Hakone and Mt. Fuji
Just fifty seven miles southwest of
Tokyo is the lovely little spar town of
Hakone. This is the next stop on our
journey around Japan. Hakone is located
in the mountainous far west of the
prefecture county, on the eastern side
of the Hakone Pass. Most of the town is
within the borders of the volcanically
active Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park,
centered on Lake Ashi. To get there from
Tokyo it is just a quick subway and high
speed train ride away. It is a typical
Japanese train trip; you will not have
to wait more than a few minutes for the
For hundreds of years Tokyo
inhabitants have frequented the small
resort and spa town of Hakone. Because
of its proximity to the volcanic Mt.
Fuji the town has many hot springs. What
makes Hakone's hot springs unique is the
radon! Radon is a radioactive gas that
the locals claim is a cure-all. Hakone
is also very close to Lake Ashi, which
is a beautiful blue high mountain lake.
The views from the lake with Mt. Fuji in
the background and steam rising from the
volcanic surrounds are simply
spectacular. Sights include the
volcanically active Owakudani geysers
and the Hakone Shrine on the shore of
the lake, as well as the Hakone
Botanical Garden of Wetlands. In April
the cherry blossoms and in autumn the
Miscanthus sinensis are noted sights.
Hakone has a number of art museums,
including the Hakone Open-Air Museum.
Major events include the annual Hakone
Ekiden. This is a long distance foot
race held at the New Year that runs from
Tokyo to Hakone and back over two days.
The town has many hotels from
traditional Ryokans to more modern fair.
One famous hotel in Hakone is the
historic Fujiya Hotel in Miyanoshita.
However, for the full experience try a
Ryokan hotel. These traditional Japanese
hotels have one large room; with no bed
just a Tatami mat on the floor. You move
the floor level table (there are no
seats as you sit on the floor) and roll
out a futon bed to sleep on. These
hotels usually supply guests with a
Kimono and slippers that all guests wear
to dinner while in the hotel.
A typical day in Hakone might be:
wake up early after sleeping on your
futon on the floor. Enjoy a morning
onsen and then eat a scrumptious
breakfast. Take a short walk to the
train station to ride the little train
that will take you deeper into the
Hakone valley. Because of the steepness
of the terrain the track has many
switch-backs and tunnels, which make it
a very scenic trip to the Gora station.
From here take a funicular train up a
steep hill to the first stop Sounzan
station. Here you can walk up a sheer
(in winter) snow covered path for two
hours to the summit of Mt. Soun. If you
do it at this time of the year take
crampons for your boots to maintain
traction on the slippery track. This
hike offers spectacular views of the
Hakone valley and the piece de
rÃ©sistance is the view of Mt Fuji. The
area is volcanic and walking up to the
top you will smell sulfurous vapors from
time to time. On the way down the other
side of the mountain you will see
steaming vents of gas coming out of the
earth. The ground is warm to touch in
some places although covered in snow in
others. It is a strange and otherworldly
place. Once you complete the hike you
can continue via gondola to Lake Ashi.
There you will see strange reproductions
of galleon-ships, all very kitsch.
However, the lake offers magnificent
views of Mt Fuji.
Video from Hakone
Join me on our next stop on our trip