Hakone is a quiet town in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, popular as a day trip for Tokyo residents looking to escape the city. The natural beauty here is overwhelming, with soaring hills, thick cedar forests and an inspiring view of Mt. Fuji.
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If you’re looking to climb the mountain, this is the perfect place to start your journey. It’s just a short drive from Hakone, and the area is filled with excellent sightseeing opportunities. Visit the picturesque Hakone Shrine, sail above the forest in a cable gondola and be sure to take a rejuvenating bath in one of the many area hot springs.
What To Do
Hakone is the perfect place for relaxation and sightseeing. Volcanic hot springs are common here, and the best way to take advantage of them is by visiting an onsen, a public bath built around natural hot springs. The thought of bathing nude among strangers might be daunting, but most onsen have separate pool areas for men and women, so grab a towel and dip your toe into a popular Japanese experience. If you’d like a bit more privacy, many hotels in the area feature their own private springs.
The easiest way to take in all Hakone has to offer is by taking all or part of the Hakone Round Course, a loop that includes many popular tourist destinations and scenic viewpoints at a single price. Purchase the Hakone Free Pass from Odakyu Railway and you’ll have unlimited access to the transportation options in Hakone, with a ticket from Tokyo to Hakone available to add as an extra charge.
Your journey starts at Hakone-Yumoto Station with the Tozan Railway, a small train that cuts through the dense forest on its way up the mountain. At Gora, you’ll switch to a cable car for a short trip to Sounzan and a transfer to the Hakone Ropeway. On this leg, you’ll soar over the treetops in a gondola, providing unmatchable views of the mountains and valley below. The Ropeway makes a stop in Owakudani, a rocky slope with sulfur springs at the top. Don’t mind the smell, but do make sure to enjoy a unique Hakone delicacy – the black egg. These eggs are hard-boiled in the hot springs, and they’re said to lead to a long life.
After that, it’s back on the Ropeway for your trip down the mountain, featuring breathtaking views of Lake Ashi as you approach. A sightseeing cruise across the lake is next, so climb aboard a mock-pirate ship and set sail for Moto-Hakone. Here, you’ll catch a bus for the scenic ride back to Hakone-Yumoto Station.
If you’re planning to climb Mt. Fuji, keep in mind that the public climbing season can be short – usually July and August. Make sure to dress in layers and prepare for possible rain showers, and remember that water and snacks can be purchased more cheaply before you reach the mountain. There is no train service to the mountain from Hakone, but it’s an easy drive of about 90 minutes. The climb itself can take the whole day, with many climbers choosing to stay overnight on the mountain to catch the sunrise. If hiking up a mountain isn’t your style, the view from below is still enchanting, and there’s many sightseeing opportunities in the area.
What To See
The most popular sight in Hakone is, of course, Mt. Fuji. On clear days, the mountain rises in the distance over the trees for an unbeatable view. Clouds sometimes obscure this inspiring sight, however, so if getting a snapshot of the peak is on your to-do list, consider visiting in the winter or fall, when cloudless skies are more common.
Lake Ashi is another popular sightseeing destination. Lush forests cap the rolling hills that surround the lake, and if the weather cooperates, you’ll catch one of Hakone’s most iconic views – a bright red torii gate emerging from the waters, with soaring trees and Mt. Fuji as a backdrop. This gateway is part of Hakone Shrine, another must-see for visitors. You’ll pass under more of them as you climb your way to the shrine on a shaded path lined with tall cedar trees.
Some of Hakone’s attractions don’t even require getting off the highway. The 25 Bodhisattvas are Buddhist deities carved into the rock in the 12th century, and you’ll find them on both sides of a stretch of Japan National Route 1.
When to Go
Hakone changes with the seasons, but is always worth the trip. Visit during winter for a better chance of clear days for viewing Mt. Fuji, or plan your stay for the fall, when the forest erupts with colorful foliage. If you want to climb Mt. Fuji, the official climbing season takes place in July and August, when the unpredictable weather on the slopes is calmer. April and June are the rainiest months, and December and January are cold (40°F) with occasional snow. In the summer, Hakone is a popular escape from the humid heat of Tokyo, with temperatures that rarely rise above 80°F.
Visitors from the US must have a passport that is valid for the entire length of their stay. A visa is not required for stays of less than 90 days. Visitors will be fingerprinted and photographed on entry. Please consult the US State Department website for more details and the most current travel information for Japan.