When I first decided to venture out of the familiarity of Tokyo, Hakone was one of the first major places in Japan that I was able to check off my bucket list. Boy, did it leave an impression! The nature is absolutely captivating, the culture is ever so alive & present. The overall energy that surrounds this destination is very peaceful, relaxing, and everything my soul needs to feel whole. For this reason, I made sure Hakone was also the last major place I visited before departing from this beautiful country.
The first time I explored this region, I was surrounded by new friends & we were all pretty lost (literally & figuratively). It was all very new and exciting, but much has changed since that little getaway. After a year of traveling, learning, and immersing myself in the Japanese lifestyle, I felt that I was wanting to do this trip on my own. At the end of the day, this trip allowed me to enjoy my own company, and reflect on my time here in this foreign country (and of course meet some new friends along the way). Perhaps I would notice things that I had not observed before, or perhaps it would give me the chance to open my heart and soul as I get close to saying goodbye.
Hakone will always have a special piece of my heart. This is surely a place I would recommend to anyone who appreciates the delight of nature & a chance to relax and enjoy the beauty of life!
1. Get Your Hakone Free Pass
First thing's first! When you go to Hakone, the cheapest and most convenient way to get around is using the Hakone Free Pass! If you are traveling from the Tokyo area, this pass is especially handy!
To get the Hakone Free Pass, your can start from Shinjuku Station (where they sell the passes). There are various ticket kiosks right outside the Odakyu Line gates, and there will be an option to buy a “Free Pass.” This pass will allow you to travel all around Hakone via the trains, buses, ropeways, and pirate ship for either 2 or 3 days. With the 2-day option (which is what I got), one can travel from Shinjuku Station, all around Hakone, and back to Shinjuku Station for 5140 yen (about $50). At the end of your trip, this pass will have saved you plenty of money!
2. Walk on the Old Tokaido Road
Back in the edo period, The Tokaido Road was utilized as a common link between Tokyo & Kyoto. Hakone was a pretty important checkpoint along the way, and visitors and locals alike have the ability to stand where samurai warriors once stood! It's pretty mind-blowing, I know.
When I visited, we got off the bus way too early & we were left wandering around for quite a bit. After 30 minutes of searching for any signs of human life, we suddenly came across a random tori gate in the middle of nowhere. It caught our attention and we quickly hurried over. It was not long after when we realized that the tattered stone path nearby was the one we were searching for!
3. Explore Hakone Shrine
The Hakone Shrine is one of the most stunning shrines in all of Japan! It is right on the coast of Lake Ashi, and has a spectacular view that will leave you to wonder if you are dreaming. The various subsections of this shrine are woven through the dense greenery, and surely allow one to feel that they are at peace with nature.
It is a peaceful experience to just wander and marvel at the country’s beauty. Especially if this is one of your first Japanese shrine experiences, you will most likely be left in complete awe.
At this shrine, the culture and nature harmoniously live together, and create a scene unlike any other.
4. Sail Lake Ashi on a Pirate Ship
Let’s give some credit where it’s due. Lake Ashi is STUNNING. Quite frankly, I would say that it’s 100% worth it to allot ample time to this exquisite body of water. Mother Nature surely has created something special with this one, and what better place to appreciate it than from inside a pirate ship or plastic swan!? Kayaks and other boats are also available depending on which part of the lake you are at.
Thankfully, if you have a Hakone Free Pass, the fee for the pirate ship is included. During this ride, you will be traveling to your next destination, living out your pirate dreams, & admiring the beautiful view all at the same time!
5. Take a Lunch Break at Bakery & Table
The pirate ship only comes once an hour (this is important to keep in mind if you have a lot planned). If you happen to miss it, you may be out of luck for quite a bit. But do not fret! The best part about wasting time before it arrives, is exploring the local stores. A personal favorite of mine is Bakery & Table! It sits right outside the Pirate Ship port, and has a variety of options to choose from based on the floor level. The first floor is set up like a typical bakery. You can pick your treats to go, and quickly be on your way (Just so you all know, the salted butter roll is my favorite. WOW). However, if you have a little more time to kill, you can even head up to the 2nd or 3rd floor! The second floor has more of a café style where breads, teas, and coffees are served, while the 3rd is a full out restaurant!
6. Eat Black Eggs & Catch a Stunning View of Mt. Fuji
Owakudani is a valley where an insane amount of volcanic activity can be observed. Thick volcanic gases blanket the whole mountainside, and kindly offer the sweet aroma of sulfur (yum). While you are there, you even have the opportunity to eat the famous black eggs! There's nothing to be worried about; Just your average chicken egg, but with a twist. These eggs are boiled in spring water that consist of sulfur and iron from the volcanic activity!
Once you're done eating your egg, you can mozy on over to the edge of the valley. If you look off in the distance, can see Fuji-san peaking out to say "Konichiwa!!!" Mt. Fuji is the most friendly during the winter time because that's when the skies are clearest, but beware that it can get pretty chilly up there!
7. Hakone Open Air Museum
The Open Air Museum is a must see destination while traveling through Hakone! With exhibits that are both indoors and outdoors, there are various art pieces to explore and appreciate. Hakone is an area of Japan with such astounding nature scenes, and this element offers a very unique perspective on the museum layout.
8. Bathe in a Japanese Onsen
After a lengthy day, you may feel absolutely exhausted. Thankfully, Hakone is a very well-known onsen town with plenty of facilities to utilize. The whole area is littered with bath houses, and ryokans galore! What could be better than that? These sites offer both private and public onsens. This is the perfect way to wind down after a thrilling day of exploring this astounding city!
To anyone who decides to visit Hakone, please let me know what you think! It is an absolute dream.