Mt. Fuji attracts thousands, if not millions of visitors every year. They flock to the mountain not only for its beauty but also for the many hot springs surrounding it. Though not at the foot of the mountain itself, Hakone, is hardly two hours away from Tokyo by rail. It is a popular spot to visit as it affords excellent views of the mountain on clear days and is easily accessible by Shinkansen and express trains. But more than just a great view, the town is also known for its many, many hot spring baths.
Places to visit in Hakone
Amazake Tea House
Spend a moment at ease at the Amazake Tea House. This 400 years old traditional wooden shop and have a taste of their famous non-alcoholic sweet beverage ́amazake ́ (sweet rice wine).
Hakone Open Air Museum
The Hakone Open Air Museum displays an extensive collection of sculptures set into the magnificent outdoors of the Hakone area. Its indoor displays are equally interesting and offer a unique perspective on modern art through the Japanese lens.
Lake Ashi Cruise
Lake Ashi formed over the caldera of the ancient Hakone volcano. The lake offers a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji and the surrounding countryside. No visit to Lake Ashi is complete without a pleasure cruise across its tranquil waters. It takes about half an hour to cross the lake and offers some great opportunities for photographs or just enjoying the moment.
Preserved among the cedar trees of Hakone is a section of the old Tokaido, or Eastern Sea Road, chief highway between Edo and Kyoto. This picturesque path winds its way through some 400 old growth cedar trees. A walk through here, truly gives one the impression of what it might have been like to travel in the Edo period.
The Hakone Sekisho is an old checkpoint along the Tokaido highway system that once led between Kyoto and Edo. To supress potential rivals to their power, the Tokugawa Shoguns imposed many specific rules within Japan to maintain order, lest the country fling itself apart once more into the unending civil war that preceeded unified Japan. Among the edicts were that all travelers along the nation's highways be subject to search at specific waypoints along the road. These stations served as choke points where goods and people could be inspected. Chief among their concern was the movement of weapons and women (the wives of many fuedal lords were kept in Edo as hostages to prevent rebellion).
Most of the old Tokaido Highway became a victim of its own success, and was paved over to make way for roads and railways. Portions of the highway still exist, however, complete with paving stones. In Hakone, between Moto-Hakone and Hatajuku is just such a portion of road. It takes about 90-120 minutes to walk and makes for an envigorating outing, especially in the late days of fall when the leaves begin to turn.
Impossible to miss on the shores of Lake Ashi is a large, vermillion Torii gate that marks the entry to Hakone Shrine. The way toward the central shrine wends its way up from the large gate to the main shrine building, which is surrounded by thick forest. On particularly misty days this holy ground is cloaked in an ethereal likeness. The grounds continue to the top of Mt. Komagatake, to the North, which is accessible by the Komagatake ropeway.
For a truly unparalleled view of Mt. Fuji a ride across the Hakone Ropeway is a must. These cable cars climb from near Lake Ashi to Owakudani, an active volcanic zone, then back down the other side to the resort town of Gora. Some caution should be exercised when taking the cars: those with respiratory issues should avoid the area.
Hakone Ropeway Togendai to Owakudani
For a truly unparalleled view of Mt. Fuji a ride across the Hakone Ropeway is a must. These cable cars climb from near Lake Ashi to Owakudani, an active volcanic zone. Spend a little time at the top, among the strange terrain of the Owakudani valley, before turning back and heading down the mountain. Some caution should be exercised when taking the cars: those with respiratory issues should avoid the area.
Narukawa Museum (Hakone)
The Narukawa Museum overlooks the small town of Hakone-Machi from a small hill to the south. Opened in 1988, the museum contains various displays of modern Japanese art, “Nihonga”. Among some 4,000 displays of post-war era art are 200 pieces of work from Kyujin Yamamoto, acclaimed artist of modern Japan. Just outside of the museum lies a pleasant garden from which Hakone port can be seen. On a clear day, it’s possible to see Mt. Fuji from the museum’s panoramic lounge.
Above lake Ashi, to the east rises another mountain known as Komagatake. Built into the side is a long cable car, the Komagatake Ropeway, which offers some of the best views of Mt. Fuji from a distance. Though the mountain isn’t always visible, the view from the top is nonetheless breathtaking.