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Hakone and Mt. Fuji

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 next train.

Lake Ashi

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.

A Temple

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.

Mt Fuji

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 résistance 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 around Japan.


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