Hakone, Japan

Trivia #1: Hakone was the busiest route out of the Edo Five Routes in the Old Tokaido Road
Trivia #2: Hakone is now split into 7 major areas: Yumoto, Miyanoshita, Kowakudani, Gora, Sengokuhara and Lake Ashi
Trivia #3: There are over 20 types of hot springs, including alkali thermal hot springs, sodium springs, sulfuric springs, acidic springs, carbonated springs in Hakone

 

Hakone, located in Kanagawa Prefecture south west of Tokyo, is an idyllic onsen town for travellers who wish to bask in nature’s simple delights. About 85 minutes away from Tokyo (via the “Romance Car” Limited Express), it is a refreshing change for a quick escape from big cities.

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Lake Ashi against the majestic Mt. Fuji backdrop (Photo Credit: Yvonne Z.).

There are many hot spots to view Mt. Fuji, and the more popular ones are the Fuji Five Lakes region and as well as the beautiful town soaked in nature’s pristine beauty, Hakone.

In cities, you see people, trains and shiny buildings. In Hakone, you see trees, rivers and mountains and lots of onsen resorts. Simply put, Hakone is an onsen town with lots of nature for the weary soul to take in.

However, Hakone can get quite touristy with lots of locals and tourists alike seeking a quick break from their hectic lifestyles. Well, fret not, we’re going to cover some off-the-beaten-path travel spots for you.

Hiryo no Taki (Flying Dragon Waterfall)

Early morning trek in the cedar forest. Objective? To reach Hiryo no Taki at the top!

If you’re a nature lover who likes quiet walks in the forest, then don’t miss this simple and straightforward forest trek to Hiryo no Taki. It’s a 65 mins walk up and another 50 mins walk down hill. While most of the nature paths are wide, there are some steep routes, especially the ones nearing the waterfall.

There are no public toilets along the way up except for the very end where you reach Hakone Ashinoyu Flower Center, so you’ll need to ration your water intake for a 2 hour plus trek.

How to get to Hiryu no Taki:
1. From Hakone Yumoto station, board the K Line brown bus and alight at Kami-Hatajuku bus stop (locality photos below).

2. From the bus stop, turn right (ie opposite direction from the restaurant) and cross the road and look out for the Hiryu Falls Nature Trail locality map signboard – that would be your starting point. If you need to use the toilet at this time, there is a restaurant just beside the Kami-Hatajuku bus stop – you will most likely need to purchase something first.

Address: 
KushidaSayo-cho, Sayo-gun 679-5651, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan

Amazake Chaya

After I’m done exploring Hiryu no Taki, I took the bus from Kami-Hatajuku bus stop and alighted at the Amazake Chaya bus stop, where an ancient traditional teahouse awaited me.

Amazake Chaya is located along the Old Tokaido Road that connected the shogun’s capital in Edo (now Tokyo) with the imperial capital in Kyoto.

Being surrounded by the earthen floor and the smoke rising from weathered iron cast pots, one can only imagine how this teahouse (matchaya) was like in its olden days serving weary travellers on their arduous journey.

As the last remaining tea house along the route, having a rejuvenating snack of the lightly sweet Amazake rice drink (made from the same rice for sake; 400 yen) and toasted mochi (3 flavours; 250 yen each) is an experience of a life time, especially in a place over 400 years old. Balm for the weary traveller’s soul, eh?

How to get to Amazake Chaya:
1. From the bus stop at Motohakone (where the pirate ship ends), take bus no 5 and it’ll bring you right to Amazake Chaya.

2. Before you enter the teahouse, be sure to find out when is the last bus back first so you can savour the traditional snacks and tea at your own pace without worrying about missing the last bus back to Hakone station.

Address: 
395-1 Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa Prefecture 250-0314, Japan

Lake Ashi

Coming right up would be Lake Ashinoko, or Lake Ashi as addressed by the locals. As Lake Ashi is more like a transit point for me while I waited for my cruise to cross the lake to Togendai-ko, I spent a brief moment checking out the famed grand tori gate and roaming around the vicinity of the pier section.

Travelling up Lake Ashi, I got off at Togendai-ko and boarded the Hakone Ropeway, leading me to Owakudani, and to Gora station which served as a base for my travel to Gotemba Premium Outlets.

Owakudani (Great Boiling Valley)

The next stop would be Owakudani, a volcanic valley where you get to taste the legendary kuro-tamago (black eggs) in which the egg shells are blackened by the sulphuric minerals from the water.

The locals believe that your life span will be extended by 7 years if one consume the black eggs – I’m so going to check this place out!

