Hakone is a must for many travellers and for good reason, home to lake Ashi, onsens and spectacular views of Mt Fuji this is an area that is rich in history and packs a punch for people wanting a whole lot of quintessential Japan experiences in a short timeframe. Even better, with the Hakone Free Pass in can be done on a budget.
The Hakone Freepass can be purchased for two or three days and varies in price depending on the starting point you choose. Those coming from Tokyo and not using a JR rail pass will probably be best served with the Pass that includes a round trip from Shinjuku. In fact, plan your visit here so that it does not use rail pass days as beyond Odawara you will not use JR services in the Hakone area.
Prices for the Hakone Free Pass as of July 2017 are as follows
From Shinjuku 2 days - Y5140, 3 days - Y5640
From Machida 2 days - Y4820, 3 days - Y5320
From Odawara 2 days - Y4000, 3 days - Y4500
So what does the Hakone Free Pass provide?
With the exception of any round trip from Shinjuku or Machida, which can only be taken once, beyond Odawara (the gateway to the Hakone region) it is a hop on hop off pass for 7 different transport systems that will get you everywhere you want to go in the area.
Hakone Tozan Bus
This is the major transport network for the area, linking up attractions from Odawara to Hakone, Gotemba and Numazu. The main bus terminal is just by the Hakone Yumoto train station and is very tourist friendly. The signage is quite clear and there are staff to direct you to the correct bus. The information booklet that comes with your Free Pass also lists the buses to catch to visit each attraction.
Hakone Tozan Train
An alternative to buses to head up the mountains to Gora where the cable car departs, the train is a tourist attraction itself. So steep is the land here that the train must use a number of switchbacks to manage the grade. No need to panic when you start heading the opposite direction in the middle of your ride! The views from the train are quite spectacular as the track is lined with hydrangea which bloom in summer and the autumn leaves are spectacular also.
Hakone Tozan Cable Car
A short but very step ride, the cable car connects agora, the end of the train line with Sounzan Station, the beginning of the Hakone Ropeway. The are stops to explore between Gora and Sounzan including the Hakone Museum of Art and its beautiful moss garden.
From Sounzan Station to Togendai on the shores of Lake Ashi the Ropeway provides spectacular views of the surrounding landscape and hopefully Mt Fuji. Stop off at Owakidani on the way to experience the volcanic activity and pick up a snack (or make it a budget lunch) of the famed black eggs said to increase your life by 7 years.
Hakone Sightseeing Cruise
Make your way across Lake Ashi on this sightseeing cruise. As with all other forms of transport, it's hop on hop off so explore the Hakone-Mach and Motohakone areas until your heart is content.
Numazu Tozan Tokai Bus
Thisbus will get you a little further afield to the Mishima Skywalk
and all the way to the Mishima Station. Useful if you have just purchased a pass from Odawara and plan to travel further south after visiting the Hakone area.
Odakyu Hakone Highway Bus - an alternative to taking a train from Shinjuku and also useful for getting from Hakone Togendai to the Gotemba outlets should you hear the shops beckoning.
But is the price worth it?
Yes, a great big resounding yes. Even doing the most basic of loops from Odawara to Hakone Yumoto, train up to Gora, taking the cable car, ropeway, sightseeing cruise and then a bus back from Motohakone to Hakone Yumoto you will have used transport to the value of more than the cost of the pass. And that is not accounting for any other side trips you might do or your next 1-2 days of exploration. This pass is definitely value for money.
Can really enjoy the area on a budget?
Absolutely. The natural beauty of this area is its biggest draw card and that’s free! Onsen visits do not have to be expensive, your accommodation may even provide discount vouchers if they do not have an onsen of their own. There are many, many attractions in the area including some top class museums and galleries and the Free Pass entitles holders to discounts at many of these. Plus with the freedom of the Hakone Free Pass you can seek out cheaper accommodation in Odawara without increasing your transport costs getting to the sights you want to see during the day. What’s not to love?