- Takeshi Senuma
[2018 Edition] 30 Things to Do in Japan’s Leading Onsen Town, Hakone
Hakone is one of Japan's most famous onsen (hot spring) areas. It is also known as a highland resort blessed with rich nature that people can visit to get away from the heat. This article introduces 30 standard places to go and things to do in Hakone - from onsen to famous historic sites, art spots, and food - that you won't want to miss!
How to Get to Hakone
The easiest way to get to Hakone from central Tokyo is via the Limited Express Romancecar on the Odakyu Railway. It takes 73 minutes at the fastest from Shinjuku Station to Hakone-Yumoto Station, which is the gateway to Hakone. From the Kansai area, take the shinkansen (bullet train) to Odawara Station, change to the Hakone Tozan Line, and ride for about 15 minutes. If you plan to travel in the Hakone area, utilize the Hakone Freepass, which includes the round-trip fare between an Odakyu Railway station (such as Shinjuku in Tokyo) and Odawara Station in Kanagawa, unlimited rides on 8 modes of transportation in the Hakone area, and discounts at a variety of tourist facilities. The pass can be purchased at Odakyu Railway stations.
Best Time to Visit
Hakone is beautiful in every season, but the best time to visit is the early summer and fall. You will get to thoroughly enjoy the atmosphere of the highlight resort of Hakone, with a cool climate in the early summer and beautiful azalea and hydrangea between May and mid-July. The fall is the time of year when Hakone shows off its charm. The foliage that are dyed red and yellow paint the mountains and valleys, and the Japanese pampas grass swaying in the wind creates a scenery with great atmosphere.
Recommended Tourist Spots and Activities
Hakone, which has flourished as a highland resort with onsen, has a wide variety of tourist spots. Enjoy Hakone by indulging in its majestic natural scenery like Mt. Fuji and Lake Ashi, historic sites, famous Shinto shrines, traditional craft experiences, onsen, and local cuisine.
Admire the Sculptures at the Hakone Open-Air Museum
Hakone Open-Air Museum has been one of Hakone's most popular tourist destinations for approximately half a century. At this museum, you can see open-air art exhibits with the majestic nature of Hakone in the background, and world-famous paintings up close. In particular, the collection of 26 sculptures by the master of British sculpture, Henry Moore, is one of the largest in the world. The collection of approximately 300 works by the iconic 20th century artist, Pablo Picasso, is also a must-see! This is a wonderful place to enjoy viewing beautiful art while taking in the cool highland air.
Entrance fee: 1,600 JPY/General, 1,200 JPY/University and high school student, 800 JPY/Elementary and junior high school student
See the Lakeside Torii of Hakone Shrine
Hakone Shrine, located on the shore of Lake Ashi, is a Shinto shrine that has been the object of people's worship for over 1,000 years. The grounds are surrounded by a forest, and consist of a main shrine building with a solemn atmosphere and a variety of other buildings around it. It is always crowded with worshippers. The Torii of Peace (Shrine Gate of Peace) that seems to float on the lake is a sight not to be missed. Walk up the stone staircase on the shrine path to the lake shore and you will see a view that is unique to Hakone: a large vermilion torii with Mt. Fuji in the background.
Drink the Sacred Water of Kuzuryu Shrine Shingu
Kuzuryu Shrine Shingu, found next to the main shrine building of Hakone Shrine, is a branch of Kuzuryu Shrine on Lake Ashi. It is popular among young travelers for its matchmaking powers. Walk down the stairs next to the shrine and and you will come to the famous Ryujinsui (holy water). The clear water flowing out of nine dragon mouths is said to purify you and bring great love matches. The shop on the grounds selling amulets and talismans also sells plastic bottles that you can use to take home the holy water.
Visit Hakone Glass no Mori Venetian Glass Museum
Hakone Glass no Mori Venetian Glass Museum is popular as Japan's first museum dedicated to Venetian glass. There are various facilities on the grounds, including the museum for Venetian glass, which was developed between the 15th and 19th centuries; a museum for contemporary glass art, a garden with beautiful glass artworks and objects, a museum shop, a cafe, and a restaurant. Why not try your hand at the glass-making workshop, where you can try making your own special, original piece of glass art?
