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Five Reasons to Add Hakone to Your Japan Itinerary

2023-11-13

Close enough to Tokyo for a quick getaway but packed with enough countryside charms, the mountain town of Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture sees millions of visitors from Japan and abroad each year, and for good reason: it’s considered one of Japan’s best hot spring resort towns. But relaxing baths aren’t all that Hakone has to offer! Here are five reasons not to skip Hakone when visiting Japan.

 

1. Hot springs for every bather (including liquor baths!)

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When in Hakone, you simply can’t miss the hot springs. They are the area’s main attraction, after all.

Hakone is known as a hot spring bather’s paradise for the sheer diversity of its baths. Unlike some hot spring resort towns, where there’s only a single spring supplying water to the entire town, Hakone has as many as 17 officially recognized hot springs that provide naturally heated water to the town’s many hotels, ryokans, and bathing facilities.

As a result, there is a variety of hot springs in the area, with different types of water said to have different therapeutic properties: alkaline springs, sulfuric springs, hydrogen carbonate springs, the list goes on. And so, to say that there are many options for hot spring enthusiasts in Hakone is quite the understatement!

Day tripper or overnight guest, tattooed or not — there’s a hot spring for you in Hakone. If you aren’t quite sure about bathing the Japanese way, you can even start from the ground up (literally) by dipping your feet in one of the foot baths.

For an unconventional hot spring experience, how about bathing in hot springs infused with sake, wine, green tea, or coffee at Hakone Kowakien Yunessun? With pools, water slides, and a combination of unique and traditional spring baths, this water park is something of hot spring paradise.

As a bonus for those who haven’t warmed up to the idea of communal bathing in the nude, swimsuits are required for Yunessun’s unorthodox baths. Only the traditional Mori no Yu bathing area requires guests to don their birthday suits.

Get easy access to Yunessun by spending the night at one of its partner hotels. For an authentic ryokan experience and fantastic mountain views, we recommend staying at Hakone Kowakien Mikawaya Ryokan, just a four-minute walk from Yunessun.

 

2. Superb up-close views of Mount Fuji

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Hakone’s proximity to Mount Fuji means that on a clear day (no rain, no clouds, no fog), your odds of getting a picture-perfect view of Japan’s most iconic mountain are quite good.

While there are several vantage points in the area, the best-known place in Hakone to see Mount Fuji is Lake Ashi (or Ashinoko) — specifically at Moto-Hakone Port.

Here, you won’t need to do any hiking to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji. In fact, this is where you can snap postcard-worthy photos of not only Mount Fuji but also famous symbols of Hakone, including the lake itself and the distinctive vermilion torii gate of Hakone-jinja Shrine.

For closer views of Mount Fuji, take a leisurely sightseeing cruise around Lake Ashi. Two companies operate Lake Ashi cruises, both with boarding points at Moto-Hakone Port on the lake’s southern end. One offers a fleet of pirate ships that have become something of a local icon, and another sets sail with regular-looking ships. Though the route for each cruise is unique, both will give you a view to remember.

The best time to visit Hakone to see Mount Fuji is in winter (Dec–Feb), as the air is crisper and clearer during this season.

 

3. Volcanic activity and sulfuric eggs at Owakudani

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No Hakone trip would be complete without a visit to Owakudani, Hakone’s very own boiling valley. Smelling of brimstone and often blanketed in steam, this is an active volcanic zone filled with sulfuric vents, heavy gasses, and hot springs, albeit not the kind that are safe to bathe in due to their high temperature.

The panoramic landscape views here make up some of Hakone’s most iconic imagery, and at times, visitors might be lucky enough to see Mount Fuji peeking out from above the steam.

Owakudani is also famous for its black eggs, which get their color from being boiled in the area’s sulfur-laden hot springs. Despite the color, these are perfectly normal hard-boiled eggs on the inside, although local superstition has it that eating one of these eggs adds seven years to your lifespan.

The Hakone Ropeway offers easy access to Owakudani (simply get off at the station of the same name). While on a gondola, you can take in breathtaking views of the sulfuric valley below you, so don’t miss the chance to view Owakudani while aboard the ropeway as well.

 

4. Scenic views via hiking trails (or ropeways)

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From the caldera lake that is Lake Ashi to the steam-covered Owakudani, Hakone is a place of scenic natural beauty all year round. Adding to these gorgeous sights are seasonal colors: cherry blossoms in spring, verdant grass in summer, crimson leaves and pampas fields of the Sengokuhara area in autumn, and the clear crisp view of Mount Fuji in winter.

For those who like a little adventure, you can enjoy Hakone’s nature by hiking around the area; a number of hiking trails are available for hikers of all skill levels.

Some of these trails pass by Hakone’s famous attractions such as Lake Ashi, the floating torii gate of Hakone-jinja Shrine, and Owakudani. Trails that lead to Mount Komagatake — one of Hakone’s most famous peaks — give hikers the opportunity to check out Mototsumiya-jinja Shrine at the summit. This was the original location of Hakone-jinja Shrine before it was relocated to Lake Ashi.

History buffs will not want to miss the Old Tokaido Road. Hakone has preserved sections of this famous ancient road that connected Kyoto to Edo (the former name of Tokyo), enabling hikers to retrace the steps of countless couriers, officials, and travelers who traversed it.

And what about those who want to admire the scenery without all the footwork? You’re in luck! Aside from Hakone’s bus network, the area’s two ropeways — Hakone and Komagatake — treat passengers to scenic views while ferrying them from one point to another.

 

5. Museums galore for art aficionados

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Hakone has had a reputation as a hot spring town for centuries now, but in the 20th century, it added yet another claim to fame: its concentration of art museums. The town’s rolling hills and lush greenery are ideal for showcasing art in harmonious coexistence with nature, so perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising to see several world-class museums dotting the area.

Housing art by famous artists from Japan and overseas — including works by Pablo Picasso, Katsushika Hokusai, and Vincent van Gogh — are the Hakone Open-Air Museum, Okada Museum of Art, and Pola Museum of Art.

The Hakone Museum of Art is the area’s oldest museum, and it houses a collection of Japanese ceramics. Meanwhile, the permanent exhibition of the Narukawa Art Museum highlights intricate artifacts from ancient China, such as jade and ivory sculptures.

There’s also the Hakone Venetian Glass Museum (also known as the Glass Forest) for glass art from Italy, as well as the Lalique Museum Hakone, which showcases the work of French jeweler and glass art designer, Rene Lalique.

And as if those weren’t enough, Hakone also has a Doll House Museum for doll-scaled works of art and a Museum of Photography that’s reopening in 2024. You wouldn't be far off for thinking that there’s a museum in Hakone for every art form out there! And beyond just the art museums, there are several history museums and other educational facilities for those interested in discovering the many aspects of Hakone.

A handful of these museums are within close proximity of one another. For guests who want to do a bit of museum hopping, consider staying at Rakuten Stay Villa Hakone Sengokuhara, which is a 10-minute drive away from the Pola Museum of Art and the Hakone Venetian Glass Museum.