Full of hot springs, natural beauty, views of Mt. Fuji that are second to none, and more recently, world-class museums, Hakone is one of the most popular day trips from Tokyo, and a place any traveller in Japan should include on their itinerary. Here are two places you don’t want to miss.
Sengokuhara’s Field of Gold
As the morning fog lifts and the sun rises higher into the sky, a glowing field of gold is revealed stretching as far as the eye can see.
Covering a hillside 18 hectares large, the pampas grass of Sengokuhara is a must-see. Located in the north-western area of Hakone, it is especially beautiful from the end of September through to mid-November.
From Sengoku-kogen bus stop, the field is a short walk. The entrance is marked with two large stones, followed by a dirt path that extends up the hill to where the pampas grass meets the dense forest. Aside from lanterns lining the path, there are almost no other man-made objects to interfere with the natural environment. At the top end, the pampas grass closes in and the narrow, rocky path all but disappears. Visitors who step off the path get completely swallowed up by the towering grass. It’s like stepping into the wild. In the distance, the mountains, which actually form the outer rim of the larger Hakone volcano crater, create an impressive backdrop. Around the same time the pampas grass flowers, the foliage on these mountains also change colours. The ultimate view would be a combination of the grass, the mountains and a blue sky!
Originally grown for making thatched roofs in the Edo Period (1603-1868), the field continues to be taken care of to this day. Throughout the year, the grass changes colours and textures. In spring, it begins its growth until it reaches heights of over 2 metres. In summer, the field shines bright green under the hot sun. In autumn, the silvery-white plumes burst open and the hill transforms into a blanket of fluffy flowers that dance and sway in the wind. Then, at the end of winter, the local fire department lights the whole hillside up in an annual burning event called yamayaki, making room for new shoots. No matter the season, it’s a great place to visit on a trip to Hakone.
Pola Museum of Art: Where Nature Meets Art
A short bus ride away from the pampas grass field is the Pola Museum of Art.
Tucked away in the middle of a peaceful forest, this museum is unique in so many ways. Though modern and sleek in appearance, it was built to exist in harmony with the surrounding natural environment. It sits inside a 74-metre wide bowl-like depression, on an antiseismic rubber bearing designed to protect both the people and the artwork during earthquakes. The spacious, glass atrium at the centre of the building allows the natural light to pour in, while in the five exhibition rooms, the light source comes through optical fibres – a completely new concept in museum construction.
Not only the building, but its contents are what make this museum extremely popular among Japanese and foreign visitors alike. The museum is home to an impressive 9,500 works of art collected by founder, Tsuneshi Suzuki, over the course of his life. Some of the highlights currently on exhibition include Monet’s Water Lily Pond – the bridge in which is said to have been inspired by a Japanese drum bridge, Picasso’s Mother and Child by the Sea, Renoir’s Girl in a Lace Hat and Van Gogh’s Flower Vase with Thistles. The museum also features internationally renowned Japanese paintings, ceramics, and glassworks. Grab an audio guide and take your time wandering through the exhibitions before stopping at the cafe for a coffee and piece of cake.
Before leaving, make sure to follow the path to the back of the museum. Here, a nature trail takes visitors around a 670-metre boardwalk where they can enjoy bird watching, see outdoor sculptures and soak up as much fresh, clean air as possible.
From Shinjuku Station, take the Odakyu Line to Hakone-Yumoto. Change to the scenic Hakone-Tozan Railway. From Gora Station, take a bus to Sengoku-kogen. From October 1 to November 3, the special “Sengoku Susuki Bus” runs directly to Sengoku-kogen, departing Gora at 9:20, 10:45, 12:25 and 14:55. Alternatively, take a bus to Senkyoro-mae and change to a bus bound for Togendai.
If you are spending more than one day in Hakone, it is worth it to purchase Odakyu Railways’ Hakone Free Pass which provides unlimited use of Odakyu-affiliated transportation in the area as well as discounts on museum entrance fees.
For more information → http://www.odakyu.jp/english/destination/hakone/