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Classic day trip to Hakone from Tokyo

Using the new digital version of the Hakone Freepass

When looking for a quick and easy getaway from Tokyo, Hakone is a popular choice amongst residents of Tokyo thanks to its proximity and ease of access from the metropolis as well as for its abundant nature, views of Mount Fuji, hot springs and museums. There is plenty to see and do in the scenic town of Hakone with something for everyone from the young to the old.

Odakyu Romancecar directly connects central Tokyo to Hakone in approximately 80 minutes, and a classic tour of Hakone is a round course which can be completed as a day trip. This round course starts and ends at Hakone-Yumoto Station, the entrance to Hakone, and is easily completed by public transportation. In this article, I will be going on a day trip to Hakone from Tokyo, visiting some of the major sightseeing spots in the area, all by public transportation.

A convenient and useful pass to get when touring Hakone is the Hakone Freepass, a discount pass offered by Odakyu Electric Railway. The pass allows for a round trip from a station on the Odakyu Line, including Shinjuku in central Tokyo, and unlimited travel on all Odakyu-affiliated buses, trains, ropeways, cable cars and ships in the Hakone area for two or three consecutive days. The pass can be purchased at ticket counters and ticket machines, or ticketless in digital form online on your smartphone.

The process of purchasing a Digital Hakone Freepass is quick and easy. Simply access the Odakyu Electric Railway website on your smartphone, select the Hakone Freepass and purchase the pass with a credit card. Afterwards, just show the ticket on your smartphone to the staff at the ticket gates. Some of the benefits of purchasing a digital pass compared to a physical ticket include being able to purchase the ticket anytime and anywhere before your trip, and not worrying about losing the pass.

For my day trip to Hakone, I purchased a Digital Hakone Freepass, which I breezed through. I started my journey from Shinjuku Station in central Tokyo and took the Limited Express Romancecar on the Odakyu Line which requires an additional limited express ticket, to Hakone-Yumoto Station.

My day out in Hakone started with an approximately 30 minute bus ride from Hakone-Yumoto Station to Amazake Chaya, a traditional teahouse which has been family run since it was established about 400 years ago. The tea house is located along the old Tokaido, Japan's most important highway during the feudal times connecting Tokyo - then known as Edo - with Kyoto along the Pacific Coast, and has been offering tired travelers a place to take a break, have some food and drink for centuries.

A drink not to be missed is amazake, the namesake of the tea house. Amazake is a non-alcoholic, sugar-free drink made from rice which was fermented with koji yeast. The naturally sweet and nutritious drink can be drunk hot or cold, and would have nourished many tired travelers over the centuries. I ordered amazake and a small snack for sustenance in preparation for the next leg of my trip, walking part of the old Tokaido.

As mentioned earlier, the old Tokaido was Japan's most important highway during the feudal period, and two checkpoints were built to control traffic along the road. Hakone was one of these two checkpoints overseeing traffic in and out of Edo. Parts of the old Tokaido road have been preserved and the portions near Amazake Chaya is one of them.

My walk on the old Tokaido started from Amazake Chaya and led about 1.5 kilometers west towards Lake Ashi, which took me about 50 minutes. There were slightly steep inclines along the way, but it was nothing too strenuous and can be completed comfortably by those of average fitness. The preserved cobblestone path is flanked by tall trees, and I imagined that the view I saw must have been the same sight that travelers of the past saw. The old Tokaido road continues along the lakeshore towards the Hakone Checkpoint, but my walk ended in the small lakeside town of Moto-Hakone.

Moto-Hakone is where some of the best views of Mount Fuji in Hakone can be had when visibility is good. Additionally, sightseeing cruises depart from the Motohakone-ko pier, and the atmospheric Hakone-jinja Shrine is a short walk along the shores of Lake Ashi.

I continued on foot towards Hakone-jinja Shrine after arriving at Lake Ashi in Moto-Hakone, and went to the large torii gate that stands in the waters of the lake first. An image of the torii gate in the water together with Mount Fuji in the background make for an iconic image of Hakone, but alas, Mount Fuji remained hidden behind the clouds when I was there.

