If it’s hot springs you want to enjoy in Japan, Hakone sits at the top of the list. With the advantage of being close to Tokyo, it has long been famed as one of Japan’s foremost hot spring regions, attracting illustrious personages such as Winston Churchill, Helen Keller, Charlie Chaplin, Clint Eastwood and John Lennon over the years.
Hakone’s charms are not limited to hot springs – it is also home to multiple shrines and art galleries, and offers views of the magnificent Mt. Fuji and nature’s seasonal wonders. As it has been a key traffic junction since ancient times, there are many appealing sightseeing spots located nearby. Here we introduce some of those main attractions, and two other areas we recommend including in your tour to Hakone – Gotemba and Mishima.
Enjoy magnificent nature and art in perennially popular Hakone
Hakone lies approximately 80 km southwest of Tokyo. If you climb aboard the Odakyu Electric Railway’s Limited Express Romancecar at Shinjuku (a massive terminal known for being the busiest in the world) it is about an 80-minute journey to reach Hakone-Yumoto Station, the main gateway for sightseeing in Hakone.
Hakone is home to 17 hot spring resorts of differing sizes and spring types clustered within an area of approximately 10 square kilometers.
There are 20 or so different types of hot spring waters to enjoy, including simple alkaline hot springs said to be good for alleviating fatigue and promoting health, common salt springs (sodium-chloride springs) believed to be beneficial for the skin, and sulphated bitter springs (calcium-sulphate springs) said to boost peripheral nervous system function and improve circulation.
Visitors to the hot springs can either stay overnight or use day stay bathing facilities. Since around 20 million visitors make the trip to Hakone each year, there are approximately 400 accommodation options to choose from.
Those choosing to stay can select a place according to their objective and budget, with options ranging from generations-old traditional Japanese-style inns dating back 400 years and hotels patronized by the world’s royalty to brand new accommodations such as Hakone Yutowa which opened in 2019.
Quite apart from hot springs, this area boasts countless sightseeing spots. The journey from Hakone-Yumoto Station to Hakone’s tourism hub, Gora Station, takes about 30 minutes. (Due to the typhoon in 2019, Hakone Tozan Train services operating between Hakone-Yumoto Station and Gora Station have been suspended for the long term and a substitute bus service is running.)
Hakone is also famous for art appreciation opportunities, and is home to multiple art galleries. Of these, The Hakone Open-Air Museum is popular amongst both Japanese and international visitors as an art museum that gives visitors a chance to engage with sculptures by the likes of Auguste Rodin in a natural outdoor setting.
But amazing though the art is, the natural scenery rivals it. Views of Mt. Fuji from Lake Ashi, in particular, are some of Hakone’s most magnificent prospects, as are views from the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise. The sight of the Hakone Shrine’s torii gate rising up out of the lake has an otherworldly charm.
At Owakudani, known as “Valley of Hell” or “Vast Hell” in ancient times, visitors can watch plumes of white smoke shoot up from the stark ground in a close-up experience of volcanic activity.
Travel via the Gotemba area, and enjoy Mt. Fuji and a popular outlet mall
When travelling from Tokyo, taking the Odawara route to Hakone is one good option, but we also recommend the Gotemba route. This route also departs from Shinjuku Station and wends its way toward Gotemba in a journey of approximately one hour and 40 minutes on Odakyu Electric Railway’s Limited Express Romancecar.
Gotemba is situated at the halfway point between Hakone and Mt. Fuji, offering visitors easy access to both locations. Not only that, visitors also have the chance to shop at one of Japan’s most famous outlet malls, Gotemba Premium Outlets®, a complex containing around 210 stores (a new area boasting an additional 88 stores is scheduled to open on April 16, 2020).
At Gotemba Premium Outlets®, around 80% of the shops offer duty-free shopping, and tourists can also obtain a discount coupon from posters within the mall. Staff at the Welcome Center can respond to queries in both English and Chinese, and since a free telephone interpreting service is available in eight languages, there’s no need to worry about difficulties while actually shopping.
Also located in the grounds of Gotemba Premium Outlets® is Hotel Clad, a facility that opened in December 2019. More than half of its rooms offer views of Mt. Fuji, and since Gotemba is closer to Mt. Fuji than Hakone, the scenery is particularly dramatic.
Next door to the hotel is Konohana no Yu, a day-stay hot spring facility that hotel guests can use for free. The hotel’s reasonable rates are another attractive feature.
From Gotemba Premium Outlets® it is a bus ride of around 40 minutes to Hakone’s sightseeing hub, Gora Station. A free shuttle bus runs between Gotemba Station and Gotemba Premium Outlets®.
If you’re coming from the Kyoto or Osaka direction, we recommend a stop in the Mishima region
Another area we recommend you include in a tour of Hakone is Mishima. Since the shinkansen stops in Mishima, travelling to Hakone via Mishima is convenient not only for those from Tokyo but also from Osaka, Nagoya and other locations in the west too.
Located in the center of Mishima is the Mishima Taisha shrine, home to a tea olive with an estimated age of 1,200 years as well as 200 cherry blossom trees of 15 different types that line the approach to the main shrine. In spring, when the trees are in bloom (between around late March and early April), the trees are illuminated by street lights.
Mishima is also famous for its eel, or unagi dishes. The secret to the delicious flavor lies in soaking the eels in Mt. Fuji’s subsoil water to eliminate the earthy smell and taste. There are many different eel restaurants, including some that date back over 100 years, and every local has their own favorite one.
Another place you won’t want to miss is the Mishima Skywalk, located halfway between Hakone and Mishima.
At a length of 400 meters, it is Japan’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge and offers panoramic views out toward Mt. Fuji and Suruga Bay. Visitors can enjoy a raft of other exhilarating activities in the vast natural environment, including the high-speed long zip line that runs 560 meters return, the ropes courses where participants jump from tree to tree in the forest, and the quad bikes that let riders zip through the trees.
At the restaurants and cafés within the complex, visitors can savor items such as dishes made with Mishima brand vegetables and pork, and rich soft-serve ice cream made of raw milk from cows raised in the foothills of Mt. Fuji.
From Mishima Station, visitors can catch buses for Hakonemachi-ko port, the departure and arrival point for the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise. The bus ride takes approximately 45 minutes, and stops at the Mishima Skywalk en route.
Use the Hakone Freepass, and ride almost everywhere for free
A popular tourist spot, Hakone is full of attractions, but tweaking your itinerary to include Gotemba and Mishima will add something special to your trip, and is recommended for those who are making a return visit.
As for transport in these three areas, we suggest using the Hakone Freepass. Eight different public transport options within the area are free with this pass, and holders receive special discounts on things like entry fees at around 70 different spots.
For travel between the Tokyo region and Hakone, the Romancecar offers comfort and ease. All seating is reserved, and the seats are a generous width. Book the observation deck seating available in some carriages and get a sense of being the train driver, or try the semi-private saloon seating that offers a strong sense of privacy. Why not reduce the stress of traveling where you can, and enjoy your holiday in Hakone to the utmost?
Hakone | Japan Travel | JNTO
Odakyu Electric Railway (Hakone Freepass, Odakyu Limited Express Romancecar)
Address: 1312 Fukasawa, Gotemba-shi, Shizuoka
Gotemba Premium Outlets®
Address: 1312 Fukasawa, Gotemba-shi, Shizuoka
Address: 2839-1 Fukasawa, Gotemba-shi, Shizuoka