The steaming hot springs, quaint hamlets and gently sloping mountains of Hakone supply a nice change of pace from the bustle of Japan’s bigger cities.
Hakone itself lies within the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park just southwest of Tokyo, a region of tremendous natural beauty dominated by Lake Ashi and the snow-coned peak of Mount Fuji. Ropeways, cable-cars and funicular railways weave through the hills and valleys, connecting a handful of small villages and hamlets.
Ever since the 16th century, when Japanese warrior Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered a natural bath to be built here, Hakone has been a favoured resting place amongst travellers. The volcanic region abounds in natural hot springs (onsen), and the chance to bathe in their rejuvenating mineral waters is a major draw. Choose from traditional bathhouses or more modern offerings like the Yunessun water park with its themed red wine, coffee and green tea baths. Some of the higher-end ryokans also offer private onsens in their guestrooms.
The area is home to an impressive collection of art museums including the famous Hakone Open-Air Museum, a unique outdoor sculpture park displaying works by Picasso, Henry Moore, Yasuo Mizui and more. Other attractions include the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands and historic Hakone Shrine with its large vermillion torii gate on Lake Ashi. This is the Shinto shrine where Minamoto no Yoritomo prayed for victory during the Gempei War.
Those looking to get active can tackle the summit of the mighty Mount Fuji or keep to the trails around its base. You can even try one of Hakone’s famous black eggs boiled in the sulphur springs of Owakudani mountain - local folklore tells that eating one can add seven years to your lifespan!