Boats on Lake Ashi
Lake Ashi sightseeing cruises are a very popular way to travel between Hakone's major tourist sites. There are three main ports for the big ships: one to the north at Togendai, which connects travelers to the Hakone Ropeway; one to the south at Moto-Hakone, near Hakone Shrine; and a third, also to the south at Hakone-Machi, near historic Hakone Checkpoint. It takes about 30 minutes to get between either of the two southern ports and Togendai, at a cost of 1,000 Yen one way or 1,800 Yen round trip. It is 360 Yen per adult for the short, 10-minute journey between Hakone-Machi and Moto-Hakone (and it can be easily walked in about 20 minutes for free!).
The boat trips are a good way to see Mount Fuji and take photos of the torii gate in the lake at Hakone Shrine and the surrounding mountains.
Parking in Hakone
Parking in Hakone and Moto-Hakone is very limited, so if you drive, plan ahead. Most hotels have lots for their guests, but public lots are reserved. If you have no other options, you can park on one of the side streets like this guy!
Gora has even worse parking than Hakone. We found only two ro three pay lots in the entire town, and were lucky to get one open spot during the middle of the day on a weekend.
Toyo Tires Turnpike or Hakone Turnpike
The Hakone Toyo Tires Turnpike is one of the major roads between Odawara and Hakone at the south end of Lake Ashi. Originally simply called the Hakone Turnpike, in 2007 Toyo Tires bought the naming rights to the road. The road is only about 15 kilometers between toll booths, and the toll is a very expensive 720 Yen. There is also a short 1.7 km extension that costs an additional 55 Yen.
At the Hakone end of the turnpike is th Toyo Tires View Lounge, a rest stop with plenty of parking, a restaurant, shops, restrooms, and a great view of Mount Fuji towering over Lake Ashi. Unfortunately, on a cloudy day Lake Ashi is all you are likely to see.
The lower end of the turnpike has great views of the coastline around Odawara.
The Hakone Ropeway connects Souzan Station in Gora to Togendai Station at Ashi Lake with a 24 minute ride (plus time for transfers) that offers stunning views of Mount Fuji, Owakudani sulfer springs, and Lake Ashi. Round trip fare end to end is 2,340 Yen per adult. With over 2,000,000 passengers per year, the Hakone Ropeway is the world's busiest gondola.
We took the ropeway from Souzan to Okaudani, an 8 minute ride that cost us 1,470 Yen per person. The views over the sulfer pits were breathtaking, and everyone in the 18-person gondola said "Oooooh" when it came into view. Unfortunately, low clouds blocked our view to Mount Fuji.
Hakone Tozan Cable Car
Hakone Tozan Cable Car runs a very short 1.2 kilometers up a very steep hill from Gora to Souzan, rising 200 meters in elevation. The total time of each run is 10 minutes and the train stops are four intermediate stations along the way. The stations are so close together that they can easily be walked in just a few minutes, but it is much easier to walk downhill than uphill!
Adult fare for the entire Gora to Souzan route is 420 Yen, and the child fare is 210 Yen. Trains depart every 15 to 25 minutes, and they really pack in the passengers on busy weekends.
At the lower end, Gora Station, you can transfer to the Hakone Tozan Railway. At Souzan Station, the upper terminus, you can transfer to the Hakone Ropeway that takes you to Owakudani and down to Lake Ashi 24 minutes each way.
Getting to Hakone
To get to Hakone from our hotel in Asakusa we first took the subway (Ginza line) to Ueno, then the JR train to Tokyo station. Here we boarded a bullet train to Odawara (about 30 minutes).
From here we took the bus, using our Hakone Free Pass (see below). The ride to Sengokuhara took about 50 minutes, with lots of stops, climbing gradually. We followed a pretty river for part of the time, and later winding through woodland with glimpses of the surrounding mountains. The bus stopped only a couple of minutes walk from our guest house, Fuji-Hakone in Sengokuhara, so it was a very convenient way to travel here.
A word of warning though – these are local buses and not geared up for bulky luggage. We had taken Andrew’s advice to make use of the excellent luggage forwarding service offered by Japan Rail, so most of our stuff went directly from Tokyo to Osaka while we brought just enough for the two nights on our journey to Hakone. I definitely advise doing the same as even our small overnight bags were an effort to squeeze in.
