If one wants to escape from the jungle of steels and concrete named Tokyo, especially on a hot summer day as it usually is here, Hakone (箱根) is on my list of top recommended destinations for a one or two days trip.
Summer here ranges from early May to end of August, and is divided in halves by the rainy season in June and most of July. Early summer before the rainy season is always nice and dry. And when the rainy season ends, good weather starts to reign again except when there is typhoon (we had 3 this year), and it also becomes super hot – could be 35 or above.
This year the rainy season ended by July 28th, just the day before my planned 2 days trip to Hakone (箱根), a beautiful town not far from Tokyo. And as a result, I got to enjoy the great weather and take a good amount of nice pictures, with Mount Fuji visible even from Lake Ashino-ko (芦ノ湖). How lucky!
We took Odakyu Romance-Car (小田急ロマンスカー) from Shinjuku, and got off at the last stop, Hakone-Yumoto Station(箱根湯本駅). Hakone-Yumoto is the onsen town where most tourists stay for the night when visiting Hakone. It is very recommended to stay at an onsen ryokan (温泉旅館) in Hakone, and in summer the price is not as high as in autumn, although it could still be up to ¥25,000 per person. Quite a lot of money but expectable when traveling in Japan.
However, you will get the service and experience worth it. In an onsen ryokan of such price, an unique experience of authentic Japanese hospitality in a traditional way is guaranteed, and you get to know the word “service” at a new level every time they bow and the phrase “wabi-sabi” by the atmosphere in the traditional Japanese room (和室), not to mention the fancy Kaiseki Ryori(懐石料理) served, which is too delicious and beautiful to eat.
(The topic of Japanese ryokan itself would be worth another full article. I will share my experiences with different ryokans in series. )
Even though many Japanese travel just for the sake of a good rest at an onsen ryokan, in Hakone I suggest you get out of your comfortable cushion seat (座布団), and explore this beautiful town at the foot of Mount Fuji area.
It is very convenient to tour Hakone with public transportation which includes rails, buses, and cruises across the lake. At Hakone-Yumoto Station, Passes that cover most such transportation could be purchased for multiple days. It is highly recommended if you plan to visit many places within Hakone, or if you are staying for more than 1 day. (The Pass is valid to reach Odawara-shi(小田原市), but not Izu(伊豆), so buses connected to Izu are not applicable. )
Alright. With a 2-day Pass at hand, it would be a waste if we don’t ride as much as possible. My actual and recommended itinerary is:
Day 1 –
- from Hakone-Yumoto Station, take Hakone Tozan Tetsudo(箱根登山鉄道) to Gora Station(強羅駅). It goes inside the mountain so be prepared to see a lot of green. Also, in order to climb up the steep mountain, the train goes up in zigzag which is quite fun.
- from Gora Station, take Hakone Tozan Cable-Car(箱根登山ケーブルカー) to Mount Sounzan Station (早雲山駅). The cable car has steps inside it, well, quite strange design to a first timer.
- from Mount Sounzan Station, take Hakone Ropeway(箱根ロープウェイ) to Owakudani(大涌谷), and stop there for a while to view the hot spring field with sulfur smoke coming up continuously, and don’t forget to buy some onsen eggs made here. Hakone Ropeway just re-opened on July 27th this year, after more than a year of out-of-service due to volcanic activity. It is said they consulted experts, and it was declared safe, although special populations may need some caution.
- make sure to leave Owakudani before the last ride of Hakone Ropeway at 4:00 pm. Take Hakone Ropeway in the same direction until the last stop, Ubako(姥子), which is at Lake Ashino-ko.
- from Ubako, take the “pirate ship” across Lake Ashino-ko, and arrive at Moto-Hakone(元箱根).
This is never as difficult as it appears. The transitions are all very close, and the Japanese are good at making public transportation fun and comfortable, and you get to see Hakone from different angles as well, not to mention the precious opportunity to know the pleasant smell of sulfur at Owakudani.
Well… the pleasant never lasts long.
It is worth noting that most stores in the streets of Hakone-Yumote close before even 6:00 pm. If you want to buy anything, such as snacks or Japanese sake, buy early.
After such a day, it is rewarding to soak yourself in onsen to wash away the dust and the tiredness. While, technically speaking, dust must be washed away in shower before going into the “bathtub”. And we should get naked in onsen – not a single piece of clothes, but you can use the small towel prepared by the Ryokan to cover your significant body parts. You will get used to it.
Day 2 –
After another round of morning time onsen, it was time to check-out. Most ryokans have check-out time at around 10:00 am, which is not very convenient for those who are not good at getting up early (me). However, in a Ryokan, it is easy to sleep early and tight all-night, and as a result get up early the next morning. The reason is simple: after a great dinner in terms of both taste and amount, and one or two rounds of onsen, it becomes too comfortable not to sleep well in the cute yukata (浴衣) and warm and soft futon (布団).
Anyway, after check-out, we stored our luggage at the front desk and started out again. I picked a different route today:
- in front of Hakone-Yumoto station we took bus that went through the Old Street (旧街道), and got off at Old Street Steps stop (旧街道石畳). The entrance was right next to the bus stop. Did a casual hiking from here until the Moto Hakone port (元箱根港). It was an easy hiking of about 30 – 40 minutes.
- At Moto Hakone, the weather was so good and we stopped there and appreciated Mount Fuji in the background for quite a while. Other options could be fishing or boating, or having a picnic as there are some sitting area.
- We rode the cruise with a different company, which unfortunately costed separately. However, the good news was we could buy a combined ticket with a round-trip ropeway to the top of Mount Komaga-dake (駒ヶ岳), which was definitely worth it. What’s more, because the cruise costed separately, it was also a rather more comfortable ride with fewer tourists.
- We got off the cruise at Hakone-en (箱根園), and rode the round-trip ropeway to Komaga-dake (駒ヶ岳). It could cost a good 2 hours there depending on what you want to do: picnic, rest and take a view of the city or Mount Fuji, or even take a nap.
- Then we rode the bus from Hakone-en to Hakone-Yumoto, took the luggage and caught the train back to Tokyo.
There are not too many average restaurants on the way. You could opt for a light lunch after a big breakfast in the ryokan, such as a sandwich or onigiri (🍙) from a convenient store and eat at the top of Komaga-dake or near Lake Ashino-ko. If you want to sit down under a roof to eat, then go to a random ramen place or udon place; those are not super-delicious, but are a good choice for a quick and satisfying lunch.
This is the end of the trip report. I want to thank you for reading to the end of it! It should have been out in summer, when you were planning your trip to Tokyo area, or sweating under the hot weather and looking for some trip ideas to cool down… Oh my late stage procrastination! However, now that I finally finished it, I hope it could be helpful when you are planning your trip, say, next year. 🙂