Hakone, Japan is only about an hour away from Tokyo by Shinkansen, or bullet train, making it the perfect day trip. Famed for its proximity to Mount Fuji, and home to the beautiful Lake Ashi and several sacred Shinto shrines historically popular with samurai, Hakone, Japan is a wonderful place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, explore the great outdoors, and learn more about Japanese culture and traditions.
Hakone, Japan was historically a stop along the route from Kyoto to modern day Tokyo, formerly known as Edo, which made it a popular place for travelers, merchants, and dignitaries to stop, rest, and resupply before continuing on. This meant that it developed a bit faster than surrounding villages, which is why it’s a larger, more popular tourist destination today. Located in the mountains, and with multiple vantage points from which visitors can see Mt. Fuji, Hakone also has lots of hot springs, a beautiful National Geopark and is a beautiful place to visit and explore Japanese culture and history.
We found it very easy to get around Hakone, as everything is in both English and Japanese, and most people there spoke English, so even if you don’t know any Japanese, you shouldn’t have any troubles getting around if you can read and speak English.
How to Reach Hakone
The easiest way to reach Hakone is via the Japanese Rail trains, using Shinkansen, which is Japan’s system of high speed bullet trains. When coming from Tokyo, the trip is roughly an hour, or 2.5 by car, although the train is much simpler as you don’t have to worry about parking or getting lost.
Best Times to Visit
We visited Hakone, Japan in early spring and had a beautiful time. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see Mt. Fuji due to the cloud cover, but hopefully we will be able to see it next time. The locals told us that Hakone is always beautiful, because it experiences all four seasons.
In the winter time, the town’s lights and the tranquil lake make a serene, ethereal setting perfect for relaxing, and the hot springs allow you to stay warm even when outside. Spring time, when we visited, saw flowers, beautiful greenery and the plants and birds coming back out from the cold. In the summer time, the city has a number of fun festivals, the biggest occurring on August 1st which is when the Hakone Shrine Reidai Festival happens, when people visit the main shrine to pray for the town and its visitors (there’s even a fireworks display!), and it’s a popular place for hiking, boating, and other outdoor activities. in the fall, the forests are set ablaze with beautiful colors as the leaves change from green to shades of orange and red.
No matter when you visit Hakone, it will be beautiful!
Where to Stay in Hakone
We stayed at Tensui Saryou Ryokan, which is a 5-star luxury inn in traditional Japanese style with the best location in all of Hakone. Our room had a private open-air onsen, or hot bath, and an incredible view of the surrounding area. It was so romantic, and such a fun place to stay, and it allowed us to take in the beautiful surrounding city. The ryokan has a traditional Japanese style restaurant that served some of the best Japanese food we had during our time in Japan. If you’re looking for a luxurious place to stay in Hakone, this is it!
Matsuzakaya Honten was another place that we heard wonderful things about, but since we only spent one evening in Hakone we didn’t get to try both. This one is about 3 miles outside of the main town area, so it would be better suited for a weekend in the city when you can explore at a more relaxed pace. It is also considered one of the finest ryokan in the area.
Where to Eat in Hakone
We had a beautiful lunch at The Fujiya, which is a cute French place and one of the top rated places to eat in Hakone. It’s inexpensive, the food was delicious, and the restaurant itself is in a beautiful setting. The name of the restaurant basically means “Welcome to Mt. Fuji”.
Gyoza Center is perfect for all those who love gyoza, which are Japanese style steamed or fried dumplings filled with vegetables, meats, and other savory fillings. The seafood is freshly caught, and absolutely worth a try!
The Japanese food at our Ryokan, Tensui Saryou Ryokan, was so delicious, if you’re visiting stop in to see if they have any availability – you won’t regret it!
Salon de the Rosage is another café that’s near the Hakone shrine. The view of the lake from here is beautiful!
Tamura Ginkatsutei Honten is a fantastic place to try traditional Japanese foods, especially if you have an adventurous palate! The atmosphere was absolutely delightful and so much fun, especially because I really enjoy traditional Japanese cooking.
What to Do
Hakone has no shortage of fun things to do. We were only here for one night and two days, but we packed in a lot. Below are some of the most exciting things to do in the city.
Explore Lake Ashi. Rent a bike or walk around the perimeter of Lake Ashi, and explore the different vantage points of this beautiful lake.
Make full use of the Hakone Free Pass by riding the trains and ropeways around Hakone to enjoy various views of the natural beauty, check out new parts of the city, and find fresh perspectives on Mt. Fuji. This pass was ¥5,700 per adult when we were there, and made getting around Hakone a breeze with the hop-on hop-off feature, which allowed us to use the local buses, trains, ropeways to get around.