Next tip: the good deal that is the Hakone Freepass
We took quite a few buses while staying in this area. The most useful services seemed to be the T, which we took from and to Odewara (and in the evening when going out for dinner at Daichi, just a few stops away), and the S which we caught to Gora (for the funicular) and to the Open Air Museum.
Buses run relatively frequently for a rural area - I don't think we ever waited longer than 15 minutes. The S stops running quite early (around tea time) but the T runs in the evening. Fares looked reasonable to me (a short trip was about 300¥ and you can get a fair way with 900¥) but in any case you will probably want to buy and use a Hakone Freepass if spending any time in the area.
If you do have a pass just show it to the driver when you board and when you get off. If you don’t have one and need to pay a fare, note that in Japan it’s usual to pay when you get off. You take a ticket on boarding, and as you travel the sign above the front windscreen (see photo 4) shows the fare for the distance you’ve travelled. When you get off, show the driver the ticket, which indicates which stop you got on at, and pay the amount specified – you’ll need the correct change. The website explains this very clearly. It also has a good map of all the routes in the area.
Next tip: the wonderful Hakone Open Air Museum
Hakone's "rope ways"
The Hakone rope way is a cable car system that links Gora to some of the main sights including Owakudani Hot Springs and Togendai on Lake Ashi. We took our first one from Sounzan at the upper terminus of the funicular railway to the springs, and after visiting there changed to the other to descend to the lake.
The cars are modern and comfortable, seating about 18 people in each, although I think that would be a bit cosy – we were a group of 13 and fitted in quite nicely. They do stop to let you board, unlike some others we have ridden. The views going up to Owakudani are good, but it is on the ride down to Lake Ashi that you will want to have your cameras ready, if the weather is fine, as you get great views of Mount Fuji on the first part of the descent (see photos two and three).
The ride up took about eight minutes, and going back down to the lake takes roughly double that, with a station en route. If you don’t like heights you may find it a little unnerving, as a couple of people in our group did at first, but I personally loved these rides as I think most of us did. Drifting almost silently above the mountains with that distant view of Fuji is something I’ll remember for a long while.
Next tip: a steaming spectacle
- National/State Park
Funicular from Gora to Sounzan
Confusingly the Japanese call this a cable car, and what I would call a cable car they term a “ropeway”! But whatever you call it, this is a useful little service that links Gora, one of the main transport hubs in Hakone, with Sounzan where you can catch the ropeway / cable car proper to Owakudani and onwards to Lake Ashi. The journey from Gora to Sounzan only lasts about ten minutes, with brief stops at a number of stations. One of these seemed to serve a hotel while others are convenient for some bus stops I believe and also seemed to be used by a few locals and walkers. Do note that if you are alighting at one of these, some do not have any means of crossing the track, so you must know which side to get off – or wait for the next train to arrive and cross by walking through this!
We used our Hakone Freepass for the journey so no need to pay, but if you don’t have one of these the fare from Gora to Sounzan is currently (October 2013) 410¥. The ride though short was fun and there were some quite good views, though nothing like those we were to get a little later!
Next tip: a ride on some cable cars
Cruise on a pirate ship!
A popular tourist activity here is to take a cruise on a so-called pirate ship on Lake Ashi. When I heard we were to travel on a pirate ship I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I don’t think it was this! The ships are really just regular lake boats “in disguise”, with masts added, and with sails and even ropes moulded from plastic. The pirates are equally artificial, being just modelled (I think I had expected that the crew would be dressed up!) Apparently the ships are modelled on medieval sailing vessels, but once on board they are fairly indistinguishable from any modern boat.
Nevertheless this is a fun ride and the scenery around the lake is wonderful. On a clear day you will see Mount Fuji and around the shore are wooded mountains and some brightly coloured torii. And it's also a useful way to get around, and is a relaxing and scenic way to travel.
The boats have several decks, with seating on two levels inside and mostly standing only on the top open deck – the best place for photos, naturally. There is also a first class area if you want to sit on a more padded seat, but with no other discernible benefits!
