10 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do in Hakone
By Sophie Skillett
On December 16, 2016
Hakone, in Kanagawa Prefecture, is one of my all-time favorite destinations. With the help of Odakyu Railways’ new project, the “One Day Tour”, I was recently able to discover tons of things that I didn’t know you could do there.
Kind of a trip toolkit, the One Day Tour comes with a travel pack that’s designed to help visitors explore the best of Hakone in a day. Inside, are guidebooks, coupons and a Hakone Freepass allowing free transport plus discounts at most main attractions. It’s great for those traveling through Hakone for the first time after ski or onsen trips, or for veterans like me looking for some new experiences (or ten) at this awesome spot.
1. See iconic landmarks from your train seat
Before I arrived in Hakone, I was expecting a leisurely journey on the train. Sure it was fast and clean but how fun can a train ride be? Um. VERY. There is so much to see on the Romancecar’s route. Watch out for Odawara Castle. Originally built in the 15th century, this is the closest castle to Tokyo. Not to mention that for many of you, this train ride will be your first glimpse of Mount Fuji. Get your camera at the ready because nothing compares to seeing Japan’s most iconic symbol zooming towards you in real life.
2. Travel back in time to Tokyo’s ancient gateway
Hakone has been a pretty big deal for, well, centuries. Those cedar trees dotting the main highway? They’re thousands of years old. That giant navy gate with the impressive Edo-style buildings and ninjas outside? That’s the sight of the once magnificent Old Tokaido Road or Hakone Checkpoint (Hakone Sekisho), a gateway from the old capital of Kyoto into the bustling world of the new capital of Tokyo. These relics of Japan’s past are all dotted around Onshi Koen, a quaint park with an unbeatable viewing spot overlooking Lake Ashi and the Hakone mountain ranges. Perfect for a relaxing morning stroll.
3. Board a pirate ship on Lake Ashi
Ever wanted a taste of that sweet pirate life? Now you too can pretend to be Jack Sparrow (minus the hordes of zombies) on Lake Ashi. The Hakone Sightseeing Cruises are an easy and affordable way to get around to the various ports situated at the shores of this stunning caldera lake. On a clear day, you could almost imagine you’ve stepped into that quintessential Hokusai drawing of Mount Fuji, as its frosty silhouette dominates the mountainous skyline.
4. Eat volcanic eggs
So you survived the ropeway and decided to get off at Owakudani – congratulations you’re now standing on an active volcanic zone! The clouds of sulfurous gas billowing out from the craters and hot springs are impressive (and smelly). But do you know what could make your experience even better? Join the queue snaking around the back of the main souvenir shop to pick up a bag of black eggs which have been boiled for 60 minutes in the hot spring water. As much as they look like something out of Game of Thrones, these eggs won’t hatch into little dragons, but they do taste mythically good.
5. Marvel at art in the open air
The Hakone Open Air Museum offers a chance for art-lovers to wander amongst nature and great works – including a whole exhibition dedicated to Picasso. Stone maidens and sculptures crafted to move with the wind dot your path as you enjoy spectacular views of the mountains. Other museums worth checking out include the Little Prince Museum, offering a nostalgic taste of France, and POLA, boasting an incredible collection of artworks as well as its own nature trail.
6. Dangle from the busiest ropeway in the world
If you’re visiting Hakone after a ski trip then you’ll be no stranger to dangling over great heights from a lift. The half-hour journey from Togendai Station (a port on the sightseeing cruise) to Sounzan station on the Hakone Ropeway is really something special. Nowhere else can you take in the true extent of the majestic Hakone countryside – mountains, lakes and forests of fiery reds in autumn (or delicate pinks of the cherry blossom in spring). You might even get lucky and end up face-to-face with the snow-encrusted cap of Fuji. No wonder why it’s so popular.
7. Create your own Japanese crafts
As someone who has no hand-eye coordination and still managed to leave a workshop with a beautifully handmade cup from a glass-blowing class – I highly recommended the Hakone Craft House at the bottom end of Gora Park. Not only are the staff ridiculously friendly, they’re also crazy talented. Courses on beadwork, pottery and flower arranging are also offered. Got your hands full from having stocked up on too many souvenirs with your Odakyu discounts? No problem. They’ll ship your masterpieces to your house or hotel for a small fee of 880 yen.
8. Board one of the only mountain railways in Japan
Train nerds rejoice because Hakone has the perfect attraction for you. Hakone Tozan Railways, one of the only mountain railways in Japan, will take you on a picturesque 40-minute journey between Hakone-Yumoto Station and Gora Station. Come in June and marvel at the beautiful lilac petals of the hydrangea, or experience the magical transformative powers of snow in winter. While you’re at it, you might as well take the gravity-defying Hakone Tozan Cablecar (a steep, retro funicular) linking Gora Station to Sounzan Station, a distance of 1.2 kilometers, in just 10 minutes. You can hop on both for free with the Hakone Freepass.
9. Take a hike
Feeling restless after all that soaking in hot springs? Take a hike! Hakone has plenty of options for hiking, whatever your level. Hiryu Falls is a trail that leads you to one of the biggest and most famous waterfalls in the prefecture. The shape of the falls resembles a flying dragon. The 40-minute hike starts from Hatajuku bus station, so hop on a bus at Hakone-Yumoto. Otome Toge is a mountain located on the border between Hakone and Gotemba with a breathtaking view of Mt Fuji, Owakudani and Lake Ashi at its summit. Men: beware! The shrine at the top is for women only.
10. Feed the adrenaline junkie in you with kayaking and zip-lining
If the hiking didn’t get your blood pumping, these outdoor activities definitely will. If the pirate’s life is not for you, why not take a kayaking tour around Lake Ashi instead? There’s so much to see around this stunning lake, like the famous torii gate leading from Hakone shrine and the various little beachlets dotted around the shore. Booking can be done on the day at Hakonemachi-ko. After sailing the seven seas and climbing the highest heights: it might be time for you to visit Forest Adventure Hakone. Pick a course (there are three difficulty levels) then zip-line, free-fall and slide to your heart’s content!
There are three different routes included in the One Day Tour package. This package is only available for purchase overseas, much like the JR Pass. Australia Japan Holidays and America Iace Travel both sell this pack, you simply need to pick it up from Shinjuku when you arrive. The Hakone Freepass, however, is available to anyone. With the Hakone Freepass, you can get discounted rates at 55 affiliated places, covering all your main bases. From Shinjuku, a 2-day pass is ¥5,140 and a 3-day pass is ¥5,640. Absolute bargain!
-This is a GaijinPot sponsored article in collaboration with Odakyu Electric Railway.