Escape to the mountains: Hakone

by mattjapan

Pirate ships, hot springs, views of Mt Fuji and sculptures await visitors to the mountain resort of Hakone. Perfect for a day trip or short break from the bustle of Tokyo

For many Japanese and visitors, Hakone is synonymous with onsen (hot springs) - the area boasts seven distinct springs. The first to be discovered was Yumoto in the eighth century and the area, only 90 minutes from downtown Tokyo, remains ever popular as a day trip or weekend destination for visitors and locals alike.

In addition to the great onsen baths, there is plenty to do from exploring the souvenir shops and sampling steamed bean-paste cakes, to cable car rides to the mountain's summit to catch views of Mt Fuji and a lake cruise on a fake pirate ship. The area also boasts a great outdoor sculpture park and museums.

Getting there is easy on the Odakyu Romance Car, which runs from Shinjuku station to Hakone Yumoto. The Odakyu service counter on the ground floor of Shinjuku station has staff that speak several foreign languages and you can purchase the Hakone Free Pass there that covers all of the trains, buses, ropeway and sightseeing boat in the area. If you have a JR Pass you will have to switch to the Odakyu Line in Odawara. Take the JR Tokaido Main Line from Tokyo, Shimbashi or Shinagawa Stations or the JR Shonan Shinjuku Line from Ikebukuro, Shinjuku and Shibuya stations. Some shinkansen (bullet trains) also stop at Odawara.

Fujiya Hotel

Opened in 1878, the Fujiya Hotel (359 Miyanoshita, Hakone-machi, Kanagawa-ken 250-0404) has played host to everyone from Charlie Chaplin and John Lennon to presidents and royalty. Guests can opt to have dinner in the main dinning room with its opulent painted ceiling and classic French cuisine or a Japanese dinner at the Kika-so inn, a former Imperial villa built in 1895. Even if you aren’t planning on staying overnight, the hotel and its Japanese garden are worth a visit and make for a great pit stop. (There is also a modern sister hotel near to Hakone-Yumoto Onsen, see below.)


Tenzan Onsen

Housed in a traditional Japanese building, this onsen offer several outdoor hotsprings for bathers to choose from. A small cafe, restaurant and tatami rooms for lounging around make this a good place to chill out. A shuttle bus runs from the station to the onsen and takes about 10 mins. Small towels can be purchased at the front desk (open 9am-11pm daily; admission: ¥1,200-¥630; tel: 0460-86-4126).

Fujiya Hotel Hakone Yumoto

The modern sister hotel to the historic Fujiya in Miyanoshita has a large indoor bath, sauna, and stone and cypress rotenburo (outdoor baths) that are open to day visitors. Visitors can either pay for the bath (¥1,800) or take advantage of one of the day plans that include lunch and/or the use of a room (¥5,000-¥10,000).

Yunessun Hot Spa

Unlike regular Japanese onsen bath, at this bathing themepark swimsuits are a must. Vistors can float and soak their way through a myriad different baths including ones with added coffee and wine (don’t drink the water!). Good for families and kids who want to splash about.

(1297 Ninotaira, Hakone-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa-ken; tel: 046-02-4126; access: Hakone-Yumoto stn; open: 9am-7pm March-Oct, 9am-6pm Nov-Feb; admission: ¥3500-¥1,700;

Hakone Open Air Museum (Chokoku no Mori Bijutsukan)

Explore the rolling landscape of this outdoor sculpture park that showcases the work of artists such as Rodin, Henry Moore and Nobuo Sekine. Don’t forgot to take a peak at the Picasso gallery while you enjoy the mountain air and the 120 works of art dotted throughout the grounds. Located on the Hakone Tozan railway that runs between Hakone Yumoto and Gora.

(Ninotaira, Hakone-machi, Kanagawa-ken, 250-0493; 0460-82-1161; open: 9am-5pm daily; access: Chokoku No Mori Station on the Hakone Tozan line; admission: ¥1,600;

Hakone Pirate Ship

This sightseeing pirate ship cruises Ashinoko Lake between Togendai Harbor (in front of Togendai Station) and either Moto-hakone Harbor or Hakonemachi Harbor giving visitors a view of Mt Fuji from the water.

(181 Hakone, Hakonemachi, Kanagawa, 250-0521; 0460-83-6325; admisison: ¥1,780-350;


Matt Wilce is originally from the UK and has spent most of his adult life in Japan and has traveled extensively throughout Asia, Europe and North America. He first visited Tokyo as a student and taught for two years at a public junior high school in Toyama prefecture as part of the JET program. He went on to a career in media and communications. Specializing in Japanese entertainment and culture, he was editor in chief of Eye-Ai magazine before he moved to Metropolis magazine, Japan’s largest English publication, as editor. Matt continues to write about Japan for publications in the US, Australia and Japan. His recent work includes stories for People Magazine, The Rochester Review, Ikebana International, POL Oxygen, Fodor’s Guide to Japan and Tokyo, Time Out Guide to Tokyo and JapanInc magazine. He has also been quoted on Japanese popular culture in Details magazine and the Sydney Morning Herald.