There are three embarkation / disembarkation points around the lake. We travelled on one of these boats to Hakone-Machi and later returned in another from Moto-Hakone. The fare is covered by the Hakone Free Pass if you have one; otherwise you pay 970¥ between Togendai and either Hakone-Machi or Moto-Hakone, and just 350¥ for the short ten minute stretch between those two. Several ships operate the route – I think I saw three different ones but there may be more. Departures are every 40 minutes for most of the year, but every 50 minutes from the start of December to mid March – see details here. The website below gives some other useful information about tickets and the facilities on board.
Next tip: more about the beautiful Lake Ashi
Hakone Free 3 Day Pass
If you are taking the train to Hakone and intend to take the rail / incline rail / cablecar / boat / bus / rail circuit tour of the area, purchase a Hakone Free 3 day pass (there are no 1 or 2 day passes) at Odawara Station where you get off the Japan Rail train. JR passes do not cover transport from there. The Hakone pass will cover your return journey to Hakone and all the segments in the circuit. It is significantly cheaper than buying all the segments separately, and much easier to use.
Also, try to sit near the front of the smaller trains. You can quite a good view looking forward.
Update 2011: someone on VT forums had problems with this; they had gotten a "2-3 day passes" which apparently is something completely different. Furthermore, the link I had no longer works. Double-check what you buy.
- Family Travel
A modern cable car that whisks people across the Hakone region (from Sounzan to the shores of Lake Ashi. It will stop at Owakudani.
Apparently, Hakone Ropeway at 4,035 m distance between Sounzan and Togendai, is the longest in Japan and the second longest in the world behind Kriens Bahn in Switzerland. It takes about 28 mins from Sounzan to Togendai (shores of Lake Ashi).
Unlimited usage if you use Hakone Freepass.
- Family Travel
Hakone Tozan bus
Hakone Tozan Railways operates the bus lines from Hakone-Yumoto Station, the entrance to the Hakone Park Area for Hakonemachi, Moto-Hakone, Gora, Sengoku-bara and Togendai. These bus lines, together with Railways, Cable Cars, Ropeway and Pirate Boats, make a convenient traffic network in Hakone. The Sightseeing Bus Lines are also available from Odawara stn. and Atami stn. to the popular spots in Hakone.
Excerpt from Odakyu Group webpage.
Unlimited usage if you use the Hakone Freepass.
- Family Travel
Pirate sightseeing boat
Hakone Sightseeing Ship are sailing in Lake Ashi between Togendai, Hakonemachi and Moto-Hakone. These three ship are Pirate Boats. "Vasa" with its emerald green body, was built after "Vasa (or the first king of Sweden)", built by the king Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in the first half of the 17th century. "Royal" with its red body and a white line, was built after the sailing warship " le Soleil Royal (King of the Sun)" in the 17th century. "Victoria" with its blue and red body curved in golden color, was built after a warship "Sovereign of the seas( or Emperor of the sea)" in England in the 17th century. On "the Pirate Boats in the wonderland", you will have wonderful scenes of Lake Ashi, like a virgin forest, hotels lined and a red torii or a gateway at the entrance to Hakone Shrine along the lake side. You will have a more luxurious time in first class for an additional charge. In the fall of 1996, "Frontier", the side-wheeler in the Mississippi, has made its debut on the line, which is quite different from the three pirate boats. Enjoy cruising in these boats.
It takes about 40 mins from Togendai to Moto-Hakone.
Excerpt from Odakyu Group webpage.
Unlimited usage by using Hakone Freepass.
- Family Travel
For a small surcharge, you can travel in style and comfort on board the Odakyu Romance Car from Shinjuku Station to Hakone Yumoto. The advantage of this special Limited Express Train is that you have a reserved seat and this means that during popular travel seasons, you will be guaranteed a seat and not risk having to stand all the way.
Reservations are essential and you can reserve the time of the outward and inward bound journey of your trip to Hakone Yumoto at the time of purchase of the Hakone Free Pass. Go to the Odakyu Travel Center located at Shinjuku Station.
- Spa and Resort
- Family Travel
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons