Hakone - Impressive Whatever the Weather!

Welcome to Hakone, the third place I am covering in my series on places to see Mt Fuji (and the last until I do some more travelling)!

Hakone is located in Kanagawa prefecture and apart from the views of Mt Fuji from the ropeway and Lake Ashi it is also famous for hot springs, a railway line so steep it uses switchbacks to get up and down the mountains and being on the historically significant Tokaido road. Wow! There is certainly no shortage of things to do even when the weather does not play nice.
This was a budget minded trip, made almost on a whim to see an exhibition at the Okada Museum of Art, so after 8+ hours travelling with our seishun 18 kippu all the way from Fukui, we arrived at Hakone Yumoto. This is really the gateway town for the area, a wonderful place with plenty of shops to grab souvenirs and a range of onsen to relax in and plenty of support for tourists. We found it a convenient place to stay for our two nights. There is accommodation at all of the stops along the Hakone Tozan line but this was the only place we found hostel type accommodation.

Here is a brief rundown of our activities for the trip.
Day 1: Before arriving into Hakone Yumoto, we stopped for a look around the Odawara castle area. The views would be lovely in fine weather, but if you are visiting another castle during your trip, I'd probably give it a miss. Arriving in Hakone Yumoto, it was rainy and misty and even snowy at the higher altitudes so after some deliberation and a bus mistake, we decided on an early dinner and to soak our weary bodies at the wonderful Tenzan Onsen. 

Day 2: Up and away early to the Okada Museum of Art. This was my reason for travelling to the area and I was not disappointed. It was quite truly one of the most impressive collections of Chinese, Korean and Japanese art I have seen. You can read more about it here. In the afternoon, the weather had not improved so after a rainy wander through the forest and back streets we decided not to visit the open air museum, which looks like it would be great for a sunny day, and headed back down the mountain. We made our way to the Hakone Brewery in Kazamatsuri, sampled a beer and picked up a couple to bring home. Back to Hakone Yumoto, we wandered the shops, found some delicious handmade ramen and relaxed at Hakone-no-Yu onsen. This is not as fancy as Tenzan but is cheaper and great value for money. The weather had finally cleared, it looked like we might see Mt Fuji after all!
Day 3: This was our going home day and we had a lot to fit in before our looong train ride home again. Up early and onto the first train, the weather was good and we were optimistic about seeing Mt Fuji. We were well on the tourist trail now. Arriving in Gora, we transferred to a ropeway and then onto a bus before arriving at Owakidani. In this area you can see various fumaroles and eat the famed black eggs, said to increase your life by seven years. They are black from cooking in the sulfur hot springs and were still warm when we bought them. Oh, yeah, and we saw Mt Fuji! Finally, there it was, mostly...

We could see that it was not going to be clear for long so we took our eggs to go and jumped onto the cable car. The views from the cable car were stunning in every direction. Next was the boat cruise which was cold and windy but quite pretty, Fuji-san had gone back into hiding by this point so we were so glad we'd been up early. Time restrictions and the fact that we wanted to fit in Mishima Skywalk meant that after getting off the boat, we decided not to visit the shrine and instead warm up with our eggs a hot chocolate and some quiet contemplation of the beauty of Lake Ashi.
Black eggs from Owakidani
Reading this I feel like people will wonder why we didn't spend more time around Lake Ashi, it has a lot to offer and is a major tourist draw card. Quite simply, the weather was rubbish. There were loads of things I had thought we would see around the lake area such as walking some of the old Tokaido road but beauty of this area is that even if the weather is rubbish, you don't get to see the elusive Fuji-san and hanging around the lake is windy and unpleasant there are a myriad of other things to do and you won't leave too disappointed. We weren't!

  • If you are planning to spend a couple of days around a Hakone, the Hakone Free Pass is valid on buses, trains, ropeways, cable cars and boats in the area. This was good value for us and gave us the freedom to travel up and down the mountain as much as we liked to make the most of the weather conditions.
  • When you get a free pass, you also get a discount voucher book, it lists heaps of attractions and is a great source for planning what to do.
  • This is a very busy area. The roads are crowded and traffic moves very sloooooowly. Be prepared for lots of people particularly on the cable car/boat route.
  • Many onsen will not admit people with tattoos, check beforehand to avoid disappointment. Tenzan will admit individuals with tattoos but reserves the right not to admit groups of people with tattoos.
  • The shops and restaurants around the Hakone Yumoto station area and Main Street close quite early, if you want a late dinner, your best bet will be to head into the back streets.
  • Just to be clear, you cannot see Mt Fuji from the Hakone Yumoto area, you will need to head to The Owakidani/Lake Ashi area for that.
  • Tourist information for Hakone, available here.

Other options for Mt Fuji spotting include Lake Kawaguchi or if you are short of time, Mishima Skywalk. Follow the links to read about my experiences there. Whichever option you take, enjoy the experience!

Travelling Firefly