Less than a couple hours away from Tokyo, Hakone is mostly visited for its dazzling views from Lake Ashi, with Mount Fuji in the background.
It has a low-key amusement park feeling to it, but you’ll see here it is worth the while, on a bright sunny day.
Let’s start with the most obvious part of your trip: touring around lake Ashi.
It actually consists on going round a big loop of several transports, using your Free Pass you probably acquired with the train ticket.
Starting from Yumoto station, you’ll follow litteraly everyone there and go up this small and slow train (actually a cable car) all the way up to where your hotel is (no further than Gora, though).
Once you’ve laid down your stuff, get back on the train up to Gora.
From Gora, follow everyone again up the second cable car to Sounzan, and then up on a much more modern ropeway, all the way down to the shore of the lake.
On the way, you’ll stop at Owakudani, where you’ll see sulfur fumes coming out of the mountain. Not so impressive.
After that stop, from the ropeway, you’ll get a first magnificent view of Fuji-san. Can’t miss it. And don’t, because it might be the best you’ll get.
From the shore of the lake, you’ll then go down to the peer, where you’ll freak out a second until you understand that yes, you’re meant to go on this conqueror’s / Christopher Colombus era huge boat. Are those cannons gonna blurt out some cannon-balls??
The boat will bring you all the way to the other end of the lake, to Hakone-Machi-Ko.
The pictures and the legend wants you to believe you’ll get stunning views of Fuji-san from the boat, don’t count on it so much. But, you’ll want to notice the nice red torii.
When you are done touring the lake, after what will have taken much of your day, you can take the most practical bus back down to where your hotel is. That is how we figured out we could’ve gone up by bus also, instead of doing the whole disneyland-transport experience. Although, it’s part of the fun, so no regrets.
The secret to viewing Mount Fuji from Hakone
While on that pirate boat, you might also have noticed that there is another ropeway, departing at about the middle of the lake and going up Mount Komagatake. We were hesitant, and it took us a while to figure out how to get there, but THAT is where you want to go, THAT is where you’ll get the best views of Fuji-san!
Now, we went up twice, because the first day, Fuji-san was all cloudy, as you can see on one of the pictures. Kind of killed the hype. So the next day, when we noticed it was a clear and sunny morning, we decided to go back up all the way to that ropeway, and didn’t regret it a bit, as we got a clear shot of Fuji-san, and it became one of our highlights of the trip.
Two ways to get to the bottom of that second ropeway: take a private-company boat, not included in your Free Pass, from one of the other piers at each end of the lake (they’re really not that far), pay the extra ticket with the ropeway pass included, and there you go.
Or, figure out how to take the bus from one of those two piers, if you’re lucky enough it is passing through soon. We managed it on one of our ways there.
Building on experience, we went up to the lake by bus on the second day, and not on the cable-cars + ropeways. Much quicker.
The Open-Air museum
We actually started with a stop at the Open-air museum before going up the ropeways, and we sure did well. Get off the cable-car one stop before the last one, without worrying on the timetables, as it’s walking distance to the last stop after that.
You’ll be treated with some pretty good art lying (literally) on the grass. The whole area is pretty big, with pieces by Rodin, Miro, Niki Saint-Phalle… Also a Picasso building (!), impressive. Even though there were none of his main pieces, it is still a collection.
Don’t miss out on the Symphonic Sculpture, more a big tower than a sculpture. You must go inside and be in awe of the light going through the walls, you then realize fully made out of stain-glass.
You can take a break and relax with you feet in the hot foot bath while looking at the art from afar, and there’s a café nearby.
One of the good surprises of Hakone to start the day.
Onsens & Mount Fuji (yet again)
The onsen-fans we became (well, who isn’t?) found out there was an onsen in a luxurious hotel nearby, the Green Plaza, showing on … Mount Fuji!
After the failure of the first time up the second ropeway, we thought we’d go anyway, even with a cloudy Fuji-san. Who cares, it’s still a hot bath with a nice scenery.
And… we did well. Turns out the clouds started to depart just as we were leaving, pushing us to stay longer, and we got great shots from the terrace of the hotel after that.
To leave the hotel, as it was to late to go back by the ropeway, the staff offered us to bring us back to the nearest bus stop, in a private mini-van, at no charge. So lay back and enjoy!
Upon leaving the Hakone precinct the next morning, we also tried the onsen at the Kamon hotel in Yumoto, before heading to Tokyo. Yes, at that point, we realized we were getting addicted.
Turned out to be also quite nice, with a big inside bath and several outside ponds, with bamboos clinging in the wind over your heads, a grotto and amphors to relax in. Also a sauna and a cold water amphor.
To get there, it’s a quick bus ride from the Yumoto station. The onsen is listed in Google Maps, and you can ask the helping staff on the bus platforms for the correct one.
Hakone offers other attractions, like a Little Prince museum, Venetian glass museum and other museums, as well as a cedar avenue, an aquarium… I must say we’d had enough to do all this extra.
How to get there & around
Take the Shinkansen to Odawara, on the Tokaido line. Buy the Free Pass, then go up to Yumoto, from where you’ll take the cable-car train and start the loop.
You can also take the Romantic Train (yes, that is what it’s called!) from Shinjuku, which is direct to Yumoto, but not so much faster, and you’ll have to pay extra.
Also, know that restaurants close early in the towns around where you’ll probably stay at. Don’t forget to go early, or you might face Closed signs even though it doesn’t look closed at all. We’ve seen people turned away while we were enjoying our dinner, very frustrating!