Entrance fee: 1,500 JPY/Adult, 1,100 JPY/University and high school student, 600 JPY/Elementary and junior high school student
Ride on a Pirate Ship at Lake Ashi
If you want to revel in the appeal of Lake Ashi, which is one of the most beautiful spots in Hakone, be sure to ride on a Hakone pirate ship! Three pirates ships - Royal II, Victory, and Vasa - travel between Hakonemachi-ko on the south shore of the lake, Motohakone-ko, and Togendai-ko on the north shore. A round-trip cruise through all three ports will take about an hour. This is a great way to enjoy the fantastic views, such as the torii of Hakone Shrine that is reflected on the water and Mt. Fuji in the background.
Fare (round trip): 1,840 JPY/Adult, 910 JPY/Child
Take a Mid-air Walk on the Hakone Ropeway
The Hakone Ropeway is a wonderful way to see the stunning views of Hakone from up in the air. The ropeway connects a distance of about 4km between Sounzan Station and Togendai Station near Lake Ashi in about 24 minutes. The gondola travels at a maximum height of 130m, and the fantastic view seen through the large windows will take your breath away. There is a panoramic view that includes the steam rising from the onsen in Owakudani, Mt. Fuji, and even the TOKYO SKYTREE far in the distance on a good day.
See the Onsen Performance by Seals at Hakone-en Aquarium
Hakone-en Aquarium is a highland aquarium located 723m above sea level. It is at the highest altitude among all aquariums with saltwater fish in Japan. There are three facilities on the grounds: the Seawater Pavilion with ocean creatures, the Freshwater Pavilion with creatures from rivers and lakes, and the Baikal Seal Plaza. The shows at Baikal Seal Plaza are not to be missed! The performance of seals with pails and towels taking a bath in an onsen can only be seen here.
Entrance fee: 1,500 JPY/Adult, 750 JPY/Child (ages 4 through elementary school)
See the Moss and Bamboo Gardens of Hakone Museum of Art
Hakone Museum of Art is the art spot with the longest history in Hakone, and has a collection of numerous valuable pieces of Oriental art. In the museum, you can see a variety of outstanding works of Japanese pottery, ranging from earthenware from thousands of years ago to porcelain from the 19th century. The museum is also known for its beautiful gardens. In particular, the 1,900 sq.m. moss garden surrounded by hedges and streams that is filled with 130 different types of moss and 200 trees with wonderful fall colors offers a picture perfect view. The Chinese-style bamboo garden that is in wonderful harmony with the exterior of the main museum building is also not to be missed!
Entrance fee: 900 JPY/Adult, 400 JPY/University and high school student
Immerse Yourself in the World of a Masterpiece at The Little Prince Museum
The Little Prince is the most famous work of the renowned French writer, Saint-Exupéry, and is beloved around the world. The Little Prince Museum is a museum where you can immerse yourself in the world of The Little Prince. The exhibition hall has a variety of valuable materials, such as photographs of the author and letters that belonged to him. In the audio-visual hall, an original film about the writer's life and stories is projected on a 400-inch screen. There is also a garden and path that represents the worldview depicted in the story, as well as a wonderful museum shop.
Entrance fee: 1,600 JPY/Adult, 1,100 JPY/University and high school student, 700 JPY/Elementary and junior high school student
Enjoy a Variety of Onsen at YUNESSUN
Hakone is famous for its onsen, and a great way to enjoy them is at YUNESSUN. YUNESSUN consists of three areas: Mori no Yu, where you can soak in traditional Japanese baths like open-air and Hinoki cypress baths; an indoor area that you can enjoy in swimming suits; and an outdoor area with a large onsen waterslide that can be enjoyed throughout the year. This is a great place for couples and families to try a variety of baths.