Visit the Hakone Open Air Museum and explore modern and traditional Japanese art blended seamlessly with nature, plus explore one of the largest collections of Picasso paintings in the world.
Ride the Pirate Ship around the lake. I don’t really understand why it’s a pirate ship, we asked around and there was no history of pirates here or anything else to explain this, but it was very popular and the line for tickets was insane – up to a 3 hour wait by mid-day! We chose not to do this, but it’s worth mentioning because of how popular it is.
Relax in an onsen, a natural hot spring bath. Our hotel had its own onsen, and many offer day passes so even if you aren’t staying in a luxury onsen, you can still pay to use their hot springs.
Visit Hakone Shrine. One of my favorite things to do in Japan was to visit shrines. Was there something so peaceful and inviting about them, plus each one is unique and beautiful in its own way. The shrine in Hakone is dedicated to the nine headed dragon diety of Lake Ashi, which was popularly worshipped by traveling samurai during the Edo period.
Festivals & Events
The major festival in Hakone happens from the end of July to the beginning of August and is called the Hakone Shrine Reidai Festival. Check the dates for the year you visit to make sure that your travels align with the festival activities you’d like to see. Several massive firework displays happen during this time, and Hakone residents and visitors alike pray for the safety and wellbeing of the city and all who visit it during this festival.
Landmarks in Hakone
All of Hakone has been designated as a Japanese National Geopark, which helps preserve its natural beauty. One of the sites I was most excited to see was the giant red Torii gate, which oftentimes frames Mt. Fuji in the distance (about a 2 hour drive from Hakone), however during our visit the torii gate was being repaired and repainted and was covered by scaffolding, and the clouds obscured Mt. Fuji, which was so disappointing. Hakone Shrine is also a beautiful shrine, and is the perfect addition to one’s Goshuincho stamp book.
Cultural Considerations for Hakone
The Hakone region is a must for anyone visiting Japan for the first time. It’s famous red torii gate, one of the largest torii gates in the country, which are considered demarcations of sacred spaces in Japan. This one in Hakone is particularly beautiful because on clear days you can see Mt. Fuji rising behind it, which is just incredible. Keep in mind that sacred places are very important to Japanese people, and as visitors we must ensure that we are always respectful of their ways when traveling. Keep your voice down and do what the Japanese people around you do. It’s okay to pose with them for photos, but know that the red paint contains mercury and shouldn’t be touched.
Safety in Hakone
Hakone is a very safe place to visit, like much of Japan. The occasional minor earthquake may be noticeable from time to time, but since there are no tall structures in the area, it’s not really even a concern. There is a large lake in Hakone, Lake Ashi, and it can get up to 143′ feet deep in spots, so if you decide to recreate in or near the water, be sure that you know how to swim. If you take a ride on the pirate ship, make sure you are careful not to fall overboard.
Overall, Hakone is an extremely safe place with a very low crime rate, and by using common sense you can ensure that you won’t have any issues.
Trips from Hakone
3.5 Hours via JR Rail System
Home of the beautiful Himeji Castle, this day trip is made easy via the JR Rail system, roughly 1 hour 30 minutes from Kyoto.
This stunning mountainous hot spring city is famous for its restorative baths, splendid mountain views, and peaceful tranquility. Of all the places we visited in Japan, Kurokawa Onsen had the best views of the stars, and was the most peaceful. Buy the onsen (hot spring) hopping pass from any ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) or the visitor services office, and move freely from hot spring to hot spring, each with their own unique views and healing properties.
2.5 Hours via JR Rail System
Kyoto was once the capital of Japan, and now stands as the cultural capital of the nation, where geisha, ikebana (flower arranging), traditional tea ceremonies, and so much more are still alive and well.
3 Hours via JR Rail System
This city was once the capital Japan, like Kyoto above, and is now most famous for Nara Deer Park, where wild but mostly tame deer roam freely and bow for treats from passersby. Visit the incredible temples and shrines found in this stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site.
3 Hours 10 Minutes via JR Rail System
Nikko tied with Kyoto for my favorite city in Japan, because of how breathtaking the mountain views, fantastically preserved Buddhist temple architecture, and the abundance of vegetarian foods. Nikko is an incredible weekend trip from Hakone and Tokyo!
2 Hour 15 Minute via Shinkansen
Osaka is one of Japan’s largest cities, and is famous for its incredible street food like Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki. Home of Osaka Castle, Universal Studios Japan, Spa World, and the Glico Running Man. Osaka is a can’t miss city when visiting Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, and/or Kobe.
1 Hour 25 Minutes via Shinkansen
Tokyo, Japan’s capital city, is home to more Michelin Starred restaurants than anywhere else in the world. With more than 40 distinct districts and neighborhoods, Tokyo is an incredible place to begin, end, or spend a holiday in Japan.
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