Hakone lies along the Tokaido Road, one of the five roads of the Edo Period. Hakone hosted both a post station, where travelers stopped for food and lodging, and a checkpoint. The checkpoint was originally established in 1619, as one of 53 checkpoints, or sekisho, on the five major routes. This was considered one of the most important check points in Japan until it was closed in 1868.
The site was dismantled in 1868, but documented in great detail. This documentation was found in 1983, and the site was excavated from 1999 to 2001. The checkpoint was restored from 2004 to 2007 using traditional architectural techniques.
The reconstructed buildings include two large gates, the office, on-duty quarters, horse stables, a toilet, a shooting range, soldiers quarters, and a lookout that offered a view over the lake. On the Edo side of the checkpoint, there is also a Hakone Checkpoint Exhibition Hall.
Entry is 500 Yen for adults and 250 Yen for children. Visitors can walk through the gates for free, but cannot enter the restored buildings.
Just to the south of the gate is Hakone-Machi, the restored buildings of the original Hakone Post Station. Today the buildings contain several shops and restaurants for tourists.
A historical marker at the site reads:
It is a facility which was placed by Tokugawa shogunate in 1619, for the purposes of maintaining the system of government. The site was designated as a National Historic Site in 1922, and the buildings were restored to the original states in 2007.
Old Tokaido Road
Old Tokaido Road originally ran from Kyoto to Tokyo as one of the Five Routes, the main roads during the Edo Period (1603–1868). This route had 53 post stations, or shukuba, where travelers could rest and rest during their journey, which generally took place on foot (the stations had the suffix juku, explaining town names like Harajuku and Shinjuku). There were also some checkpoints along the route where travelers were expected to present their papers.
Portions of the Tokaido road still exist in Hakone. One of the best preserved sections of the trail remains today between Moto-Hakone and Hatajuku, much of the road with its original stone pavement.
Hakone was home to both a post station and a checkpoint. The checkpoint was recently reconstructed, and is now a tourist site.
Hakone Open Air Museum
Even if you don't have any special interest in modern art or in sculpture, which is the focus for this museum, it is still worth coming here for the marvellous setting. Works by Henry Moore, Picasso, Antony Gormley, Rodin, Miro, Giocometti and many others are beautifully displayed around the grounds, each one positioned in a spot carefully chosen to show it off to best advantage. As you wander the paths you find a new gem around each corner, and most you will see from several angles and all with these fantastic scenic backdrops. Among my favourite works were:
~ Sfera con Stera by the Italian Arnaldo Pomodoro (seen on my Hakone intro page)
~ Reclining Figure: Arch Leg (photo two here) by Henry Moore, and others by him
~ a series of four Grande Statues (la Force, la Victoire, la Libertė and la Eloquence) by French sculptor Bourdelle, which looked especially good in this setting (photo one shows la Libertė and photo three la Eloquence)
and a kinetic sculpture by a Japanese artist, Takamichi Ito, called Sixteen Turning Sticks – see my brief video of it in action.
By the way, if you're taken with the Bourdelle sculptures you might like to check out the tip written by my VT friend Don / Nemorino about the Musée Bourdelle in Paris, where it's possible to see casts of the same figures and many others besides.
Make sure, if you are able, to climb the spiral steps up the Symphonic Sculpture for some more wonderful views, as well as admiring its wonderful stained glass interior. There are also several indoor galleries, including one devoted to an extensive collection of works by Picasso including, unusually, pottery pieces. But we chose to spend all our time outside enjoying the scenery as much as the art.
And when you tire of the exhibits, or simply need to rest your feet, there is a treat at the far end of the gardens - a hot water spring foot-bath! Slip off your shoes, dip your toes into the warm water (65 degrees) and relax. For 100¥ you can get a small towel to dry off your feet afterwards, which makes a great little souvenir too.
There are several spaces dedicated to children, with colourful "sculptural" pieces to climb on, through and around. There are also some actual sculptures that are particularly likely to appeal to them, so this museum would make a perhaps surprisingly good family choice.