Located in the woods and surrounded by tall trees, Hakone-jinja Shrine is an oasis of calm and serenity. I made my way up the flights of stairs from the torii gate in the water to the main shrine building to pay my respects before going to the pier to catch a sightseeing cruise.

A fun mode of transport in Hakone is the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise, in which a few different types of pirate ships sail the waters of Lake Ashi. I boarded a pirate ship at Motohakone-ko and arrived in Togendai-ko approximately 30 minutes later. The cruise is fully covered by the Hakone Freepass, and was an entertaining ride across the lake. At Togendai-ko, I transferred from the boat to the ropeway to get to Owakudani.

Owakudani is a volcanically active spot in Hakone that was formed over 3000 years ago when Mount Hakone erupted. Today, the area is a popular tourist attraction in Hakone where visitors can see volcanic landscape like smoking vents and boiling pools. Owakudani is also a nice place to view Mount Fuji when visibility is clear, like at Moto-Hakone. Owakudani is one of the major sources of the hot spring waters in Hakone, and its waters are piped from there to the various hot spring facilities.

In addition to seeing the volcanic landscape, Owakudani is famous for its black eggs - chicken eggs whose shells turn black from being cooked in the sulfuric pools. The black eggs are sold in packs of five, and eating one egg is said to extend your life by seven years. If eating eggs are not your kind of thing, other "black" foods at Owakudani include black curry, which I heard is quite delicious, black ramen, in which the noodles are black, and black soft serve ice cream which is made with bamboo charcoal. I couldn't help but go for the black ice cream before leaving the area.

Continuing on my day trip, I got back on the ropeway, transferred to the cable car, then finally the train to get to the Hakone Open-Air Museum. The museum is one of the first outdoor muesums in Japan, and the spacious grounds contain a large variety of sculptures, installations and paintings in both indoor and outdoor exhibition areas. One of the missions of the museum is for visitors to enjoy and experience art in nature, and I had a lovely time walking in the wide lawns enjoying art alongside the colors of the season.

A visit to the Hakone Open-Air Museum typically takes about two to three hours, but I have been told that it is not unheard of for some to spend an entire day just at the museum and taking in all the sights leisurely. After spending some time at the museum, it was time to start winding down my day. I got back on the train and made my way back to Hakone-Yumoto Station, from where it was a three minute free shuttle bus ride to Hakone Yuryo.

Hakone Yuryo is a day visit hot spring facility, which has both public and private baths. Having gone for a nice hearty walk in the morning and seeing one of Hakone's hot spring sources at Owakudani, going for a bath at Hakone Yuryo felt like a nice and deserving way to wind down. It was so relaxing to soak in a hot spring bath after a whole day out, and I felt recharged and refreshed after that.

As I had a bit of time before my train back to Tokyo, I took the opportunity to check out the local souvenirs in the shopping street beside the station. I had a great day out visiting the major sightseeing spots in Hakone, and I was already planning another trip back, an overnight one perhaps, as I left Hakone.

Access

Hakone can be accessed from Shinjuku Station in central Tokyo, and Hakone-Yumoto Station is one of the area's main transportation hub. Regular trains make the journey between Shinjuku and Hakone-Yumoto in about two hours, and a transfer at Odawara Station is required. The Limited Express Romancecar provides a direct route between the two stations in about 80 minutes, but note that an additional limited express ticket is required which is not covered by the Hakone Freepass.

Within Hakone, a network of buses, trains, ships, ropeways and cable cars provide access to many of the sightseeing attractions. The modes of transport taken in this article are fully covered by the Hakone Freepass.

The Hakone Freepass is a discount pass offered by Odakyu Electric Railway. The pass allows for a round trip from a station on the Odakyu Line, including Shinjuku in central Tokyo, and unlimited travel on all Odakyu-affiliated buses, trains, ropeways, cable cars and ships in the Hakone area for two or three consecutive days. The pass can be purchased at ticket counters and ticket machines, or ticketless in digital form online on your smartphone.

The process of purchasing a Digital Hakone Freepass is quick and easy. Simply access the Odakyu Electric Railway website on your smartphone, select the Hakone Freepass and purchase the pass with a credit card. Afterwards, just show the ticket on your smartphone to the staff at the ticket gates.