If time permits during your stay in Tokyo, a good way to experience rural Japan is to head off to a nearby town for a day trip. One popular destination is a visit to Hakone, a mountainous town located west of Tokyo.
We have been to Japan a number of times, and during our last trip we endeavoured to visit this town, to experience its famous Onsen, hot spring bath. This is also a good vantage point to see the majestic Mount Fuji from Lake Ashi, weather permitting of course.
Our trip began at Tokyo’s Shinjuku station by Odakyu Limited Express ‘Romancecar’, don’t expect to find a love on this train by its name, but you never know! Romancecar or Romansuka is the name of the reservation-only limited express luxury tourist train service to Hakone. You’ll need a limited express ticket (online or by voice +81-3-3482-0066) and regular ticket for this train.
There are steps on how to purchase tickets for Romancecar from overseas. First, pre-purchase one month before your travel date your limited express ticket 890Yen online or call the number above, choose your carriage and seat number and time of departure, do the same for your return, print the confirmation and take it with you. When you arrived in Tokyo, go to the Odakyu Romancecar counter in Shinjuku station, show your confirmation ticket then purchase the regular ticket for 2,080Yen each way. The regular ticket is the one you will be using to enter and exit the electronic barriers of the station.
The journey with the Romance car is enthralling. There are 4 different trains and some have observation seats, the partition seats will give you privacy by glass while the saloon seats are comfortable with wide leg room, large open windows, all with luxurious touch. A car attendant will come around, propelling a trolley bursting with all the favourites, and some surprises, tea, coffee, lunchboxes and snacks, in typical Japanese-only style.
The train left Shinjuku at 07:27 and arrived at Hakone-Yumoto at 09:01, approximately a 90-minute journey. As you ascend the station, you’ll find a lot of souvenir shops, restaurants, hotels, and an eclectic mix of old and new, traditional and modern edifices. During the Edo period, Hakone was best-known as the stopping post for travelers making long journeys and that tradition has been carried on today.
Our time was limited so we decided to catch the Hakone Tozan Bus to Hakone-machi for 1,180Yen one way. The journey was 55 minutes crossing the mountainous area of the Hakone National Park with limited stops along the way. Although it was a sunny day, the air was cold with scattered snow blocks on the road.
Lake Ashi was peaceful and tranquil, surrounded by breathtaking mountains in the background and a postcard-perfect body of water. Lake Ashi lies in a crater formed by a massive volcanic eruption 3,000 years ago. We arrived at the lake just in time for the Hakone Sigthseeing Cruise to depart, luckily we were able to secure tickets, round trip basic fare for 1,840Yen and for first class (upper deck), an additional 700Yen per person. The ferry has been outrageously decorated as a pirate ship. Sadly, clouds swallowed the iconic and often illusive Mt Fuji as we got closer, leaving us little more that a white canvas, luckily, we saw Fujisan in all its glory earlier in the morning. The cruise was very informative and conducted in a number of languages including English. The sightseeing cruise is about an hour and twenty minutes with three stopovers along the way.
We arrived back in Hakone-Yumoto around 3:00 pm and one more thing we wanted to do was to visit an onsen. From the station, a free shuttle bus will transport visitors who would like to try the experience of a hot spring bath at the Hakone Yuryo, with an entrance fee of 1,400Yen plus bath towel for 450Yen and an optional face towel for 250Yen. Please note, towels cannot be rented. Here you’ll find large male and female separate communal baths including private open-air baths surrounded by nature. Resting areas are also available including a restaurant. There are conditions for the use of onsen at this place, make sure to check out their website for details.
We caught the 6:00 pm Romancecar train back to Shinjuku. What a day!
(Note: we visited Hakone towards the end of March and it was freezing. Exchange rate: 1 AUD$ = 84.40 JPY)
- There are full-day tour packages from Tokyo to Mount Fuji and Hakone National Park without catching the Romancecar train, check out with Japan Tour Operators.
- Staying overnight in Hakone? If you have ample time, stay in a Ryokan, a Japanese traditional guesthouse which is highly recommended.
- The Hakone Free Pass by Odakyu Railways is a discount pass for exploring Hakone, unlimited use of Odakyu affiliated buses, trains, boats, cable cars and ropeways. From Shinjuku Station 2-day pass 5,140Yen, 3-day pass 5,640Yen. At Odawara Station, 2-day pass 4,000Yen, 3-day pass 4,500Yen, some condition apply. Also check out the package plans offered by Odakyu Travel for all those exciting tours of Hakone and nearby prefectures.
- Local and Express Trains operate between Shinjuku station in Tokyo to Hakone.
- Try some of the local luscious sweets from the many stores in the main road or at the station, deliciousness guaranteed.
- An onsen is often indicated on signs and maps by the symbol ♨ or by the Kanji 湯 (hot water).