Also, when travelling on the Hakone Ropeway to Owakudani, there will be great Mt. Fuji photo opportunities, so do remember get ready to snap away (you might not see Mt. Fuji if the weather is not ideal though).

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Owakudani was created around 3,000 years ago by the explosion of the Hakone volcano. Looking at it from a distance, it sure looks hellish to me with all its sulphuric deposits and rising steams of hot air…Have I entered into Mordor?!

If you’re thinking of trekking around the volcanic valley, you’re in for a disappointment. Due to active volcanic gases (at the time of this visit in March 2018), walking further into Owakudani is strictly forbidden for safety reasons.

Ah. I finally got my hands on the popular kuro-tamago after waiting in the queue for quite a while. Upon peeling off the blackened shells, it appeared just like normal hard boiled eggs, but after a few bites, you will be able to tell the difference – the kuro-tamago tasted slightly more flavourful!

Finally, you can expect to get a good view of Mt. Fuji from the retail outlets area peddling the kuro-tamago eggs.

How to get to Owakudani:
1. Owakudani is accessible by the Hakone Ropeway, and a return trip costs 1,830 yen (Get the Hakone Free Pass for unlimited train/ropeway/bus/ferry rides in Hakone itself)

2. To get to Hakone Ropeway, one convenient travel route would be to travel up Lake Ashi via cruise from either Motohakone-ko or Hakonemachi-ko, get off at Togendai-ko and board the Hakone Ropeway.

Address: 
Hakone-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa-ken 250-0631, Japan

Safety & health advisory on Owakudani:
I recalled seeing a notice advising against visiting Owakudani for people with certain health conditions (pulmonary conditions like asthma, heart conditions, pregnancy, etc.). So, if you have one of these health conditions, it’s not advisable to visit Owakudani. For more details on safety warnings, it is best to get update via the government prefectural website.

Gotemba Premium Outlets

They say that when you’re in Japan, you should shop till you drop right? Well, fret not, even outside of mega city Tokyo, one can still shop to his or her heart’s content – hello Gotemba Premium Outlets!

Consisting of about 210 retail outlets and one of Japan’s largest retail cluster, Gotemba Premium Outlets district is a shopper’s wet dream. Shop your way through an amazing assortment of brands whilst taking in the splendid views of Mt. Fuji as a backdrop. Splendid!

How to get to Gotemba Premium Outlets:
1. Take the train to Gora station
2. Hop on bus to Gotemba (About 40 mins, M Line)

Address: 
1312, Fukasawa, Gotemba-Shi, Shizuoka, Japan, 412-0023

Kamaboko Museum (Suzuhiro Kamaboko)

Kamaboko, a type of Japanese fish cake dating back to the 12th century, is a local delight and you can find various versions of it in your ramen and udon. It can also be served chilled or in hot soup dishes such as oden.

And now, you get to make your own kamaboko! Participants can sign up for one (or more sessions, if you’re a big fish cake fan) of the many options available – fried fish cake, grilled, steamed. Perfect for families with kids!

Apart from the kamaboko workshop, there are quite a number of interactive exhibits (but only in Japanese) to educate museum visitors on the production process of kamaboko. Oh, here’s a tip – want to try more varieties of kamaboko? Simply waltz into the supermarket next door for free samples:)

How to get to the Kamaboko Museum:

1. Take the train or bus from Hakone Yumoto station to Kazamatsuri station.

2. Bus: the bus stop is right in front of the museum. Train: you’ll need to walk for aboout 5 minutes from the Kazamatsuri station.

Address:
245 Kazamatsuri, Suzuhiro Kamaboko VillageOdawara 250-0032, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan

Concluding notes:

Well, if I were to choose between Tokyo and Hakone (since they are right beside each other), it would be Hakone hands down:) I felt totally recharged simply being in a place of nature with all its greenery, good food and huge varieties of top onsen spots.

While Hakone’s close proximity to Tokyo makes it easy enough to visit in one day, however, to truly enjoy Hakone, it is recommended to stay at least 2 nights for a more manageable itinerary. What’s more, due to less than ideal weather conditions, you might not even have a chance to see Mt. Fuji, so, having an extra day or two is strongly recommended if you’re into photography.

Finally, for cost-savings purposes and to maximise your travel experience in this region, you’re better off getting the Hakone Free Pass or the Fuji Hakone Pass, if you want to explore more areas around Mt. Fuji.

Till next time!

Travel Story Contributor:
Daniel Chen
Singapore

Special Photo Credits:
Yvonne Z.
Singapore

 

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