Since it’s Mothers’ Day today, here is the long delayed trip report of my girls’ trip to Hakone with Mummy dearest back in 2015. Hakone is one of the most popular Mount Fuji viewing areas near Tokyo due to its accessibility and onsens (hot springs). If you like cool weather like we do, Hakone is also a great way to escape the Tokyo heat due to the altitude. You can visit Hakone from Tokyo as a day trip, or a 2D1N side trip like I did, with an overnight stay at a traditional Japanese onsen hotel.
Odawara station is the main gateway to the Hakone region by train transport (about 1.5h by train from Shinjuku). For tourists, the most convenient option is to get the Hakone freepass which allows you to take any of the public transport options in the Hakone area. The recommended route for first timers is the Hakone Loop which offers several opportunities to see Mount Fuji, as well as other points of interest. The other selling point of this loop is that you get to experience a variety of transport options including bus, ferry, ropeway, funicular and train (see photos below).
Note: There are other more direct (and cheaper) ways to reach Hakone if you just want to stay at an onsen hotel without doing the tourist loop.
[Day 4: Shinjuku to Hakone Yumoto via Odawara (train, 2h)]
We started our journey from Shinjuku where we had been staying in Tokyo. You can just buy tickets on the actual day from the Odakyu counter in Shinjuku station. If you are in a hurry, you can opt for the posh “Romancecar” for an additional JPY890/one way, which gets you a reserved seat and saves you maybe 30-50 min depending on timing of transfers.
The posh train (Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto direct 1.5h)
Our not-posh train (Shinjuku to Odawara 1.5h)
Transfer to older style train at Odawara station (additional 0.5h to Hakone Yumoto)
Hakone-Yumoto station is the start of the recommended Hakone Loop. You have the choice to do it clockwise or counter clockwise. As we could only check into our hotel after 3pm, I chose to do it counter-clockwise, thereby finishing the longer part of the loop before reaching our hotel at Kami-Gora station.
[Day 4: Hakone Yumoto to Hakone Machi-ko (Bus 45min excluding stops)]
Once at Hakone-Yumoto station, we crossed the road to the bus terminal to transfer to a bus that would bring us to Lake Ashi. The buses run at half hour intervals, but if you miss the bus you can always browse the souvenir shops near the bus terminal or have a snack.
Souvenir shops at Hakone Yumoto station
Hakone Yumoto station- Bus terminal
Hakone Yumoto station- Take bus K to the ferry pier
As you can see from the picture below, the bus is a normal squeezy type, so if you have big luggage there is no place to put it. It is highly recommended to Ta-Q-Bin your big bags directly to your hotel so you can get on and off at any of the stops along the way to sightsee (see my blog post on how to do this).
Hakone Yumoto station- Bus (inside)
Our first sightseeing stop along the bus route was a bit of a non-event as I originally wanted to visit Kanazashi woodcraft but went to the wrong shop. I alighted at the correct bus stop but ended up at 金指寄せ木工芸館 across the road instead of 金指ウッドクラフト直売店 which is on the same side as the bus stop, as I did not have internet access to consult Google maps. Same same but different?
Random woodcraft shop- outside
Random woodcraft shop- inside
Random woodcraft shop- Bought some handmade chopstick holders (JPY550 each)
After buying some souvenirs (from the wrong shop) we boarded the bus again and stopped at Amasake Chaya after about 10 minutes’ ride. Luckily there is only one building at this bus stop, so no confusion this time 😛 For those we have never tried amasake, you should consider stopping at this charming teahouse in the cool forest.
Amasake Chaya 甘酒茶屋
English Menu: No
Nearest bus stop: Amasake Chaya along K bus route
Teahouse- bus stop
Teahouse- Immersed in nature
Teahouse- Wooden interior
There is no English menu here but the owner (or manager?) speaks English. Amasake is a drink made from fermented rice and served warm, perfect for a rainy day like this. Unlike sake, there is little or no alcohol (so sad). The teahouse also serves toasted mochi with a choice of 3 flavours- sweet, soy sauce and sesame.
Teahouse- Mochi with black sesame (JPY250 each)
Teahouse- Amazake (JPY400 each)
[Day 4: Hakone Machi-ko to Togendai-ko (Ferry 50min)]
You can usually board the ferry at Motohakone-ko pier, but due to strong winds and large waves the ferry was not able to come into the slip that day, hence we had to take another bus to Hakone Machi-ko to board the ferry. The ferry is modeled after a pirate ship, which is kinda kitsch to me but some might find it amusing.
Lake Ashi- touristy “pirate ship” ferry
Lake Ashi- on board the “pirate ship”
Lake Ashi- See what?
Lake Ashi- So misty
[Day 4: Togendai-ko to Gora (Replacement bus, usually ropeway)]
The section of the loop from Togendai-ko to Sounzan is usually via ropeway (i.e. a gondola), but due to recent seismic activity the ropeway was closed and we had to take replacement buses to Gora. That means that we wouldn’t get to see Mount Fuji from the ropeway, not that we could have seen anything in the mist and clouds anyway.
