Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, less than one hundred kilometers from Tokyo.
Famous for hot springs, natural beauty and the view across Lake Ashinoko of nearby Mount Fuji, Hakone is one of the most popular destinations among Japanese and international tourists looking for a break from Tokyo.
Places to visit in Hakone
1 Hakone Hot Springs
Hakone has been one of Japan’s most popular hot spring resorts for centuries. Nowadays, more than a dozen springs provide hot spring water to the many bath houses and ryokan in the Hakone region.
Yumoto, at the entrance to the Hakone area near Odawara, is Hakone’s most famous hot spring with a particularly long history, high quality water and numerous baths and inns. Many more hot spring facilities are found across the hills and valleys of Hakone and along the shores of Lake Ashi.
Visitors can enjoy a hot spring bath in public bath houses or ryokan. Many ryokan open their baths not only to staying guests but also to daytime visitors. While staying guests can use the baths for free, daytime visitors pay an admission fee of typically between 500 and 2000 yen.
The Hakone Open Air Museum (箱根彫刻の森美術館, Hakone Chōkoku No Mori Bijutsukan) successfully attempts to create a harmonic balance of nature and art by exhibiting various sculptures on its grounds in combination with views of the surrounding valley and mountains.
The museum has various different sections and exhibition spaces outdoors and indoors. The Picasso Exhibition Hall is one such space and showcases two stories of paintings, sculptures and ceramic works by the artist in addition to photos of him at various points during his life.
Owakudani is the area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone some 3000 years ago. Today, much of the area is an active volcanic zone where sulfurous fumes, hot springs and hot rivers can be experienced. Additionally, Owakudani has good views of Mount Fuji on clear days.
A short walking trail (about ten minutes one way) leads from the ropeway station into the volcanic zone to a number of steam vents and bubbling pools. Here you can purchase eggs, cooked in the naturally hot water, whose shells are blackened by the sulfur and which are said to prolong one’s life by seven years.
4 Hakone Shrine
Hakone Shrine stands at the foot of Mount Hakone along the shores of Lake Ashi. The shrine buildings are hidden in the dense forest, but are well advertised by its huge torii gates, one standing prominently in the lake and two others over the main street of Moto-Hakone.
A path leads from the torii gate in Lake Ashi up a series of steps flanked by lanterns through the forest to the main building of the shrine, which sits peacefully among the tall trees. The shrine is beautiful throughout the year, and is particularly breathtaking when shrouded in mist.
A second shrine, Mototsumiya (“original shrine”) stands at the summit of Komagatake, one of Mount Hakone’s multiple peaks. It is accessible by the Hakone Komagatake Ropeway from Hakone-en or via hiking trails.
5 Hakone Ropeway
The Hakone Ropeway is part of the Hakone Round Course, a popular way to visit Hakone. It connects Sounzan Station (at the terminus of the Hakone Tozan Cablecar) with Togendai Station (at the shore of Lake Ashinoko) and stops at Owakudani and Ubako stations on the way. The ropeway is fully covered by the Hakone Free Pass.
The ropeway’s gondolas depart every minute and fit around ten people each. Traveling the full length of the ropeway takes around 30 minutes. Along the journey, passengers can enjoy views of the active, sulfuric hot spring sources of the Owakudani Valley between Sounzan and Owakudani and of Lake Ashinoko and Mount Fuji between Owakudani and Togendai if visibility allows. A transfer of gondolas is necessary at Owakudani, but no transfer is needed at Ubako
6 Odawara Castle
Odawara Castle was originally built in the mid 15th century and soon fell into the hands of the Hojo Clan, one of the most powerful clans during the Warring States Era who used it as a base to control the region around modern day Tokyo. In 1590, Toyotomi Hideyoshi attacked the castle, and with the defeat of the Hojo Clan, reunited Japan.
In 1703 the castle was destroyed by an earthquake but quickly rebuilt; yet in 1870, the castle keep and other buildings were dismantled and sold. The keep was rebuilt again in ferro-concrete in 1960 based on models and drawings from the Edo Period. Over the following years, the three major gates leading up to the castle were also restored. Today it is the closest castle keep to Tokyo
7 Hakone Tozan Railway
A ride on the Hakone Tozan Railway (箱根登山電車, Hakone Tozan Densha), Japan’s oldest mountain railway, is a treat for more than just railway fans. The small trains wind themselves through a narrow, densely wooded valley over many bridges and tunnels, stopping at small stations along the way and changing directions at three switchbacks.
The Hakone Tozan Line consists of two sections. The lower section from Odawara to Hakone-Yumoto is used by Odakyu trains from central Tokyo and is not particularly noteworthy. Far more spectacular is the upper section from Hakone-Yumoto to Gora, which is served by the small mountain trains. At Gora, many travelers transfer to the cablecar for Lake Ashi.
8 Komagatake Ropeway
The Hakone Komagatake Ropeway , not to be confused with the Hakone Ropeway, leads from the shore of Lake Ashinoko to near the Komagatake peak of Mount Hakone. The ropeway is not covered by the Hakone Free Pass, although a discount is available.
When visibility is good, panoramic views of Lake Ashinoko and Mount Fuji can be enjoyed from the ropeway’s upper station. A short walk away, on the actual peak of Komagatake, stands the Hakone Shrine Mototsumiya, the original Hakone Shrine, whose main site is now located at the more easily accessible shores of Lake Ashinoko in Moto Hakone.
9 Enoura Observatory
Enoura Observatory is a unique outdoor museum, featuring contemporary art installations, fascinating architecture and nice observation decks in the coastal hills south of central Odawara City, not far from Hakone. The artwork is designed to blend into the surrounding terrain, and multiple structures are aligned with respect to the sun.
The spacious observatory overlooks the Pacific Ocean and is separated into two sections. The main Meigetsu Gate Area is the site of the art gallery and the observation platforms. The 100 meter long gallery and its viewing platform are aligned to the sunrise on the summer solstice, while a steel tunnel and a glass stage are built to face the sunrise on the winter solstice. In addition, stones and stone sculptures from all across Japan have been repurposed and given new lives here.
10 Gora Park
Gora Park is a western style landscape park located on the steep slope above Gora Station. It is a relaxing place to unwind and enjoy the scenery and views of Hakone.
Gora Park is primarily a French styled landscape park featuring a large fountain and a rose garden. The park also has two greenhouses, one housing a tropical botanical garden while the other contains a flower garden. Additionally, there is a restaurant overlooking the main fountain, as well as the Hakuun-do Chaen teahouse.
In the Crafthouse visitors can take part in craft activities such as glass blowing, glass etching, pottery and dried flower arrangement. Activities range in cost from 1000 to 5000 yen and take from 30 minutes to an hour to complete.