Entrance fee: Mori no Yu (onsen area) 1,900 JPY/Adult, 1,200 JPY/Child; YUNESSUN (bathing suit area) 2,900 JPY/Adult, 1,600 JPY/Child; Passport (Mori no Yu and YUNESSUN) 4,100 JPY/Adult, 2,100 JPY/Child
Enjoy the View from the Hakone Tozan Cable Car
The Hakone Tozan Cable Car runs the approximately 1.2km distance between Gora, which is a major onsen town in Hakone, and the 750m high Sounzan in 10 minutes. The height difference between Gora and Sounzan is about 200m, and the cable car going up the sharp slope is one of Hakone's most iconic sights. From the cable car windows, you can see the rich verdure of Hakone. The hydrangeas along the tracks add vivid colors to the scenery in the early summer.
Experience the Switchbacks of the Hakone Tozan Train
Hakone Tozan Train is the train that runs the 15km distance between Odawara, the entrance to Hakone, and Goura via Hakone-Yumoto in about 1 hour. Tozan means "mountain climbing" in Japanese, and as such, the train runs through a topography that is unique to Hakone, with sharp slopes and curves. One of the distinguishing features of the train is the switchbacks it makes to go up and down sharp slopes. The train switches directions back and forth three times when traveling between Tonosawa Station to Miyanoshita Station via Ohiradai Station. The views out the windows, such as the vibrant fall foliage and fresh verdure of the early spring, are also not to be missed.
Visit Sengokuhara Kogen in the Fall to See the Pampas Grass and Foliage
The Pampas Grass Fields of Sengokuhara Kogen is one of the most famous scenic spots in Hakone in the fall. The gentle slopes at the foot of Mt. Daigatake are covered with pampas grass that glitter in the sunlight. The sight of the pampas grass swaying in the wind is like an impressionist painting and has been selected as one of Top 50 Scenic Spots in Kanagawa and Top 100 Spots for Flowers in Kanagawa. If you wish to see the fall foliage in Sengokuhara, go along National Route 138 between Sengokuhara and Miyagino Onsen.
See a Large Gate at Hakone Sekisho
Hakone Sekisho was a toll gate and inspection facility in Hakone. It was a key location along the Tokaido road that connected Tokyo and Kyoto up until the 19th century. There were many similar gates along the road, but inspections were the strictest in Hakone due to its proximity to the capital city of Edo (former name for Tokyo). The facility in Hakone has been reconstructed so that visitors can learn how inspections were conducted at the time. Standing in front of the large black gate may give you a sense of the nervousness that travelers must have felt back in the day.
Entrance fee: 500 JPY/Adult, 250 JPY/Elementary school student (free for elementary school and junior high school students on weekends and national holidays)
Experience a Tea Ceremony at Hakone Gora Park
Hakone Gora Park is Japan's first French-style park with ponds and other features in symmetrical, geometric shapes. It was built about 100 years ago as a retreat for the upper class, but is today open to the public as one of Hakone's best spots for flowers and greenery. Tourists love coming here from abroad for the tea ceremony in Hakuun-do Tea Garden. It is a great opportunity to get a glimpse into the wabi sabi (world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection) culture of Japanese tea ceremonies in a traditional tea room with a wonderfully dignified atmosphere.
Tea ceremony fee (includes tea and a sweet): 500 JPY
Learn About Hakone's History at the Hakone GeoMuseum
Hakone is designated as Hakone Geopark, a natural park in which the legacy of the earth's activities is the foremost attraction. Hakone GeoMuseum is a place where you can get a close sense of how the great nature of Hakone was created. It has a large GeoVision screen, about 9m wide, that introduces the beautiful scenery of Hakone, as well as numerous videos and models on the history of its onsen and volcanoes. Once you've seen the exhibits, be sure to go outside and see an active volcano in action in Owakudani!
Entrance fee: 100 JPY
Enjoy the Nature Surrounding Hotel de Yama Garden
Hotel de Yama, located on the shore of Lake Ashi, is famous for its garden with beautiful flowers such as azalea and rhododendron. One of the best views of Hakone is that of Lake Ashi and Mt. Fuji beyond the seasonal flowers, seen from its garden that deftly utilizes the hilly topography of its lakeside highland location. Approximately 3,000 azaleas of 30 varieties and 300 rhododendrons of 20 varieties blossom from early May, followed a little later by hydrangea. The roses that bloom in the spring and autumn, as well as the late-autumn foliage, are also not to be missed.
