Less than an 2 hour train ride from Shinjuku and you'll arrive in Hakone, one of my favourite side trips. Let me show you why you should make the short trip and see an area of Japan rich in history and packed full of exciting experiences.
Please enjoy my 24 hours in Hakone (and over the border in Mishima, Shizuoka). If you've been before I'd love to hear about your favourite spots, and if you are planning to visit please reach out if you have any questions.
11:30am and my adventure starts in Mishima, Shizuoka which is technically not in Hakone but borders it. Mishima Skywalk is Japan’s largest suspension bridge at 400 metres in length, providing panoramic views of Mount Fuji and Suruga Bay (Japan’s deepest bay).
Views of Fuji San are dependant on the weather conditions and unfortunately for me on this day it was only slightly visible. But this did not detract from the experience and gorgeous views at Mishima Skywalk.
There is so much to do and see here - it's not just a suspension bridge with stunning views, there is also a zip line, forest activity course up in the trees, rock climbing and a dog park.
Once you've worked up an appetite, there is a Japanese Curry Restaurant "Mori no Kitchen" serving up Mishima-brand curry made with local Hakone Seiroku Mishima Vegetables and Hakone Sanroku Pork.
Last but definitely not least, be sure to try the milk soft serve. The milk comes from Jersey cows raised under Mount Fuji. The locals claim that these cows are the happiest cows in the world (who wouldn't be with 24 hour views of Mount Fuji), and therefore produce the best milk which results in the best soft serve. I am not willing to say it was the best soft serve I’ve ever had, but it is up there.
Hakone Shrine Torii
A torii is a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of, or within a Shinto shrine, where it symbolically marks the transition from the mundane to the sacred.
I was most looking forward to seeing this as I had seen so many photos online and really wanted to see it for myself. Usually when I have high expectations I am left disappointed - this was not the case at Hakone Shrine. There is something mystical about this location - an eerie yet peaceful serenity came across me, it was as though I was drawn closer to the elements.
There is an orderly line of tourists waiting their turn to take some photos at the shrine and everybody seemed to be in good spirits knowing that their turn would come. Waiting in line allowed for a moment to drown out the noise of the tourists and to take in the beauty of Lake Ashi and Hakone Shrine and in about 40 minutes it was my turn.
My advice is to watch everyone taking their photos and formulate a plan of how you'd like yours to look. If you're a solo traveller it might be good to start a conversation with the people either in front of or behind you, making it more comfortable to ask them to help take your photo when your time arrives. You'll find this isn't uncommon and everybody is friendly and willing to help make your trip to Hakone Shrine as special as theirs.
Hakone Sight Seeing Cruise
It is a short ride from Hakone Shrine to the Hakone-Machi Port where I boarded the Hakone Sight Seeing Cruise which sailed on Lake Ashi towards Hakone Open Air Museum.
At first this looked like a tourist filled boat with no real appeal other than it would get me from A to B. Not long into the cruise I realised the appeal of cruising Lake Ashi - the views are incredible and the lake is cool and calm. The vantage point of looking from the lake back onto Hakone Shrine and the gorgeous tree lined mountain region covered in a blanket of fog was unforgettable.
In good weather you are able to see Mount Fuji, I believe you are more likely to get clear views in the cooler months. I was able to see the famous Hakone Shrine Torii gate, a second smaller Torii gate, and endless natural beauty. There were not many boats on the lake and watching the low lying fog hover above the trees and into the distance made me appreciate being on the water away from the hustle of every day life.
Hakone Open Air Museum
Never had I visited an open air museum before, It took me by surprise. I guess I hadn't really thought through what I was about to see / experience. Open air museums may well be the best way to view artwork. I arrived in the late afternoon about an hour before they closed. I'm not sure I'd want to walk around in the middle of the day in summer so this was great timing (morning I assume would also be fantastic).
Artwork shouldn't be locked up, caged between four walls, it should be free to be seen in daylight amidst natural beauty. Obviously this is not possible in a lot of cases, but I stand strong in my belief that artwork is more enjoyable and more impressive when it can be enjoyed in a beautiful outdoor location. That being said it is not all outdoors, they have a large indoor building which houses around 300 of Picasso's artworks - this is one you probably don't want to miss. There are also Exhibition halls rotating various artists’ works, along with a cafe and gift store.
This photo is of the Symphonic Sculpture by Gabriel Loire. An 18 meter tall tower is decorated with coloured stained glass which creates a different mood and hue depending on the sunlight. Walk up the tower enjoying the array of colours and shapes until you reach the lookout at the top.
Off to my Ryokan for dinner and some much needed rest.
Amazake Chaya tea House
Good morning! let's step back in time for a moment, this is as much a history lesson as it is a break for a drink and some food.
Amazake-chaya has been serving travellers for over 360 years. imagine who may have passed through here for a break whilst they walked from Edo (now Tokyo) to Kyoto (which took about 20 days) or vice versa.
They still serve amazake, which is a traditional sweet, low-alcohol (can also be zero alcohol) Japanese drink made from fermented rice. It is believed to be very nutritious, containing vitamin B1, B2, B6, folic acid, dietary fibre, oligosaccharide, cysteine, arginine and glutamine. I am told it was served to travellers as it was a good source of energy and sustenance, which they clearly needed for such a long, grueling walk.
They also sell mochi, and have added kakigori to the menu. You can reach Amazake Chaya by taking the bus, or by walking along the Old Hakone Highway.
Hakone Yuryo Onsen (Hot Spring)
The perfect way to end a fun filled 24 hours in Hakone is relaxing in an onsen. I was lucky enough to spend 90 minutes in a private onsen at Hakone Yuryo. After I finished taking photos and video footage, I sat back and took in the tranquil experience of having an onsen all to myself.
The water is geo-thermally heated beneath the ground and rises to the surface bubbling hot. The prerequisites of an official onsen are that the water must contain at least one of the 19 designated chemical elements that naturally occur in hot spring water, and it must be at least 25 degrees celsius when it comes out of the ground.
Normally I am in a public onsen - yes you have to walk around naked with strangers (note: there are no unisex onsens for obvious reasons), but once you get used to the idea they are therapeutic and relaxing. I especially enjoy the onsens that have the freezing cold pool as well as the hot spring - its refreshing to have a torturously cold bath in between hot springs.
Japanese take their onsens very seriously and you should abide by the rules when visiting. Usually you'll be given an information sheet detailing how you should use an onsen. Firstly you must be naked, you must shower prior to entering the onsen (there is always a shower area with a little stool to sit on), you are given a small towel which can be used for washing (this towel should not enter the bath at any point), and if you have tattoos you most likely will not be allowed to enter.
I used the Hakone 2 day free pass for transport to and from these places. It is useful on different modes of transport in the Hakone area (including Mishima Skywalk). From Odawara it was 4600 Yen, from Shinjuku it is 5700 Yen. Along with the 2 days’ worth of transport it also allows you discounts at some museums (including Hakone Open Air Museum).
Note: This was a sponsored trip to Japan, however this blog post was not sponsored and is an independent review by "Itd be rude not to".