Hakone is a small mountainous town just a stone’s throw from Tokyo. It is one of Japan’s many hot spring resorts, giving visitors the opportunity to wallow in its natural thermal waters. It can also be the ideal place for catching views of Mount Fuji, although this does depend on the weather. Most of the activities in Hakone centre around the beautiful Lake Ashi. These include boat trips, cable car rides and a perfect photo opportunity at Hakone Shrine, which has a magnificent torii gate on the lake’s edge.
Hakone has long been a place of religious significance, with the Hakone Shrine dating as far back as 757 AD. It was a popular pilgrimage site during the Kamakura Period and continued to be visited by samurai and noblemen well into the Edo Period (1603-1868).
In the 19th century, the resort became associated with royalty after the imperial family built the Hakone Imperial Villa in 1886. The villa – a palatial residence including both Western and Japanese-style buildings – was sadly destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. The rich, famous and powerful later continued to frequent the town, with Charlie Chaplin, John Lennon and various international royals known to have stayed there.
Things to do
If you’re travelling to Hakone, it might be worth considering the Hakone Free Pass. The 2-day pass costs around £30 ($40USD) and provides unlimited access to trains, buses, boats and cable cars operated by Odakyu Railways. It also grants pass-holders discounted admission to some other attractions in Hakone. A cruise across Lake Ashi, aboard a gaudily decked-out pirate ship is a particular highlight of the activities available.
If that doesn’t appeal, there are a number of hiking trails in Hakone for those who prefer to keep off the beaten track. Most of the routes are pretty gentle and are ideal for families and less experienced hikers.
If you’re coming with us to Japan, you’ll be staying in a ryokan during your time in Hakone. These traditional Japanese inns – many of which have their own onsen (hot spring bath) – provide the best opportunities for travellers to experience authentic Japanese hospitality. On arrival at a ryokan you will be given a cotton robe called a yukata and either slippers or a pair of wooden flip flops called geta. You can then wear this outfit while you relax in the grounds of the ryokan. Bedrooms are laid out in traditional Japanese style, with tatami mats and futon and bathrooms tend to be shared with other guests. If you find yourself with some extra time in Hakone, it can be worth returning to your ryokan to relax and have a soak in the onsen.
What to eat
While they may look a little scary, black eggs or kurotamago are a popular local specialty in Hakone. They are made by boiling eggs for an hour in sulphur-rich volcanic waters and are said to bring good luck to those who eat them.
Hakone tofu, made using local spring water is a delicate and nutritious dish which is also well worth a try.
Bakery & Table in Hakone town has great views across Lake Ashi and offers Western-style dining as well as a huge selection of delicious baked goods that you can eat-in or takeaway. Start off with the karepan, a savoury doughnut filled with Japanese curry and a perfectly boiled egg – you won’t regret it!
When to visit
Japan’s four distinct seasons can be enjoyed at their best in Hakone. The foliage rich landscape means that the town is particularly picturesque during the spring and autumn months. The winter months are arguably the best for enjoying the balmy waters of the onsen.