There are also plenty of places for refreshments. We had lunch in the Chinese restaurant near the entrance, which has fantastic views of the museum and the mountains beyond. There's also an Italian buffet restaurant here, and a cafe at the far end, near the hot spring, where we had an ice cream (700¥ for two scoops, and yes, they do have green tea ice cream!)
Entry to the museum costs 1,600¥, or 1,400¥ with the Hakone Free Pass. Photography is not allowed in the galleries but is fine out of doors providing it's not for sale or other commercial purposes.
Next tip: dinner at a family-run restaurant
- Arts and Culture
Owakudani Hot Springs
This was one of my favourite of the places we visited in Japan, and along with the Open Air Museum, my top Hakone experience. When you alight from your cable car at Owakudani you find yourself in a large, modern facility with shops, cafės etc. But look out of the large picture window and you will a scene that seems to be from another world. The landscape is steaming; this is truly the “Great Boiling Valley” that the name, Owakudani, declares it to be. It also lives up to a previous name, O-jigoku, meaning Great Hell.
An uphill walk of about 10-15 minutes will take you close to these bubbling pools. As you climb the steam rises and swirls around you and there is a strong smell of sulphur in the air. If you are lucky (and we were very lucky) you will also be able to see the majestic Mount Fuji across the valley to your right.
The trail leads up and loops around several of the pools, but there are many more on the hillside above. This eerie landscape was created when Mount Kamiyama erupted around 3,000 years ago. Standing here you are in fact in its crater – no wonder the ground hisses and boils beneath your feet. As a visitor to Japan you will have been aware that it is a seismologically active country, with earthquakes a fact of life; here you can really appreciate what that means.
The ground is still relatively unstable and the sulphuric geysers are active, so of course it is important to stay on the path and well clear of the water. A wooden handrail divides path from pools but small children will need to be carefully supervised. I have read that occasionally the path has to be closed due to unsafe conditions, and work is ongoing to maintain and stabilise the area.
Next tip: a local ”treat”
- National/State Park
This beautiful lake, also known as Ashinoko, lies about 720 metres above sea level and is surrounded by mountains, including the iconic Mount Fuji. It has an area of seven square kilometres and is19 kilometres in circumference, making it the largest lake in this area. It is a crater lake lying along the southwest wall of the caldera of Mount Hakone, and was formed after the volcano's last eruption 3,000 years ago.
Lake Ashi is the place to come for views of Japan’s most famous mountain, although as it happened we got much better views earlier in the day from above the lake at Owakudani. By the time we were crossing the lake on our “pirate ship” the clouds were just starting to creep in, and were later to cover her completely and hide her from view.
Around the lake are several small towns such as Hakone-Machi and Moto-Hakone (both of which are served by the ships) and I saw a number of torii whose vivid red colours made great photo opportunities.
The name “Ashinoko” means lake of reeds (ashi is reed and ko means lake).
According to legend Lake Ashi is home to a nine-headed dragon, and to appease this it is presented with an offering of traditional red rice at the Hakone Shrine Lake Ashi Festival on July 31st each year. But no dragon made an appearance to disrupt our journey, which was pleasant but uneventful.
Next tip: lunch in Hakone-Machi
- National/State Park
In Hakone-Machi you can visit this reconstruction of a checkpoint on the Tōkaidō Way, the old highway which linked Tokyo with Kyoto during the feudal Edo Period. This was the most important of the highways, and connected Edo (modern-day Tokyo) to Kyoto. At intervals there were checkpoints like this one, known as sekisho, where travellers had to show the permits that were necessary to allow them to travel the route.
