal activity, are believed to possess healing properties that promote relaxation, improve circulation, and soothe muscle aches and pains. Complementing their healing attributes, many of Hakone's hot springs are nestled in secluded valleys or perched on hillsides, offering guests a sense of tranquility and connection with nature. Whether you prefer the serene ambiance of an open-air public bath embraced by lush foliage or seek the intimate seclusion of your own private onsen, each hot spring experience is a harmonious blend of rejuvenation and natural beauty.

Discover the rejuvenating waters and serene retreats of Japan's onsen by reading our article here.

Hakone Checkpoint: Stepping Back in Time to Edo-era Japan

A view from Hakone Checkpoint Museum

Nestled within the picturesque landscapes of Hakone, lies a historic treasure that whispers tales of the past—the Hakone Checkpoint. Dating back to the Edo period, this checkpoint held a vital position along the Tokaido highway, a crucial transportation route connecting Tokyo and Kyoto. As one of the fifty-three stations along Tokaido, Hakone Checkpoint played a pivotal role in maintaining order, collecting tolls, and regulating travel across the region. Beyond its historical significance, the Hakone Checkpoint is a symbol of Japan's commitment to preserving its cultural heritage. Meticulously restored to its original state, Hakone Checkpoint now comprises two gates, guardhouses, a stable, and a museum that delves into local history. Resting alongside Ashi Lake, this site is a must-see for those eager to step back in time and experience the ambiance of Edo-era Japan.

Hakone Cuisine: Savoring Local Delicacies and Flavors

Celebrate the richness of local flavors by trying Hakone's culinary treasures, ranging from traditional meals to regional specialties. Here are a few of the must-try delicacies to include on your Hakone food bucket list:

Kuro-Tamago (Black Eggs)
At the top of your list should be none other than Kuro-Tamago. These black eggs are boiled in the natural 80-degree Celsius sulfuric water of Owakudani's hot springs. Besides their distinctive black-shell appearance, they taste like regular boiled eggs but are believed to add seven years to your life. You can purchase them at souvenir shops located in Owakudani.

Tourists showing the boiled black eggs (Kuro-Tamago) from the Owakudani Valley, Hakone National Park,


Yuba (Tofu Skin)
Yuba is a velvety tofu skin crafted by boiling soy milk. This versatile delicacy can be enjoyed fresh, dried, or added to hot pots, soups, and stir-fries. Rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, yuba serves as a great meat substitute for vegetarians and health-conscious diners.

Yuba Tofu, Japanese food


Hakone Travel Tips: Insider Advice for a Memorable Visit

tourlist at red Torii gate of Hakone shrine located on lake Ashi, Japan.

To make the most of your Hakone adventure, here are some practical tips and recommendations to ensure an unforgettable experience. If you're taking day trips to Hakone, you can use the luggage storage facilities at the train station where you start your journey. For overnight stays, it's advisable to book your accommodation in advance after finalizing your transportation arrangements. Hakone boasts a variety of lodging options, ranging from Western-style hotels to traditional Japanese inns known as ryokans. While Western hotels offer upscale amenities, we strongly recommend opting for a ryokan to fully immerse yourself in an authentic Japanese experience. Ryokans enchant guests with tatami mat floors, futon bedding, and communal or private baths, creating an ambiance deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Alternatively, onsen resorts present another authentic option, combining accommodation with access to their own hot springs that overlook Hakone's scenic landscapes.

To ensure a seamless and enjoyable trip, acquaint yourself with Japan's local customs, especially if you intend to stay at a ryokan or experience onsen baths. Before entering communal onsen baths, remember to wash and rinse your body thoroughly. Keep in mind that some onsen may have rules about tattoos due to cultural beliefs, so it's wise to inquire about their tattoo policies in advance.

As you plan your trip, keep in mind that Hakone's beauty transforms every season, so it's a good idea to time your trip accordingly. In spring, cherry blossoms and azaleas paint the landscape in pink and white hues. In the summer, the Hakone Tozan railway offers a picturesque journey amidst blooming hydrangeas along the route from Hakone-Yumoto to Gora Station. The transition to autumn brings a bright tapestry of red, orange, and gold foliage, while winter turns Hakone into a winter wonderland, offering the highest chance to witness the majestic Mount Fuji in its full glory.

With each season painting a new portrait of colors and experiences – from cherry blossoms in spring to vibrant foliage in autumn – Hakone is a destination that promises a harmonious blend of relaxation, exploration, and cultural discovery.

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