Beautiful Ashi Lake with a view of The Fuji Mountain, onsens with healing water, intense greenery of forests, are just few of the attractions of the Hakone region. It’s located just 80 minutes from Tokyo by the Romancecar high-speed train, the mountain resort is a delightful place to visit and is one of the places that has charmed us most in Japan. All the more so, because according to the legend, we have extended our lives by 7 years!
When we planned to travel through Japan, we knew we wanted to see Fuji. One of the recommended destinations was the Hakone area. Here, in good weather, you can see the holy mountain of the Japanese reflected in the mountain Ashino-ko Lake. Unfortunately, we did not succeed in this attempt, but we don’t regret our arrival (it was a part of100-dniowej wyprawy po Azji – soon in English).
5 MAIN HAKONE ATTRACTIONS — ARE THEY WORTH YOUR ATTENTION?
EXPERIENCE THE ACTIVITY THE HAKONE VOLCANO ACTIVITY IN THE OWAKUDANI VALLEY
When you get off the bus at an altitude of 1044 meters (over 3400 ft.) above sea level, you’ll first smell the irritating scent of sulphur and then you can see a truly cosmic landscape.
There are no intensely green forests that you passed through on your way to the summit. There are no beautiful Japanese gardens. It’s all because of the sulfur fumes that are coming out, which are turning the mountain landscape into a desert.
Out there you can see the clouds of sulphur and hear the whistle caused by volcanic and water vaporising from the Hakone Crater. Yes — this volcano is still active. Therefore, the valley at its feet literally means the Valley of the Great Boiling. I can’t say this place doesn’t impress us. It definitely does. Owakudani was once called “Daijigoku”, or The Great Hell!
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The risk is so high, that Japanese created a danger zone around the Owakudani Valley and the cableway leading to the top may be periodically closed due to the high concentration of sulphur gases and seismic activity. It may happen that this sleeping volcano (the last eruption took place in the year 1170) will unexpectedly throw out not only sulphur fumes, but also ash and volcanic mass. It is supervised by the Japanese Meteorological Agency, which takes care of the safety of tourists and residents of this very dangerous area of the world.
However, an active but dormant volcano, apart from being a huge threat, is also a huge attraction. Because of its activity we can enjoy hot springs and onsens, for which the whole Hakone area is famous for, as well as the Kuratamago black eggs that according to the locals, can extend your life by 7 years! Eggs are just ordinary chicken eggs that taste quite normal and gain their intense black colour by cooking in hot springs with high sulphur content. However, highly mineralized water is said to make the eggs gain health benefits.
A volcanic landscape is one thing. On the other hand, at the lookout point you can admire the Ashi Lake, which emerges from behind the mountains and forests, and its landscape is completely different from what we experience on the mountain.
SWIM ACROSS THE WATERS OF THE VOLCANIC ASHI LAKE
Undoubtedly, the volcanic Ashi Lake with its distant Fuji volcano is the symbol of the Hakone region, which is a magnet for tourists, including us. However, even when the weather is bad, which it is quite common due to the high location of the area, the lake itself is extremely beautiful.
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Rain, wind and fog hovering over the lake adds an aura of mystery to the area. Apart from the high mountains in the distance, dense green forests, or shimmering leaves of different colours, if you come here in autumn, there is also an invitation to visit the magical world of Japan awaiting you. There is the powerful, intensely red Tori gate, standing quietly in water. This is part of the Hakone-Jinja temple in the Motohakone-ko town at the southern end of the lake.
The Tori Gate is a symbol of a transition from the temporal world to the world of divine power. If the cruise is therefore a world of mortals, then we went ashore with great curiosity.
Old Japanese scriptures say that the waters of Ashi Lake are sacred. Buddhist monks purified their bodies and souls before prayer, all thanks to the mysterious lake inhabitant.
