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Hakone: A fuss-free itinerary for a day trip from Tokyo

Offering incredible historical and art museums, picturesque torii gates and the chance to see Mt Fuji aboard a pirate-style ship, if you only take one day trip from Tokyo, make it a day trip to Hakone. 

On my recent trip to Japan, I allowed myself four full days in Tokyo. As much as I love the kooky city, it wasn’t long before I felt I needed a break in nature. That’s when I came across an image of Hakone looking straight out of a Hokusai artwork. Distant views of Mt Fuji across a misty lake – check. Dramatic rocky bluffs – check. Deciduous forest reflecting the glory of the autumn season – check. If this sounds like your kind of getaway, here’s my guide to a fuss-free day trip to Hakone from Tokyo.

A note on getting around with the Hakone Free Pass (Trust me you’ll want this…)

A day trip to Hakone from Tokyo is not only relatively simple but also relatively cheap thanks to the great minds who created the Hakone Free Pass. The pass is a discount ticket that allows unlimited use of Odakyu-affiliated buses, trains, boats, cablecars and ropeways within the Hakone area. The pass also allows the user discounted admission to selected tourist attractions. At the time of writing, the 2-day Hakone Free Pass costs 4000 yen (~$45AUD), whilst the 3-day Hakone Free Pass costs 4500 yen (~$52AUD). Optionally, the pass also includes a discounted round trip from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station for an extra 1140 yen (~$13AUD).

The Hakone Free Pass can be purchased from ticket machines or counters in Tokyo at Shinjuku Station or within the Hakone area at Odawara station. A new option is that you can also purchase the pass online before you travel. However, unless you want to be SUPER organised I don’t see any purpose in pre-purchasing the pass, as it is just so easy to do so in Japan AND you will still need to exchange your voucher on arrival in Japan anyway.

7am: Take the train from Tokyo to Odawara…

… if you already have a JR Rail Pass

The easiest way to get to Hakone from Tokyo if you already have a JR Rail Pass is by taking the Shinkansen Kodama from Tokyo Station. The entire trip from Tokyo Station to Odawara Station is covered by the JR Rail Pass (including seat reservations) and takes approximately 33 minutes. When you arrive at Odawara Station you can then just purchase a Hakone Free Pass from any ticket machine or counter. I recommend taking the 07:26am train from Tokyo Station, which arrives at Odawara Station at 08:01. There is so much to see and do in Hakone that it is guaranteed to be a long day and having an early start, especially during the winter months, is essential to maximising daylight hours. If these times don’t work for you, the trains depart every 30 minutes. You can search for alternate times on the timetable here.

… if you do not already have a JR Rail Pass

The easiest way to get to Hakone from Tokyo if you do not already have a JR Rail Pass is by taking the Romance train (or Hakone Limited Express) from Shinjuku Station. When you arrive at Shinjuku Station, just follow the signs for Odakyu Railway to get to the ticket counter. If you buy the Hakone Free Pass here, the Romance train costs an additional 890 yen for a compulsory seat reservation. The entire journey from Shinjuku Station to Odawara Station takes approximately 80minutes. There are 3 departures in the morning: 7am, 7:10am, and 7:30am. The next one after that is at 9am. I recommend taking the 07:00am train from Shinjuku Station, which arrives at Odawara Station at 08:26am. However, if you want to sleep in a bit more, click here to search for alternate times.

9am: Get arty at the Hakone Open Air Museum

Tokyo Day Trips - Hakone Open Air MuseumWhen you arrive at Odawara Station, head to bus stop number 3 and jump aboard the Hakone Tozan Hakone-Machi H line bus towards Hakone Machi Ko. After approximately 35 minutes this bus will drop you off nearby the Open Air Museum. The bus stop that you want to get off at is Ninohira iriguchi (二の平入口(バス)). From here the museum is a short 10 minute walk.

‘What on earth is the Hakone Open Air Museum and why should I spend my precious time there?’, you ask. Located on the side of a mountain, the museum takes the form of an expansive sculpture museum. Between it’s indoor and outdoor exhibition spaces, the museum boasts a permanent collection of approximately 120 masterpieces from modern and contemporary sculptors. The biggest drawcard for the museum is the Picasso Pavillion exhibit. This exhibit is one of the world’s best collections of Picasso consisting of approximately 300 of his pieces. I’ve visited many other museums boasting impressive Picasso collections, but it was visiting the Hakone Open Air Museum that I found my all time favourite Picasso piece – his gemmail collection.

Another major drawcard for the museum is the Symphonic Structure. Within the sculpture, visitors ascend a spiral staircase surrounded by colorful stained glass to a viewing platform. From this viewing platform, visitors can take in breathtaking views of the museum and surrounding mountains. I could easily have spent hours looking for the unique pictures hidden within the stained glass, letting them tell me their story. What’s more is that the museum even has a foot bath for you to relieve the fatigue of walking around the museum.

