Competition for the most beautiful region of Japan is fierce but Hakone is a serious contender.
Hakone lies within the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park comprising the beautiful landscape of Lake Ashinoko, Mount Fuji and some of the best onsen towns you’ll ever visit. The Hakone region itself is made up of seven hot-spring towns, each with their own unique characteristics and charm.
The main gateway to Hakone for many visitors is Hakone-Yumoto. This touristy town is defined by its red bridge, waterfalls and natural appeal that transcends the seasons. It’s also a major stop on the Hakone-Tozan Railway, which is essentially Japan’s answer to the Hogwarts Express.
Instead of weaving your way through the Scottish highlands though, you’ll find yourself transported into luscious Japanese forests, careening between some of the world’s most striking volcanic zones.
Lake Ashinoko is a prime example. As a caldera lake formed during an almighty eruption from Mount Hakone over 3000 years ago, its violent beginnings have lead to one of the prime sightseeing spots in Japan. Behind its famous red tori gate on the lake shore, those lucky enough to pick a clear day will be able to see unparalleled views of Mount Fuji.
If you want to get more up-close and personal with a volcano, take a day trip to Owakudani. There are many hiking trails and ropeways allowing visitors to properly explore the area.
If you’re not a fan of sulphurous fumes, Susuki-sogen (or silver grass field) in Sengokuharae is a photogenic area of the countryside where you can explore nature in respiratory comfort. Gora, an onsen town that has five different kinds of hot-springs, is also a place of deep relaxation. Hop from onsen to onsen and soak in the mineral-rich waters. Throughout the Hakone region, onsen can be found almost anywhere. Even the most budget of hostels can come with a refreshing indoor and outdoor onsen.
A favourite of imperial families both past and present, Hakone has always attracted people and areas of historical significance. His imperial highness and co. often visited Hakone during the summer months, with Hakone’s Detached Palace Garden built as a resort for the higher classes boasting a stunning array of nature and magnificent views of Fuji.
Religious monuments like Hakone Shrine and Choanji Temple are well worth the goshuinchou (temple book) stamp. Hakone-Machi was once one of the main routes along an ancient highway linking Eastern and Western Japan and therefore has the stunning Hakone Checkpoint. Slightly further out in Odawara is Odawara Castle, a fine specimen of a castle that historically dates back to Japan’s 15th century (although it has been rebuilt and restored many times). Hakone also has many art museums such as the Hakone Open Air Museum and Okada Museum of Art.