This is a guest post from Louis of Outdoor Explorer.
Tokyo is a fantastic place to visit, but if you’ve been there before, you will know just how busy it can get! After a few days of rushing around this huge city, you’ll want nothing more than a chance to relax, recover and regain your energy. For this reason Hakone, a small onsen town located about 80 kilometres southwest of Tokyo, is one of the best day trips that you can make from the capital.
There are many things to do in Hakone, including a large Shinto shrine, a huge lake where you can take a cruise on a pirate ship, views of Mt Fuji and, of course, hot springs to relax in. It’s also a great opportunity to get out of the big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, and to see what life is like in a smaller Japanese town.
How To Get To Hakone
The best and fastest way to get from Tokyo to Hakone is via the bullet train (shinkansen). From Tokyo Station, take the bullet train to Odawara station (takes about 1 hour). From Odawara station, a bus can take you up the winding path to the town of Hakone (takes about 30 minutes). The one way journey takes a total of about 1 hour and 30 minutes and costs around ¥4,500. It is also possible to take an organised trip from Tokyo.
Hakone can also be accessed from Osaka, Kyoto or Nagoya. Take the bullet train from any of these cities to Odawara and then depart and get the same bus up to Hakone. Travel times vary depending on where you are coming from, but expect the whole trip to take around 3 hours from Kyoto, and cost about ¥13,000.
Things To Do In Hakone
1. Take A Pirate Ship Cruise Over Lake Ashinoko
One of the most popular things to do in Hakone is a ride on a so-called “Pirate Ship” over Lake Ashinoko.
Ashinoko is actually a crater lake formed by the volcano that makes up Mt Hakone, which last erupted about 1,000 years ago. The top deck of the boat is open air and gives you great views over the lake and the surrounding forests and mountains. In the height of summer/winter, the top deck might be too hot/cold for you, in which case you can rest in air-conditioned comfort on the lower decks.
The cruise takes about 30 minutes and will take you from one end of the lake to the other. The boats are operated by Hakone Sightseeing Boats and they cost a little over ¥1,000 each way.
2. Take In The Views Of Mount Fuji
Once you’ve taken the cruise to the other side of the lake, spend some time strolling around the edge of the lake and taking in the views of Mount Fuji. The best time to see Mount Fuji is in winter, especially in the early morning or late afternoon when the air is clearer.
There’s also a famous torii (gate marking the entrance to a Shinto shrine) located at one end of the lake, which is a popular photo spot. There are quite a few restaurants dotted along the edge of the lake that serve up delicious soba and udon noodles, amongst other Japanese dishes. This is a great place to stop for lunch.
3. Ride The Hakone Ropeway
A popular way to travel between the town of Hakone and Lake Ashinoko is the Hakone Ropeway. The Ropeway is suspended high above the ground and gives sweeping views of Mount Fuji in the distance and the volcanic Owakudani Valley below.
The gondolas leave one per minute and cost ¥1,000 to ¥1,500 each way, depending on where you wish to get off the ropeway. It operates from 9am to 5pm most of the year, except during December and January, where it closes at 4.15pm.
If you didn’t get lunch at the lake earlier, you can get something to eat at the restaurant conveniently located in the Owakudani ropeway station. They serve up the special Owakudani curry along with a number of other tasty dishes.
4. Check Out The Volcanic Owakudani Valley
Speaking of the Owakudani Valley, if you want to experience it a little more up close, head on down from the ropeway station (about a 10 minute walk) to the volcanic part of the valley. There are a number of steam vents and hot spring pools here, rich in sulphur and other gases.
Eggs are boiled in these waters and are thought to be good for your health (although the claim by the vendor that each egg extends your life by 7 years is a little dubious!).
If you have a few free hours and are up for a challenge, you can embark on one of the many walking trails around Owakudani – just be aware that these are serious trails and you should make sure that you have proper hiking gear.
6. Soak In The Hot Springs
Once you’ve enjoyed each of the attractions above, your body will be ready for a good soak in the hot springs. There are a number of places in town to enjoy the hot springs, ranging from public bathhouses to private hotels (ryokan), which charge an entry fee of around ¥500 to ¥1,500 for guests who aren’t staying at their hotel.
The hot water here is very rich in minerals including sodium, calcium, sulphate and other salts. Each of these is said to have different beneficial effects on your skin and general health. If you have the time, try a few different bath houses and/or ryokan to experience the different types of onsen and their associated waters.
Hakone is an excellent place to get out of the hustle and bustle of the big cities and enjoy a slower, more relaxed pace. Enjoy a cruise over the lake, views of Mt Fuji, volcanic hot spring pools, a ropeway plus the soothing hot spring waters. No matter what you like about Japan, there are things to do in Hakone for everyone!
Louis is an outdoors enthusiast from Australia. When he isn’t out on the trail himself, he’s writing about camping and hiking over at his website, Outdoor Explorer.