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el2995 Hakone - A travel report by USC
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Hakone,  Japan - flag Japan -  Kanagawa
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el2995's travel reports

A Trip to Hakone

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The town of Hakone-En.
The town of Hakone-En.
Hakone is perhaps the most famous National Park and resort area in Japan, equivalent to America's Yellowstone. It is situated amid the scenic volcanic mountains and deep green forests of Mt. Fuji’s Five Lakes region on Lake Ashi. It is said to offer one of the best views of Mt. Fuji out across the lake, though I can’t vouch for that as the cloud cover was so thick that I could see Mt. Fuji despite that fact that this was the closest I would ever come to it. You’ll encounter a lot of domestic tourists, as the park is both popular and easily accessible; this could complicate lodging, as it did for me. [Update 17 November 2011 - I was able to find some old negatives from my Japan trip in the garage and scan some to finally add to this report.]



Favourite spots:
The red torii gate at Hakone-En.
The red torii gate at Hakone-En.
Despite the crowds, Hakone is rather peaceful and decidedly scenic. Though I didn’t partake, the spas are a big draw. A lot of people fish on the lake and there were a variety of rental facilities for fishing gear and boats. A ferry makes it easy to get around the lake, though a number of buses are available to take you overland. The town of Hakone-En seems to contain the main ferry terminal, and is home to a freshwater aquarium, numerous craft shops, and a rather photogenic red Torii (gate) out on the water not far from the terminal.

What's really great:
A gloomy view of Lake Ashi from Hakone-Machi.
A gloomy view of Lake Ashi from Hakone-Machi.
The most enjoyable part of the journey to Hakone is the journey itself. From Kyoto, you go by Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Odawara and then transfer to what is referred to as the Mountain-Climbing Train, which works its way up the mountain via a series of switchbacks up to the small town of Gora; it affords a good view of the lushly-forested slope and a scenic river that briefly parallels the track at the base, in addition to some relief from the sweltering heat. From there, you switch to a cable car that further ascends the slope at about a 45-degree angle. Next is the Hakone Ropeway, which takes you over the mountain ridge and provides the view of the Owakudani (Valley of Great Boiling) steam vents and a whiff of sulfur vapors to boot. At the north end of Lake Ashi at the town of Togendai you switch to a boat that’s fashioned after an old sailing ship for the trip to the south end and the town of Hakone-Machi.

Sights:
Walking path and garden at Hakone-En.
Walking path and garden at Hakone-En.
There were some nice gardens and walking paths around Hakone-En. Though I didn't check it out, there is said to be a remote but interesting spa in Ubako (which lies beneath the path of the ropeway between Owakudani and Togendai) that offers some of the best mountain views in the area when the weather allows. I would have liked to have visited the freshwater aquarium in Hakone-En, but my backpack was too big for the storage lockers and was not allowed inside the aquarium.

Accommodations:
My Ryokan in Hakone-Machi.
My Ryokan in Hakone-Machi.
I found a modest ryokan (the name escapes me, but it’s at the very southern end of the lake) in Hakone-Machi, though I could only get it for one night for a mere 5000 Yen. The tradition tatami room and Japanese décor made my brief stay enjoyable, as did the traditional Japanese breakfast (sunny-side up egg over rice, clear broth with seaweed, pickled eggplant, fresh tomatoes and green tea.) The small bath was far too hot for my tastes, and I only went in up to my ankles. The owner also runs a rental shop and offers fishing packages. I was surprised to see a stuffed pheasant mounted on the wall and a double-barreled shotgun displayed, as I thought they were illegal; apparently, it is possible to possess long arms for sport after a length licensing process. I spent the entire next day in vain looking for a second night’s lodging, and ended up finding a businessman’s hotel down in the city of Mishima (also 5000 Yen).

Restaurants:
Scenery around Hakone.
Scenery around Hakone.
I had dinner at a restaurant located near the Hakone-Machi dock, but don't recall the name of it.

Other recommendations:
Mishima has a zoo that I did go to. Gotemba is right at the base of Mt. Fuji, but I didn’t go because of the cloud cover and the fear of no lodging.

Published on Friday September 6th, 2002


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