(UPDATED – November 1, 2018)
Hakone is highly recommended if you’re spending a few days in Tokyo with very limited time to see the countryside.
A municipality in the Kanagawa Prefecture, Hakone is famous for Lake Ashi, onsen (hot spring), and as a spot from where to view Mt. Fuji. It is so popular that, according to the Wall Street Journal, 20 million tourists visit the destination every year!
To get there, you can buy tickets a la carte or purchase any of the three packages:
- Hakone Freepass
- Fuji Hakone Pass
- Hakone-Kamamura Pass
The Hakone Freepass, which can be bought at Shinjuku Station, is a packaged, discounted roundtrip ticket via Odakyu line between Shinjuku and Hakone. It also includes transportation within the destination (bus, sightseeing cruise, ropeway, and cable car) and complimentary or discounted entrance to Hakone’s attractions.
As of November 2018, the Hakone Freepass cost Y5,140 (2-day pass) and Y5,640 (3-day pass). Buy from Odakyu Sightseeing Service centers, ticket vending machine or the Odakyu Travel center at Shinjuku.
The Hakone Freepass is for travelers who have limited time to go outside of Tokyo. It’s one of the most popular side trips available.
Fuji Hakone Pass
The Fuji Hakone Pass, meanwhile, includes access to Hakone and the Fuji Five Lakes. You can see Mt. Fuji from both Hakone and the five lakes area, but the latter provides a close-up view of the legendary mountain. The Fuji Hakone Pass is valid for 3 days and cost Y8,000. Buy from Odakyu Sightseeing Service centers, ticket vending machine or the Odakyu Travel center at Shinjuku.
As an assessment, the Fuji Hakone Pass is perfect for travelers wanting to tour the foot of Mt. Fuji. The Five Lakes offer a variety of natural and also adventure experiences, especially with Fuji-Q Highland located within this area.
Hakone Kamamura Pass
On top of Hakone, this pass provides access to Kamamura, the location of the Great Buddha, a number of temples and natural sceneries. You can purchase your ticket online here.
Between Fuji Hakone and Hakone Kamamura, the latter provides access to a different site of Japan beyond the shadow of Mt. Fuji. The Great Buddha is particularly a popular site to visit.
Day tour of Hakone
If you’re not on a hurry, note that the Hakone Freepass ticket is valid for a few days. You can stay for a night in Hakone and return to Shinjuku using the ticket the next day. Hakone has several attractions spread out in various transport routes, perfect for travelers who prefer immersion in a destination.
Once you’ve arrived in Hakone-Yumoto station, you can choose how you’ll explore Hakone by following various routes.
We chose the itinerary mostly taken by tourists: Hakone-Yumoto to Motohakone-ko by bus, sightseeing cruise to Togendai-ko, ropeway to Sounzan, cable car to Gora, and a train ride back to Hakone-Yumoto.
Download the Hakone itinerary map here.
The bus going to Motohakone-ko takes about 40 minutes. From here we walked and passed by attractions like the Ancient Cedar Avenue and the historic Hakone Checkpoint. Mt. Fuji would have been a marvel in autumn, but it hid behind the clouds throughout the day.
Tip: If you’re lucky as we were not, you would be able to see Mt. Fuji from Hakone. Otherwise, you need to visit the Fuji Five Lakes for a close-up view of the legendary mountain.
Upon arriving in Hakone-Machi-ko pier (the pier right after Motohakone-ko), we rode the sightseeing cruise traversing Lake Ashi, a crater lake. While the ships look medieval, they were built with state-of-the-art capabilities that make them convenient to the general public. For instance, the Victory ship has its own elevator and fixed LCD screens which travelers can refer to track the ship’s path.
The sightseeing cruise is typically followed by the ropeway that begins in Togendai-ko. Unfortunately, only a part of the ropeway system is navigable since the rest has been closed due to volcanic activity. The facility’s management offers a regular bus transfer to Sounzan, which is supposedly the last station of the ropeway.
Here in Sounzan we met Gora-san, barista/owner of Cafe Ryusenkei, what could be the smallest cafe in Hakone. Gora-san was a music industry executive when he decided to brew coffee for a living.
Converting an old train car into a cafe, his shop occupies a space on a parking lot with a 180-degree view of Tokyo Bay. While you’d find some familiar favorites on his menu, he only sells a few specialty coffee items: one full-bodied and bitter, and a blend with bright acidity, clear and smooth.
An advantage of having the Hakone Freepass is complimentary entrance to some attractions such as the Hakone Gora Park. From Sounzan, we dropped off in one of the stations of the cable car to historic park — Japan’s first French-style garden.
Hakone transforms each season, and it is picturesque year-round. While autumn was just beginning in Tokyo when we arrived in mid-November, the trees were already in full orange bloom by the time we came to Hakone (autumn came much earlier in Mt. Fuji).
While Mt. Fuji hid behind the clouds, Hakone more than made up for it!