2021 NO.31


Strolling JapanStrolling Japan


Traditional traveler’s rest spot with hot springs and historic sites

Nestled in a majestic landscape dotted with bubbling hot springs, Hakone has long been a haven for weary travelers.
One of Japan’s leading resort areas, located not far from Tokyo, Hakone is an ideal spot to unwind and reset.

Photos: Osaka Satoshi, Aflo, PIXTA, shutterstock

Lake Ashinoko, Hakone’s most famous sightseeing spot, offers views of Mt. Fuji on clear days. Connecting the lake’s four ports, the sightseeing boat offers views of the Hakone Shrine torii gate.

Hakone has developed over the centuries as a staging post and inn town along the Old Tokaido Road, a major route which connected Edo (modern-day Tokyo) and Kyoto. The steep mountain passes near Hakone were considered the most difficult section of the roadway, but this very same geological feature also offers abundant access to hot spring waters, making the area one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan to this day.

The Hakone Daimyo Gyoretsu, an annual procession of people dressed as daimyo, or regional samurai lords, is held in November. The festival is a reenactment of the processions of daimyo and their retinues that travelled back and forth between Edo and their home provinces.

The last stop on the limited express from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, is Hakone-Yumoto Station. From here, a number of trains and buses are available to take passengers further, but you might prefer to experience the Hakone Tozan Railway as it zigzags its way up the mountain slopes.

A great place to begin a Hakone visit is the area around Lake Ashinoko. Among the many historic sites here are Hakone Shrine, which has been a destination for Shinto worshipers since the 8th century, and Hakone Sekisho, a faithful reproduction of a 17th century inspection station set up to monitor travelers along the road. On a clear day, a lake cruise also offers great views of Mt. Fuji in the distance. Lake Ashinoko also marks the halfway point in the Tokyo-Hakone Round-Trip College Ekiden Race, a New Year’s tradition in Japan.

Hakone Tozan Railway powerfully climbs the steep mountain tracks. Passengers enjoy views of seasonal flowers from the windows.
Photo courtesy of Hakone Tozan Railway

Hakone Shrine boasts over 1,200 years of history.

Another of Hakone’s charms is its many museums. Japan’s first outdoor museum, the Hakone Open-Air Museum, is located here. At the museum, visitors are free to roam among sculptures out in the fresh air or play with interactive exhibits, making a great day of fun for children and adults alike!

If you are a lover of Eastern art, Okada Museum of Art, established in 2013 is the place to go. The museum boasts a collection of some 450 works, mostly early modern and modern Japanese paintings and East Asian ceramics made around the 17-20th century. Many of the beautiful works on display here have been designated National Treasures of Japan. The massive mural, Fujin Raijin-zu (“Wind God and Thunder God”), 12m high and 30m wide, is particularly awe-inspiring in both size and grandeur.

Art installations stand in scenic natural surroundings at Hakone Open-Air Museum.
Photo courtesy of Hakone Open-Air Museum

Resting at the footbath in front of the Okada Museum of Art is a great way to appreciate Kaze Toki (“Wind and Time”), a massive mural by Japanese painter Fukui Kotaro. Chocolates decorated with ukiyo-e woodblock motifs are a popular item at the museum gift shop (as of October 2021).