Hakone, the onsen (hot springs) town, located less than one hundred kilometers from Tokyo, is one of those must-see places that most tourists have on their Japan travel list. It is a popular day trip destination from Tokyo for both foreigners and Japanese alike. However, last time I was in Japan, I somehow managed to miss Hakone but this time it was really high on my list and I finally managed to go in the first week of December. As you might have noticed my obsession with autumn leaves, this is why I wanted to visit Hakone during autumn or at least beginning of winter. Even though many leaves were still beautiful and could be admired, the main focus of the trip changed from the autumn leaves to the many attractions Hakone has to offer. Here are the places I went to and the things I did during my day trip to Hakone! You might want to spend more days there if you want to cover everything there is to see.
How to get there?
There are many options, Shinkansen or bullet train, normal train or Romancecar! I chose the Odakyu Limited Express Romancecar because it is one of the options where you do not have to change trains. The price was also quite affordable, somewhere around 1700 yen one way. Check the Shinjuku – Hakone-Yumoto Romancecar timetable here!
For moving around, I took the bus, but there is also the option of the Hakone Pass if you want to take the ropeway.
1. Hakone Shrine 箱根神社
From Hakone-Yumoto station, you can take the bus to Hakone Jinja or Hakone Shrine and it takes around 40 minutes. I was lucky it was a weekday so it was not very crowded, as most tourists/travelers/instagrammers/photographers, you name it, usually head to this shrine for the famous torii and to take the photo under it. I managed to get THE photo as well (although my face is not clear at all and I am just a small dot there).
But besides being so popular among tourists, this shrine also has a long and interesting history and it is considered one of the most important spiritual places of Japan. It was founded in its current location in 757 as before that it was located at the summit of Mt. Hakone. It is believed that a famous Shinto priest, Mangan, pacified the nine-headed dragon that lived at the bottom of Lake Ashi, thus allowing the relocation of the shrine.
2. Lake Ashi 芦ノ湖
After visiting the shrine, you can walk to Lake Ashi and enjoy the beautiful scenery. On clear days, Mount Fuji can be seen as well from this spot. The lake was formed about 3,000 years ago in Hakone Volcano’s caldera. If you have time and are interested, you can also go on a Hakone Sightseeing Cruise from here.
3. Owakudani Valley 大涌谷
From Lake Ashi, it took around 1 hour to reach Owakudani Valley by bus. It was by far the most interesting spot I have seen in Hakone. Owakudani would translate as the “great boiling valley” and it is made of exploded craters formed at the last eruption of Hakone Volcano around 3,000 years ago. The active sulfur and hot stream vents formed an unforgettable view, something I have seen for the first time in my life. And it was also a good spot for seeing Mt. Fuji in all its splendor.
The kurotamago or black eggs are a local specialty of Owakudani and you must try them if you go there! They are boiled in the hot springs and turn black with a slightly sulphuric smell. You can purchase 5 eggs for 500yen. I was kind of afraid that they are going to taste bad but actually the interior was just a normal egg, just the black exterior might seem a bit scary. I had never thought that boiled eggs would taste so good enjoyed at the top of a mountain, haha. And another important thing about them is that by consuming them you can apparently add seven years to your life.
4. Hakone Yuryo 箱根湯療
As no trip to Hakone would be complete without a visit to one of its many hot springs (onsen), I recommend Hakone Yuryo. Its location is very convenient, close to Hakone-Yumoto station, only around 10 minutes by the free shuttle bus they provide. The nice thing about Hakone Yuryo is that you can rent your own private onsen, and they have a variety of rooms and styles to choose from. I wanted a room with a nice view so I chose “Yamazakura”. For more details, see their site.
The perks of renting an onsen room are that you can have your privacy, relax and also take photos (not usually allowed at a public onsen, for obvious reasons). And it is perfect for those choosing a day trip to Hakone! Of course, there are many ryokans that offer overnight stays with private onsen but they can be very pricey.
5. Dinner and shopping around Hakone-Yumoto Station 箱根湯本
How to end a perfect day trip to Hakone? With a delicious dinner near the Hakone-Yumoto station and there are plenty of options to choose from. We went to Kinosuke, a Japanese restaurant famous for its delicious grilled fish. Their sake was also very good.
And if you crave for something sweet (like I always do…) I recommend the honey cheese tarts at Grande Riviere. If there is one western cake that the Japanese do amazingly, it has to be the cheese tart. From the ones in Hokkaido to the ones in Tokyo, they are all so fluffy and so good, each bite of one means happiness for me.
Thank you for reading!