Hakone is one of the most visited regions of the greater Tokyo and Mount Fuji area, with plenty to do and see and a great range of accommodation. Hakone is a fantastic location for those seeking to see Japan’s tallest mountain, Mount Fuji, or for those just looking to escape Tokyo for some tranquility.
History of Hakone
During Japan’s Edo period, there were five main routes of travel, most of which linked the major cities of Edo and Kyoto. Of these five, the most famous was (and still is today) the Tōkaidō road that journeys along Honshū’s east coast. Along this route, there were 53 different rest stations and a number of checkpoints where travelers had to present permits in order to proceed.
Hakone thus grew in size as a perfect resting spot for weary travelers, but it was also one of these strategic checkpoints as it was on the border of the Kantō region. Checkpoint officials were tasked with searching all those who came in and out of the area, primarily for guns and women, because of the strict Tokugawa laws. As the country progressed from its feudal stage, Hakone was no longer used as a checkpoint but continues to be used as a resting point along the Tōkaidō route, which is now accessed by high-speed Shinkansen.
The ‘Five Lakes’ area to the north of Mount Fuji may receive most of the attention, but Hakone is actually a much closer and equally as pleasant getaway. At around 100km from downtown Tokyo, Hakone also sits atop the outcrop of land that is the Izu Peninsula so it receives its’ fair share of visitors. While there may be plenty of train stations near the actual settlement of Hakone, most of the area’s attractions are situated around Lake Ashi, so most visitors opt to take a bus instead.
What to do in Hakone
The principal attractions either surround the lake or take place on the lake itself. While the paddle boats are always an option, Hakone also offers some larger boat tours which are a spectacular way to see the sights of the region, and Mount Fuji. About halfway around the lake’s perimeter is the Komagatake Ropeway which takes tourists up the mountain where there is a shrine and also offers splendid views of what lies below. The Owakudani volcanic area is also a short distance away in the mountains.
At the far side of the lake is the small village of Moto Hakone and Hakone shrine, one of the most popular attractions. There are also a number of museums, as well as some typical restaurants and gift shops. This is probably the best part of Hakone to spend an afternoon, all the while getting a postcard-perfect view of Mt Fuji over the lake.
Regional activities in Hakone
Beyond the natural beauty, the Hakone region is well-known for the hot springs and the surrounding resorts in the area. For hundreds of years, this area has had many springs which provide hot spring water which is optimally used in onsens, oftentimes in Ryokans which are found all throughout the area.
Situated at the entrance of Hakone, near Odawara, Yumoto Hot Spring is found and it’s the most well-known and notable hot spring in the region. More specifically, Yumoto has a lengthy history and a very high quality of water making it the ideal for the surrounding resorts. Found all along the shores of Lake Ashi, travelers and visitors to Hakone can find hot springs and both public and private bathhouses.
Other activities and things to do in Hakone:
- Enjoy time relaxing in a public or private bathhouse, Onsen experience at one of the many facilities
- Participate in a round of golf, Hakone is known to have many golf courses and is an ideal choice for those who enjoy golf
- Head out on one of the many hiking paths in the area. Hakone is filled with trails and hikes of all levels of difficulty, all offering natural beauty
- Visit the Hakone Shrine, found along the shores of Lake Ashi and in the town of Hakone, the Japanese Shinto Shrine is also referred to as Hakone Gongen
How to visit Hakone
Hakone can, of course, be seen in just one day from Tokyo, or from the city of Atami in Izu. However, plenty of visitors opt to spend a little longer here and it is worth considering. It won’t be the busiest few days but the evenings are when Hakone is a really special place to visit.
There is almost nothing more relaxing in Japan than taking a relaxing onsen in the evening and watching the sunset over Mt Fuji and nowhere else in the country does this better than Hakone. Though the Hotel Green Plaza on the north side of the lake may be the most popular choice for it, plenty of other hotels offer a similarly stunning view.