Most first time visitors to Japan seek out Tokyo as their destination without even considering venturing outside of the city’s borders. Even if you only have a day or two to spare, it would be advantageous to visit Hakone-machi, where you can enjoy the spectacular mountain scenery, world-class art museums, traditional ryokans (inns), onsens (hot springs) and get a feel for the Japanese countryside. The town of Hakone located in Kanagawa Prefecture is a popular destination for Japanese and international tourists alike with easy access from Tokyo. During the holidays, the area tends to be quite congested, particularly since Hakone’s focal point, Mount Fuji has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site back in June of 2013. To beat the crowds, plan your trip during the week and enjoy all the town has to offer at a more leisurely pace.
The fastest way to reach Hakone-machi from Tokyo is to take a Tokaido Shinkansen Kodama train from Tokyo to Odawara. From there, you would need to transfer to the Hakone-Tozan Line to reach Hakone-Yumoto. The one-way trip will last approximately one hour.
Hakone-machi is part of the Fuji Hakone Izu National Park. Spanning 474 square miles and incorporating the Yamanashi, Shizuoka and Kanagawa Prefectures, the park consists of Mount Fuji, Fuji Go-ko (Fuji Five Lakes), Hakone-machi, the Izu Peninsula and the Izu Islands.
Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan rising to an elevation of 12,389 feet. Still considered an active volcano, it last erupted in 1708. Mount Fuji’s exceptionally symmetrical cone, which is snow-capped several months a year, is a well-known symbol of Japan, frequently depicted in art and photographs and the object of pilgrimage for centuries.
Fuji Go-ko or the Fuji Five Lakes are situated in an arc around the northern half of Mount Fuji and were formed when the lava flow spread across the area damming up rivers. The five lakes include Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Motosu, Lake Sai, Lake Shoji and Lake Yamanaka. Lake Kawaguchi is the most famous of the five lakes, and its image is usually featured in posters and commercials for the Fuji Five Lakes Region. It is the only lake in the Fuji Five Lakes area that has an island. Lake Motosu is the ninth deepest lake in Japan and along with Lake Sai and Lake Shoji, was formed by lava flowing across what is now known as Aokigahara Jukai Forest. The three lakes remain connected to this day by underground waterways. Lake Yamanaka is the easternmost and largest of the five lakes. Standing at 3215 feet above sea level, it is the third highest lake in Japan.
Of course, no visit to Hakone-machi would be complete without stopping off at one of the many hot springs in the area. More than a dozen springs supply the numerous bath houses and inns with hot water. Travelers to the area for just the day can enjoy bathing in one of the public bath houses or ryokans for a fee. The fees range anywhere from ¥500-2,000. Those who chose to spend the night at one of the inns, can enjoy the onsen without charge.
Lake Ashino, a caldera lake, is known for its great views of Mount Fuji. Several pleasure boats and ferries traverse the lake and visitors can also take advantage of the fishing and hiking opportunities available here.
In addition, Hakone-machi is also home to various museums. The Hakone Open Air Museum, the Narukawa Art Museum for Modern Japanese Paintings, the Pola Museum of Art featuring Western paintings and the Venetian Glass Museum are just a few.
Finally, Hakone Jinja (shrine), located on the south shore of Lake Ashino, is a beautifully picturesque Shinto shrine. Its buildings are hidden by a dense forest but the huge tori (gate) stands prominently in the lake. Take the path which leads from the tori up a series of steps flanked by lanterns through the forest to the main building of the shrine, which sits peacefully among the tall trees. The shrine is beautiful throughout the year and is particularly breathtaking when shrouded in mist.
So be daring and venture beyond Tokyo to take in the sites and natural beauty of Hakone-machi. The memories will stay with you for a lifetime!