In 2020, Japan Wonder Travel was given a project by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to promote 14 selected prefectures that have been affected by typhoons. We offered 20 internationals living in Japan, the opportunity to travel to several destinations and share their experiences while travelling and also after.
Karique – Hakone
What is the perfect vacation? Does any such thing exist? When many of us get some much-needed time off from our busy schedules, we end up spending it a myriad of ways. Many choose to stay at home for some much needed shut-eye, others go camping in the country or go half-way across the world to some tropical paradise. But planning a good vacation can be tricky. How do we strike the perfect balance? The solution is clearer than you think. No matter where we travel, we all thirst for the same package, relaxation and adventure. If the perfect vacation destination appeared before you right now, would you go for it?
Hakone at a Glance
Just literally around the corner from Tokyo by Shinkansen, Hakone is a welcome release from the city’s hustle and bustle. Sure, many people rant and rave about nearby Mount Fuji (as the long lines of climbers attest to), but how about somewhere less visited but no less magical?
Getting to Hakone
Don’t we often wish we could just teleport to our destination instead? With any trip, what we often grapple with is the transporation. Hate long lines, long waiting times, and jumping from one vehicle to another like you are competing in an obstacle course? You won’t get that with Hakone. Just under a little over an hour from Tokyo by Shinkansen, Hakone is easily accessible via the Tokaido shinkansen from Shin-Yokohama in Yokohama. But the good thing about the journey to Hakone is that from the very beginning, the adventure begins.
To visit Yokohama without seeing its Chinatown would be a disaster. With busy streets crisscrossed with lanterns aplenty and sumptuous food, it’s a whole new world to get to know. Exciting temples like Empire Guan’s Shrine are a must-see, it’s richly gilded roof and arches and intricately carved stone columns make it an architectural masterpiece. And did I mention the food? If time allows, try dim sum dishes at one of the many roadside restaurants before continuing your journey. You will simply be astounded by the different varieties, but rest assured, they are all delicious! After shopping and snacking away, you are ready to board the shinkansen.
One of the fastest trains on earth, the Shinkansen, gets you to Odawara, the gateway of Hakone in a little under forty minutes. When you arrive, don’t worry about rushing to take the train to Hakone, as the Hakone-Tozan line is pretty reliable, with trains coming multiple times every hour. Instead, explore the city. Odawara Castle, nestled among beautiful sakura trees, is only 15 minutes away via foot. Reconstructed after it was largely destroyed in the Meiji Era, Odawara Castle is a trip back in time to the world of samurai and their warring lords, the daimyo. The castle is chock full of various relics from this auspicious time, like samurai armour, katanas, and knives. From atop the castle, the surrounding plains can be viewed, and on the grounds, you can enjoy interesting souvenirs like sakura jam at one of the many shops. The trip to Odawara is only a tiny morsel itself of what Hakone has to offer. Be sure to purchase the Hakone Freepass to travel on the bus, sightseeing cruise, and cable-cars free of charge.
Into the Mountains
As you enter the hills, the beauty of rural Japan unfolds. With dramatic mountains on either side, the train to Hakone delves into the heartland of traditional Japan, and in no time, you will get to Lake Ashi, the pearl of Hakone. Nestled in a caldera, Lake Ashi boasts a famous red-gate, or tori, that provides the perfect instagram location, even more so on days when it is clear enough to see Mt. Fuji. Close to the tori is Hakone shrine, and the famous cedar avenue, a roadway lined by cedar trees that was one of the premier highways up until the Meiji Era.
Another place of note to visit is Hakone Sekicho, a former guard post built to track movement into Edo during the shogunate era. Like a time-machine, well positioned murals and physical representations let us feel the mystique and power of Tokugawa Japan. At Moto-Hakone, the sightseeing cruise is a good way to channel your inner pirate, while taking in the beautiful scenery of Lake Ashi. But somehow, it gets better.
Think you have seen all the secrets that Hakone has to offer? Think again. For a view that is definitely one of the most breathtaking and unique experiences of a lifetime, you just have to ride the Hakone ropeway – it’s included in the Hakone Freepass! From Togendai Pier, the ropeway provides a jaw-dropping view of the Hakone area that includes Lake Ashi, rolling hills in every direction, and sulfur vents along the mountains north of the lake. The billowing clouds of sulfur and its yellow-green crystals contrast beautifully with the ash-gray hillside, because lest you forget, Hakone’s beauty is a tribute to the forces of nature. Stop off at Owakudani to see this exciting landscape up close, and visit the geomuseum to learn about the formation of Hakone and the surrounding area.
Since all of this sightseeing must have made you hungry by now, it’s time for the gastronomic delights that Owakudani has to offer. Kurotamago, or ‘black egg’ is a local delicacy that can be tried at any of the shops that dot Owakudani. Eggs boiled in the hot mineral springs of the area, kurotamago is famed for its black shells and its slightly bitter taste. Local lore says that each egg lengthens your lifetime by seven years. Have a go at it!
Last, but not least
The last place must-see place on your itinerary should be the Hakone Open Air Museum. Spread over many acres, you can see art from many artists like Picasso tastefully placed within nature itself. Truly a great sight to behold, there are paintings, sculptures and every other form of art imaginable. With all these things in mind, no wonder Hakone is the perfect package.
Hotel he stayed during his trip
We were very excited to work with Karique-san, and all the other guests for this project, and will continue to do our best to promote the less known destinations as much as we can. Keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram to find another project with us.
And of course, if you need any help to find hidden gems in Japan, Japan Wonder Travel will happily help you out.