A valley of vibrant yellow, green, and red trees lay before my eyes as I stood on a bridge. It was autumn season, and I was standing in one of Japan’s popular getaway areas, Hakone.
It’s hard not to notice the feeling of serenity when you walk out of the train station. Only a few hours by train from Tokyo, Hakone, Japan is a place where both locals and tourists alike stop by to get away from city life.
An Unforgettable Visit to Hakone, Japan
Whereas Tokyo in Japan is known for its high rises, high tech, and bustling streets, Hakone is the opposite. Town streets are mostly quiet, with an occasional tourist or local walking by. It becomes especially obvious when, out of the corner of your eye, you notice a tiny red Japanese maple leaf gently land beside you as you wait for the bus.
And that’s precisely what makes Hakone worth it. You’ll get to see mountains, the lakeside, and Mount Fuji, a national treasure.
Making Your Way Around The Area
One of the first, if not the first, things you should do when visiting Hakone is get a one-day Hakone Free Pass (free meaning unlimited use, not free of charge). For a set price, you get all-inclusive access to numerous modes of transportation, which is a fun way to go sightseeing and enjoy the wilderness.
The route I took, which was suggested by the staff at the ticket office, began with a bus ride to the cable car station. You can also take the Hakone mountain train, which is included in the Pass. It doesn’t come as frequently and isn’t as accessible as the buses, but it’s worth taking it if you’re nearby a train stop.
Once you reach the cable car station, there are a few restaurants and souvenir shops you can visit before hopping onto the cable car, which comes fairly regularly. When the cable car arrives, grab a seat if you can, since the cable car fills up quickly.
Hakone, Japan in Video
Take a browse in video of some of Hakone, Japan’s best sights. See Mount Fuji and the surrounding town and countryside.[tubepress mode=”tag” tagValue=”Hakone Japan” playerLocation=”popup” resultsPerPage=”2″]
When you reach the end of the cable line, you’ll make your way over to the Hakone Ropeway, which provides a bird’s eye view of the surroundings. See the rising volcanic fumes of Owakudani and lush landscapes above ground as the cable moves along the rope. The ropeway was my favorite part of the journey, as it gave me a breathtaking view of my surroundings from up above.
The ropeway takes you directly to the shores of Lake Ashi, where you board the tour boat that takes you across the lake. As I waited in line, an enthusiastic ticket checker punched my ticket and gestured towards the European-style boat. It’s a lot of fun snapping pictures of the boat, its statues, and the surrounding views of the lake.
On a clear day, you can get a glimpse of Mount Fuji far away. Unfortunately for me, it was foggy and cloudy like most days, so I didn’t get a chance to see the mountain. What you can see, though, is the Hakone Shrine.
It’s a star attraction along the shoreline which you can identify by a red arch, painted in that signature color that so many other arches seem to be painted as well.
The Shorelines of Hakone-Machi
The boat lands in Hakone-Machi, which is filled with small snack shops, tourist shops, and numerous art and history museums. I made my way to the Hakone Sekisho, which is a 2007 reconstruction of the feudal-era checkpoint on the Old Tokaido Highway.
You’ll need to buy a ticket to get in, at which point staff will cheerfully point you provide you with a brochure and instructions. There are displays of mannequins in different scenarios, whether they’re playing a game, holding a meeting, or performing inspections on people passing through the checkpoint.
If you want to learn more about East Asian art, you can make your way to the Okada Museum of Art, which showcases Japanese, Chinese and Korean art. This museum alone can take hours to go through as you admire the pottery and screen paintings.
Another popular pick is the Hakone Open-Air Museum, located on a rolling hill. This museum contains a variety of 19th and 20th century Japanese and Western sculptures. Its Picasso Pavilion has hundreds of paintings, glass art and tapestry. If you have kids, they’ll enjoy playing in the large crochet playground with Jenga-like walls.
A nice way to wrap up your tour of the Hakone-Machi area is by shopping for a few souvenirs. I picked up a couple small wooden trinkets made from combined pieces of wood, and then I stopped at a nearby tea shop for a bite of mochi and sip of green tea. Boarding the bus will take you back north, where you started earlier.
Museums, Onsens and Hikes
Hakone, Japan offers tons of onsens, or Japanese baths, at hotels, public onsen and resorts. Although tourists from overseas often opt out of onsen, the Japanese see the onsen as a must-do in Hakone, Japan. If you’re up to it, an onsen is a great way to relax and unwind.
If you want to see more museums, then you’re in the right place. I was inundated by numerous choices, such as the Venetian Glass Museum (yes, as in Venice), the Hakone Museum of Art, and the Narukawa Art Museum. Both art museums offer a chance to see classic Japanese gardens with their small shrubbery, rocks and moss.
I decided to visit the Little Prince Museum, which is another top attraction in Hakone. If you’re a fan of the story like I am, this is a must-see and an absolute treasure. The indoor exhibits walk you through the author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s life and work.
The architecture and displays make Antoine’s work come to life both inside the building and the surrounding outdoor area. It feels almost as though you’re walking along a street in 1940s Paris.
For the more active travelers, there are a number of hiking routes to experience the natural beauty of Hakone. If you have to pick one route though, choose the hike from Owakudani to Lake Ashinoko. Along this route, you’ll pass the peak of Mount Kamiyama and see Mount Fuji, one of Japan’s iconic landscapes.
Hakone, Japan is filled with many treasures both man-made and natural. Even though I spent a full day and stayed overnight in the area, I only covered a tiny portion of what this place had to offer.
My experience in Hakone reminded me of how we all need to take time off to rejuvenate and to appreciate both the natural and historical wonders of a place different from our own. Find out even more about Hakone, Japan.wn.
My memories of this special place will stay with me for a long time, and I can’t wait until the next time I get to visit again.