Enjoy the Foot Bath at Okada Museum of Art
Okada Museum of Art is a museum dedicated to Oriental art, primarily ancient to modern art from Japan, China, and Korea. In addition to its art exhibits, it has a vast, roughly 15,000 sq.m. garden. In this garden, which combines a natural forest with water features such as waterfalls and ponds, one can see the seasonal nature of Hakone up close. Once you've strolled around the garden, make sure to stop by the foot bath at the front of the building. You can enjoy a drink while soaking your feet with a large mural of the Japanese deities of wind and thunder behind you.
Entrance fee: 2,800 JPY/General (university student and above), 1,800/Elementary, junior high, and high school student; Garden entrance fee 300 JPY; Foot bath entrance fee 500 JPY *Foot bath is free to museum ticket holders
Enjoy Jewelry and Glass Art at Lalique Museum Hakone
Lalique Museum Hakone is a museum full of works by René Jules Lalique, a French glass and jewelry designer who is known as a leading art nouveau and art deco artist. In the permanent exhibition rooms, approximately 230 items selected from a collection of 1,500 works by Lalique - ranging from historical interior decorations to the interior of the Orient Express - are displayed. There is also a corner with a replica of a room in Lalique's residence in France and a carriage from the Orient Express whose interior was designed by Lalique.
Entrance fee: 1,500 JPY/Adult, 1,300 JPY/University and high school student and senior (age 65 and over), 800 JPY/Elementary and junior high school student
See Fantastic Views of Lake Ashi and Mt. Fuji from Onshi-Hakone-Koen Park
Onshi-Hakone-Koen Park is a park that was built on the site of a villa that was used as a summer retreat for the Imperial Family and a place to entertain foreign guests. It is one of Hakone's most famous view spots and is visited by many tourists. At this park, be sure to see the view from the Lakeside Observation Building. From the rest area and balcony on the 2nd floor, there is a fantastic panoramic view of Lake Ashi with Mt. Fuji and the surrounding mountains in the background. Be sure to take a photograph with this fabulous view behind you.
Hike on Mt. Kintoki
Mt. Kintoki is a mountain connected to the famous Japanese fairy tale, Kintaro. It has well-maintained hiking trails, making it a popular place to hike without too much advance preparation. The recommended route is a 2.1km trail from Kintoki-jinja Shrine in Sengokuhara at the foot of the mountain to the summit, which has an altitude of 1,212m. It takes about an hour and 15 minutes from the shrine to the summit. At the summit, there is a fantastic panoramic view that goes all the way to the southern Japanese Alps. Expect to see Lake Ashi, Mt. Fuji, and Suruga Bay with nothing to block your view.
Visit Choanji Temple in the Autumn
Choanji is a Buddhist temple in Sengokuhara with a history of more than 600 years. The quiet grounds surrounded by the greenery of trees has a simple, serene atmosphere. It is famous for fall foliage and in mid-November every year, the foliage on trees - such as Japanese maple, Japanese zelkova, and Japanese beech - turn red and gold, creating a scenery like one in a traditional nishiki-e (color woodblock print). There are also numerous statues of rakan (disciples of Buddha) called "Gohyaku Rakan" on the grounds that you won't want to miss.
Buy Souvenirs in the Onsen Town of Hakone-Yumoto
The area around Hakone-Yumoto Station, which is the gateway to Hakone, has numerous shops, so you won't have any problems finding souvenirs. Some popular souvenirs from Hakone include yosegi-zaiku - a type of traditional Japanese marquetry that Hakone is known for; cosmetics made with yu-no-hana (deposits from hot springs used as bath salts) or onsen water; local sweets such as onsen manju; and shiokara (salted fermented seafood) and umeboshi (pickled dried plums), which have long been carried by travelers as preserved foods.