The museum is open year round from 9am through to 5pm and costs 1600 yen (1400 with Hakone Free Pass).

11am: Feel small beneath the Hakone Shrine Torii Gate

Tokyo Day Trips - Hakone ShrineHop back aboard the Hakone Tozan Hakone-Machi H line bus towards Hakone Machi Ko from the Ninohira iriguchi bus stop (i.e. the same one where you got off the bus). 15 minutes later alight at the Motohakone (元箱根) bus stop. From here, the Hakone Shrine and it’s accompanying giant red torii are a pleasant 10 minute scenic walk.

As you make your way to the torii prepare your expectations, as despite what the above image might suggest, you will not be the only person there. Instead, you will find a queue of other tourists lining up to take a photo at the Instagram-famous spot. As much as I love to experience places like this without the crowds, I must say that it was still a positive experience given the orderly and unrushed manner that the crowd allowed each other (and even a couple getting married) to take their photos, one by one. I wish more places would apply this etiquette rather than all pushing and shoving and getting in each others photo.

When you’ve got your photo for the ‘gram, head up the staircase behind you to the actual Hakone Shrine. Upon entering and going straight, the red and gold main hall will greet you. If you’ve been feeling yourself slack off at work, be sure to offer a prayer here as it is believed to improve one’s efficiency at work. Otherwise, enjoy wandering around the small shrine, taking in the soothing space.

12pm: Wander through the historical Ancient Cedar Avenue

Tokyo Day Trips - Hakone Cedar Tree AvenueAfter you’re made your prayer, head south along the shores of Lake Ashi towards the Hakone Checkpoint Museum. Be sure to keep your eyes out across the lake for the incredible Mount Fuji volcano. 15 minutes into your walk – and 10 minutes before you reach the museum – you will find yourself in a forest of tall cedar trees. The trees reach up to 30 meters high, and some have a girth of over four meters. If you’ve ever wanted to act out the part of Little Red Riding Hood, now’s your chance. If the natural beauty of the space doesn’t wet your whistle, surely the significant history will. The 500 metre long avenue of ancient cedar trees is actually part of the original path used during the Edo Period. During this time, travellers would walk along this path on foot in order to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto.

1pm: Get a history lesson at the Hakone Checkpoint Museum

Hakone day trip from Tokyo - Checkpoint MuseumHakone first came under notice of travellers during the Edo period (1603-1868), when it was a checkpoint on the Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo) route known as the Tokaido Highway, established to “control incoming guns and outgoing women” –  in other words, to detain the wives of feudal lords attempting to escape from their shogun captors in Edo. It was also used as a base for pilgrims en route to Mount Fuji. These pilgrims would revitalise their weary bodies in the healing waters before making the challenging ascent.

The Checkpoint Museum houses over 1000 items on exhibition.  These items include official bulletins, two-pronged weapons to stop criminals, pronged spears, rods and other weapons to “protect” the checkpoint. There are also items revealing how strictly they controlled women trying to leave Edo to return home or to the countryside. Be sure to visit the lookout up on the hill before leaving. This lookout provides a unique aerial view of the museum as well as Mt Fuji on a clear day.  If you’d like to know where else you can find the best views of Mt Fuji click here.

The museum is open year round from 9am through to 5pm. Admission costs 500 yen (400 yen with the Hakone Free Pass).

3pm: Take a pirate-themed sightseeing cruise on Lake Ashi (and hopefully see Mt Fuji)

Hakone day trip from Tokyo - Pirate Sightseeing CruiseHaven’t you always dreamt of sailing aboard a pirate ship on Lake Ashi with Mt Fuji looming over you? Probably not, but trust me this will be an experience that will feel like a dream. Lake Ashi formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone after the volcano’s last eruption 3000 years ago. Today, three unique pirate-style ships sails back and forth across the lake taking passengers on a sightseeing adventure between Moto-Hakone Port, Hakone-machi Port and Togendai Port. An added bonus is that unlimited rides on the Sightseeing Cruise are included in the Hakone Free Pass. Hop aboard the next boat from Moto-Hakone Port (a 5 minute walk from the Checkpoint Museum) to Togendai Port. Be sure to get a spot at the front of the upper deck in case Mt Fuji decides to pop out and say ‘Konnichiwa’. You can view the current timetable here.

6pm: Head back to Tokyo

Give your legs a rest as you take the 50-minute bus ride back to Odawara Station. You’ll want to take the Hakone Tozan Bus T from Togendai-Ko (located directly outside the boat station). For those with a JR Rail Pass, the Shinkansen Kodama to Tokyo Station departs at 12 and 42 minutes past the hour. For those without a JR Rail Pass, I recommend aiming for the 6:07pm or 6:37pm Odakyo Limited Express trains from Odawara Station. These trains will get you back to Shinjuku around 7:30pm. Please note that these times are accurate at time of writing but may change before you arrive. With this in mind, please check the most up to date timetable here.

Elle Kirsten This is Yugen

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