The sekisho, had two main purposes: to control “incoming guns and outgoing women”, i.e. to prevent weapons from being brought into Edo and to prevent the wives and children of feudal lords from fleeing from Edo. At Hakone the second purpose is thought to have been by far the more significant. I found this dramatic story on a website which brings to life the harsh reality of the purpose of the checkpoints:
In February of 1702, a young girl was captured by authorities in the mountain area behind the Hakone Check Point (barrier station). She didn’t have legal permission to pass through the gate and so she tried to secretly cut across the mountain. After being detained in prison for about two months she was executed, and her head put on display in public. ... She had wanted to go back to her parents’ home in Izu, leaving her place of employment in Edo without permission. If she had finished her apprenticeship, she could have gotten a legal pass. But she hated working there and ran away. She was accused of breaking through the barrier—a very serious felony at that time.
The checkpoints were removed soon after the Meiji Restoration, which saw the end of the feudal period. But in recent years this one has been restored exactly as it would have been, thanks to the discovery of some old records which showed every detail of the buildings here. This has the somewhat disconcerting effect of the various structures looking incongruously new. But a visit is worthwhile as the work has been very carefully done and the role of the checkpoint cleverly brought to life. We visited the reconstructed officers quarters and the much less spacious ones allocated to the lower ranks. Shadowy grey figures have been used effectively to show the activity that would have taken place in each part of the buildings – sleeping, cooking, checking permits and even inspecting the long hair of female travellers for hidden weapons. Apparently researchers were not able to discover enough details about the colour or design of their clothing, so the models were created like this, but I also found it rather evocative – almost as if the ghosts of the past officials still linger here.
In the open area between the two sets of quarters the tools used to catch criminals (those trying to evade the checkpoint by passing around it) are displayed, and they look pretty effective. I didn’t take a photo but you can see one here on the website – nasty!
After visiting these quarters we climbed a hill to the lookout tower. It was a bit of an effort on rather large steps, but we were rewarded with a good view of Lake Ashi (but not Mount Fuji). From here the soldiers would keep watch over the lake as it was prohibited to cross it my ship and thus evade the checkpoints. We also went in the small museum which has displays about the checkpoint and about the Tōkaidō, but unfortunately no English signage whatsoever, so many of these were lost on me. I did however find the video of the restoration work quite interesting.
Admission to the checkpoint (which also includes the museum) is 500¥ (October 2013) but the Hakone Freepass entitles you to a discount of 100¥. It is open seven days a week from 9.00 -17.00 for most of the year, but closes at 16.30 between December 1st and February 28th.
Next tip: a walk on an ancient highway
- Historical Travel
On the Tōkaidō Way
The Tōkaidō was the most important of the Five Routes or highways during the Edo period, and connected Edo (modern-day Tokyo) to Kyoto. Tōkaidō means East Sea Road – this was a coastal route along the sea coast of eastern Honshū (there was also a less well-travelled inland route).
The name lives on today in the Shinkansen (bullet train) line linking Tokyo with Kyoto and Osaka, and the highway itself can still be found in a few places. One of these is near Hakone-Machi, and we walked along its first section, between there and Moto-Hakone. Here the path (which was an easy walk but a little muddy in places) lies between rows of ancient cedar trees, some as much as 400 years old. They were planted by the Edo government to provide travellers with shelter from winter snow and summer heat, and approximately 420 of them remain to this day. The trees reach up to 30 metres high, and some have a girth of over four metres.
The path runs for about 500 metres. Walking here you are following the route taken centuries before by travellers to Edo. Most would have been on foot, as you are, though some higher class people would have been able to afford to travel in a kago, a form of litter or sedan chair carried by a team of men.
At one point on the path you can apparently get the classic view of Mount Fuji, with the red of the Hakone shrine in the foreground, Lake Ashi beyond, and the mountain rising majestically above them both. I say “apparently” because, having been blessed with great good fortune earlier and some fantastic views of Fuji-san, by now our luck had turned and she was hidden in the clouds. But we had nothing to complain of, and did not. We knew that many come here to Hakone and never see her at all, so we were all simply grateful that we had been honoured.
If you have time you can hike a much longer stretch of the Tōkaidō Way which runs from Moto-Hakone to Hakone Yumoto, about 11 kilometres in length and quite steep in parts (best to go Moto-Hakone to Hakone Yumoto rather than vice versa as it’s a roughly 800 metre difference and uphill most of the way if you choose the latter!)