Relax in the Hot Springs of Goura
Goura is an onsen area that originally flourished as a getaway for the upper class, and still has many luxurious ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) with the feel of a resort today. There are five different types of onsen water with varying colors, from milky white to a light green, giving the hot springs the nickname "Pastel-colored Hot Springs". Many of the onsen inns accept day visitors, so why not stop by to relax and rejuvenate?
Purchase Yosegi-zaiku in Hakone-en
Yosegi-zaiku is a famous craft of Hakone, where several different types of wood are used to create intricate geometric patterns. Yosegi-zaiku puzzle boxes called "Himitsu-bako" that are specially made so that they cannot be opened easily are especially popular as souvenirs. The yosegi-zaiku corner in Hakone-en, a leisure facility on the shore of Lake Ashi, is a great place to shop for yosegi-zaiku. In addition to selling yosegi-zaiku, it has an exhibition showing how they are made and what is used to make them, and even offers workshops to make yosegi-zaiku coasters for groups of ten people or more (reservations required).
Enjoy Daimonji-yaki at the Hakone Gora Summer Festival
Daimonji-yaki, conducted at the Hakone Gora Summer Festival on the night of August 16 every year, is a summer event that has been held for almost 100 years since 1921. A huge fire, in the shape of the kanji character 大 (dai, big), is lit up on the side of a mountain to send off the spirits at the end of Obon (a festival held to honor ancestral spirits). The "dai" is written in strokes that are 7.5m thick, with the longest stroke being 108m. The Goura summer night is lit up beautifully by the fire and fireworks that are shot up at the same time.
See the Fireworks During the Lake Ashi Summer Festival Week
Every year, the six days from July 31 to August 5 are designated as Lake Ashi Summer Festival Week, during which fireworks and other events are held every day. The Kosui Festival on the first day is a festival with a long history that is held to revere the dragon that is the guardian deity of Lake Ashi. The fireworks show held that evening is the biggest of the week, with approximately 4,000 fireworks lighting up the night sky. There are also underwater fireworks, which can only be seen by the lakeside, so be sure to check it out!
Hakone, which has long flourished as an onsen town and summer resort, has many wonderful foods to delight travelers. Here are three items not to be missed, ranging from traditional flavors to Japanese-style sweets.
Try the Specialty Yuba-don in Hakone-Yumoto
Yubadon Naokichi, a restaurant in a great location just 3 minutes on foot from Hakone-Yumoto Station, is famous for its food made with yuba (tofu skin). The specialty dish here is the Yuba-don (980 JPY (incl. tax)), in which yuba - made by heating up soy milk in the famous Himeno water from Ohiradai in Hakone - is served piping hot in an earthenware pot. The umami (Japanese savory taste) of the yuba is enhanced by a stock (dashi). The Yuba-don + Yubasashi Set (1,520 JPY (incl. tax)), wherein yuba sashimi and tofu are served with Yuba-don, is also recommended.
Enjoy the Famous Onsen Manju
Manju, made by steaming kneaded wheat flour dough with a sweet bean paste filling, is a major souvenir and snack in onsen towns. Called "onsen manju", there are local manju in every onsen town in Japan. Hakone also has a variety of onsen manju, ranging from traditional ones to unique ones made with unusual ingredients, so be sure to try a few.
Try the Onsen Tamago at Owakudani
The onsen tamago (egg) of Owakudani is one of Hakone's most famous local foods. The egg is jet black and is stunning just to look at. It is dropped into an onsen that is about 80°C for approximately 1 hour, and then steamed in onsen steam at a temperature of 100°C for 15 minutes. The shell apparently turns black due to a chemical reaction with the hot spring. It has long been said that one's life expectancy is extended 7 years by eating the onsen tamago from Owakudani, so be sure to try this tasty and healthy egg!
Hakone, which is blessed with an abundance of hot springs and has long been a popular resort, has much more to see and do beyond the things introduced here. Be sure to enjoy the land of Hakone with its great hot springs, scenery, and food, where you can expect a new discovery every time you go.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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