REST IN THE CEDAR FOREST AND THE HAKONE KUZURYU YINJA TEMPLE IN MOTOHAKONE-KO
After going ashore in Motohakone, it is worth to consider going for a walk along the Ashi Lake. From this perspective it looks completely different. However, this is not the whole purpose of the walk. It is worth seeing the Tori Gate also from the mainland. It’s not that simple, because there is a long line of people waiting for the possibility of passing through the gate and to take commemorative photos.
The Tori Gate at Ashi Lake is part of the Hakone Kuzuryu Jinja Temple in Motohakone-ko. While the Japanese temples itself did not impress us greatly after our experience of Kmerkor or Thai Doi Suthep, the location of the temple in a high cedar forest, near the lake provided us with a true feeling of mysterious Japan.
We finally could rest there mentally after the hardships of our journey, surrounded by the sound of cicadas and the smell of cedar. Stone lanterns covered with moss, placed between trees made us feel in a completely different world — in real Japan. Away from the crowded big cities that we found so… ordinary. It is here, surrounded by nature and touched by the mystical experience of the Japanese, that we felt the real atmosphere of Japan.
Hakone-Jinja is a Shinto temple with over a thousand years of tradition. It was built in 757 A.D. at the top of a nearby mountain, but was moved to the shores of Ashi Lake to calm the nine-headed dragon that lived at the bottom of the lake. Today, the dragon is the deity that protects this place.
It is said that in the past it was mostly prayed for a safe journey, but today it is said that magical forces help in professional success, winning a fortune and… finding a husband. That’s probably why millions of tourists come here every year to bow their heads, clap their hands and ring the sacred bells to summon the forces that will help them fulfil their dreams.
IMMERSE YOURSELF IN HOT SPRINGS — HAKONE ONSEN
There are thousands of hot springs and onsens in the volcanic regions of Japan. However, Hakone is famous for the largest number of onsens, as well as their diversity. You can find here both private onsens in hotel rooms, intimate onsens in hotels, higaeri onsen for those who visit Hakone only for one day, or even onsens in the form of an amusement park (Hakone Kowaki-en Yunessun). There are also onsens that allow you to submerge your feet (Ashiyu). You can find them in some restaurants or cafes.
Apart from its relaxing properties, swimming in the onsen is also important for your health. Calcium sulphate contained in the local water not only beautifies the skin, it is also good for relieving pain. They can also be used by children.
It is worth mentioning that the entrance to the onsens is working on the same principles as the sauna. You have to come in completely naked and the onsens for women and men are separated. The topic of how to behave in onsens is interesting, and we will certainly write more about it.
If someone doesn’t imagine nakedness in a public place, or for example has a tattoo (in most onsens, and certainly in all that we visited, there was prohibited access for people with tattoos) can use the offer of hotels or ryokans with private onsens. We had such opportunity at the Okada Hotel in Hakone Yumoto. A large granite tub with a view of the murmuring forest and hot water is definitely one of the nicest relaxing and resting moments during our 100-day journey.
ENJOY NATURE IN THE GARDEN
Ashi Lake offers also an attraction for gardening lovers. The beautiful garden of the Odakyu Hotel de Yama delights with its colourful range of over 3,000 azalea shrubs in almost 30 different varieties.
This place is also one of the most beautiful viewpoints of the Hakone region overlooking Mount Fuji.
All the aforementioned places provide, in our opinion, the most interesting experiences during the first stay in the Hakone area. Just by looking at the map of the region we can see that during three days we’ve experienced only tiny bits of attractions. We would like to go trekking on numerous mountain trails, canoeing on the lake, cycling in the surrounding forests, or admire the views from the sky bridge (Mishima Skywalk). However, the time is never on our side, however we still were able to spend 3 days in Hakone.
Read more about out guide to Hakone region:
This post was created in cooperation to Odakyu Express Groups, which offers Hakone Freepass allowing multi-type communication in the Hakone region, free entrance to many attractions and much more.