Next tip: some traditional music and costumes
- Historical Travel
How to use hot spring baths ??
Hakone Palace Hotel's Spa-area is situated on the first floor and separated for men and women.
Your Yakuta (bathrobe) and slippers are already prepared in your hotel-room.
On the first floor you have to take care to find the right gender-specific entrance. You enter a room, where you should undress (totally), and deposit your Yakuta , underwear and watch, glasses etc in a basket , that can be closed away in a box.
Just armed with a towel you will now enter the anteroom of the "grand" hot spring bath (an inside hot pool). You should now use one of the many wash-basins, situated near the floor and soapen,shrub,wash and rinse your body before entering the hot spring bath, where you will find a quiet place to lay down and stay for about half an hour (be careful, your circulation may not approve of too much heat!)
There is also an open air bath with hot springs for men and women, accessible from the inside pools, hidden between high green hedges. A very special experience, when it's raining !!
- Arts and Culture
- Spa and Resort
A deep blue lake formed by an ancient volcano 400 thousand years ago. Nowadays, it offers boating and fishing for the many Japanese that flock here on weekends.
If you travel with the Hakone Freepass, there are cruise ships built like pirate ships that ply between the villages along the 20 km shoreline.
On a good day, the lake offers breathtaking views of Mount Fuji.
- Family Travel
Hakone Rope Way
From Odawara Station their is Odakyu Travel Services sales office you can buy "Hakone Free Pass" a roundtrip pass and you have the flexibility of six types of transportation in the area and offers unlimited boarding pass, you saved money, line up and hassle. And they give you brouchure and map.
I recommend to start early in the morning because the area is very huge to visit for one day.
When I was there the weather does not cooperate a little bit of rain and foggy. When I left Yokohama is not raining and I did not see that much of Hakone, because I did not bring my umbrella.
This is a scenic lake in the area of Hakone.
It is a crater lake and it is very popular for its view of Mt. Fuji, but I was not so luky to get such a view as I met a cloudy day.
If you are interested in the various views that the lake can offer, you can take one of the many boat tours around the lake, we did not have time to do that, but could notice that many tourists enjoy.
- Sailing and Boating
When my friend told me that we were coming here to enjoy hot spring, I did not even know what hot spring is, and now I know it's a sort of thermal baths.
This kind of resort in Japan are near volcanos as those waters have told to be healthy for the body.
I enjoyed hot spring baths in Tokyu harvest club where we slept but almos any hotel in Hakone has its own hot spring where you can relax.
- Spa and Resort
This active crater is worth the trouble of multiple transport links to get there. A great, steaming mountain shrouded in sulfurous mist. Be sure to buy some eggs boiled black in the hellish waters. They add 7 years to your life. Really.
- National/State Park
Forget the trains and buses and taxis. Get off your ass and go for a walk! Get a feel for rural Japan. You'll bump into plenty of other trekkers. This a place of tremendous natural beauty. The rolling hills and gentle creeks are the reason to be in Hakone, so go see them.
- Hiking and Walking
We picked up a brochure for this place from the station (Hakone-Yumoto). We were drawn to it because of the beautiful photo's of owls (at rest and in flight) and flowers on the front page. The brochure was written in Kanji. We assumed it was a garden/bird sanctuary and decided that if we had time we would fit it in. We did find the time but didn't find the birds! Mostly because there aren't any! I still don't understand why the pictures on the pamphlet? We tried to ask, but everyone played dumb, and my japanese just wasn't up to it. Regardless, it made for a pleasant stop on a cold day! It is beautifully warm inside! There is a cafeteria, and a craft shop upstairs that sells dried flower type souveneirs and other artworks. It is a very cheery place to be when its freezing outside, but unless you're a mad gardener, (or desperately in need of warming up), don't go out of your way.
- Family Travel
- Arts and Culture