[Day 4: Gora to Sounzan (Cable car <10min)]
This funicular is yet another form of transport, carrying passengers up and down a steep incline and covering a vertical height of 214 metres over 1.2km. The lowest station is Gora and the highest is Sounzan, which is about 761m altitude. We did not go all the way to Sounzan but alighted at the second last stop (Kami-Gōra 上強羅) where our hotel was located.
Like the Penang Hill funicular
Cable car stops and nearby attractions
Finally reached hotel stop!
[Day 4: O/N at Hotel Green Plaza]
Our 3-star onsen hotel was just 400m walk from the Kami-Gora cable car station, but it was slightly uphill, with no sidewalk, so I was quite happy that I didn’t have any big bags to lug around! Due to the high altitude the weather was quite cool too. Don’t confuse this hotel with the other 4-star (more expensive) Green Plaza Hotel along the ropeway (gondola).
Hotel GP Gora- Room
Although online reviews say this hotel is dated, it is good value compared to those fancy ones that cost USD300-500 pppn just because they serve dinner to your room (whatevs!). Also this hotel has a nice outdoor onsen (separate gender), and Japanese breakfast, so it basically ticks all the boxes for me. Like why on earth would I choose a hotel with Western breakfast when I visit Japan right?
Hotel GP Gora- Choice of 3 main courses for our dinner
Hotel GP Gora- Mum looking pleased (I think)
Hotel GP Gora- Smells yummy!
Hotel GP Gora- Menu in Japanese
Hotel GP Gora- Fresh sashimi platter
Hotel GP Gora- Sukiyaki main course
If you do not have your own wheels, there is nothing much to do at night other than enjoy your multi-course dinner and onsen. This hotel has a small retail section in the lobby though, so Mum the shopping queen was quite happy to browse the random items sold there.
Hotel GP Gora- Shopping in lobby
Hotel GP Gora- Shopping queen
The regional specialty, black eggs, are also sold here. These are just chicken eggs boiled in the nearby Owakudani sulphur springs (hence turning the shells black).
Hotel GP Gora- Shopping queen in action
[Day 5: Kami-Gōra to Kōen-Kami (cable car 5min)]
We enjoyed a leisurely Japanese breakfast at the hotel before checking out. Like our onsen hotel in Hokkaido, this hotel also features the 9-square plate, which always makes me want to fill every square.
Hotel GP Gora- Buffet brekkie
We checked out after brekkie and headed to the Hakone Museum of Art in the rain. Actually I wanted to go to the Hakone Open Air Museum, but due to the rain I thought that the Museum of Art would be more suitable. What I didn’t expect is that the Japanese garden in this museum would be the real highlight instead. The unique aspect of the garden are the moss fields (apparently there are >100 different kinds). In fact the gloomy weather actually made our visit more enjoyable because we did not have to share the gardens with anyone, and the rain makes the moss more lush and green. There is also another landscape garden that we missed because it only opens on weekends and holidays. Fall foliage season (koyo) is the most popular time to visit this moss garden and you can see hints of it starting already during our visit.
Hakone Museum of Art 箱根美術館
Entry fee: JPY900/adult (JPY700 with Hakone Freepass)
Nearest cable car station: Kōen-Kami 公園上
Hours: 0930h-1630h Apr-Nov / 0900h-1600h Dec-Mar (closed: Thursdays, and New Year)
Hakone Museum of Art- Japanese garden
Hakone Museum of Art- different species of moss
Hakone Museum of Art- garden art
We spent most of our visit in the garden outside and not on the indoor art exhibits (pottery and stuff), which we didn’t really understand or appreciate. The curator was really nice and helpful though, and explained some of the exhibits to us in English, and even offered to take photos for us.
Hakone Museum of Art- super nice curator
[Day 5: Gora to Hakone Yumoto (train 40min)]
After that it was time to leave Hakone so we completed the last part of the loop via train. The interesting thing about this part of the journey is that the train descends using switchbacks due to the steepness of the incline. Can’t remember why I have no photos of this, but there is a good drone video on YouTube explaining how it works.
As you know I dislike this sort of typical tourist itinerary, but it is a good place to bring the old folks and first-timers to Japan. I enjoyed my subsequent visit to Hakone in Dec 2016 a whole lot more though, because we had our own wheels, and sexy ones too! Read my trip report on driving a GTR on the famous hairpin turns of Hakone.
Date of activity: 7-8 Sep 2015
Location: Hakone, Japan
Rate I paid (transport): JPY4000/adult for 2-day Hakone Freepass (by Odakyu)
Hotel we stayed: Hotel Green Plaza Gora
Rate I paid (hotel): JPY11,800 pppn (twin share, half board, Western room with ensuite toilet and bathroom)
Booking: via Booking dot com