Spring has arrived in Japan and its one of the best times of the year to explore destinations near Tokyo. The Hakone (箱根) area is a great place to visit and is very accessible. Recently I traveled there with a group of friends to enjoy the timeless pleasures of a mountain resort so close, and yet seemingly so removed from the big city.
For some in the group, this was the first visit to Hakone, for others, the latest of many trips. Still, we all were eager to capture that special feeling that comes from enjoying friendships renewed in a unique and memorable setting.
Traveling by the Odakyu Romance Car (小田急ロマンスカー) leaving Shinjuku Station on the Odakyu Line, we arrived at Hakone Yumoto Station after a little more than 1 hour of travel. The trip itself is very scenic and the early spring weather spurred our anticipation.
The Famous Odakyu Romance Car.
Upon arrival at Hakone Yumoto, we spent a few hours near the station checking out the many unique stores and sampling the many food treats available around the station!
Pieces of fish available for grilling (at no charge) out front of one of the many specialty shops near Odakyu Hakone Yumoto Stn.
So much variety. The shops in front of the station are an attraction all their own.
Our objective was to enjoy a retreat from urban bustle and then to have a chance to sample some of the charm of the Hakone area.
We chose to stay at the Hotel Hatsuhana. This hotel is a hot-spring hotel about 10 minutes by bus/taxi from Hakone Yumoto Station. You’d never believe it is so close, as it feels very remote. As soon as we arrived, from the warm greeting by the staff, to the spacious rooms and comfortable ambiance, we could immediately relax and forget that we were only 70 kilometers or less from the heart of the world’s largest city!
Odakyu Hotel Hatsuhana!
After check-in, we changed into yukata (浴衣) and headed straight for the baths. One of the interesting things about this hotel is that it’s built into the side of a mountain, so the lobby floor is the top floor (including the dining rooms, coffee lounge, and bathing areas). So, you go “down” to get to your room, and “up” to go to the lobby or to access the hotel’s facilities!
After bathing, the highlight of our first day was dinner. What a kaiseki ryori (会席料理) feast. Each menu item is specially prepared and seasonal ingredients are included to provide just the right touch!
The 10-Course Dinner On Our First Night!
Amazing Dishes, One After Another!
We all harbored ambitions of a late night of karaoke (カラオケ) and story-telling, convincing ourselves that we’d be able to keep going until daybreak. After such a huge meal, punctuated by dessert, however, we were both so full and so sleepy that the evening ended all too soon.
As we awoke the next morning, our objective was to visit the premier stop of any visit here, Hakone Shrine. With the help of the courteous front desk staff, we hired an Odakyu Tourist Taxi for the day so that we could make the best use of our time going from place to place!
The weather alternated between cloudy and rainy, but it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the journey. In fact, the mists swirling amongst the mountain crests and between the valleys added an element of excitement to the trip.
The Trail of the Old Hakone Road.
Hakone Shrine didn’t disappoint. The shrine is undergoing restoration in stages, but on this day, perhaps owing to the weather, not much of that work was going on. As a result, we could take in the scenery with a minimum of distraction.
Hakone Shrine, near Lake Ashi.
It’s no wonder that the shrine is considered a place of immense spiritual power. You can’t fail to feel something special about places where man-made structures and the natural environment are so carefully interwoven.
A Shrine Guardian Surveys the Passers-by.
Nine Dragons of Hakone Shrine!
Our driver was very knowledgeable about the area as he drove us around, and pointed out many interesting facts about the places we were passing through and seeing. His helpful guidance provided a deeper level of understanding to our trip!
As we finished our tour of the shrine we all left with a sense of serenity that we had not had prior to our visit and it made the rest of our day in Hakone just that much more memorable.
After a second night nestled in the mountains and yet another feast, our trip was over all too soon, but we all resolved to make another visit as soon as possible!
You owe it to yourself to see and experience Hakone! What are you waiting for!
Address: 20-1 Sukumogawa, Hakone-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa Prefecture
Address: 80-1 Moto-Hakone, Hakone-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa Prefecture
Website (Japanese): http://hakonejinja.or.jp/
For more information → http://www.odakyu.jp/english/destination/hakone/