Once we had decided we would travel outside of Tokyo to Miyagi Fox village and that we would get the JR pass, we discovered Hakone as a day trip destination. It took roughly two pictures and four minutes for us to be sold on the idea. It looks that good. It’s a very popular destination amongst Japanese tourist as you get a beautiful view of Mt Fuji and there is a very special temple on lake Ashi. But to get there, you will need a bullet train, a local train called Tozan and a bus. Once again our pocket WiFi and google maps were life savers. So here is how you get to Hakone from Tokyo.
First you need to take a Shinkansen from Tokyo station to Odawara, it takes just over half an hour and trains are very frequent. Once you arrive in Odawara station you should go to the Hakone freepass counter. This pass will give you unlimited access to the local Tozan trains and buses for 48 hours. There are different levels giving you access to different transports and discounts on attractions. We went for the cheapest and most basic pass for ¥1,750 each.
If you don’t have a JR Pass, you can buy the freepass from Shinjuku Station where you can take a slower train – a bit over an hour – which would be cheaper than a Shinkansen but then I wouldn’t recommend it as a day trip. The pass from Shinjuku is more expensive but will include the train ride to Odawara as well.The lady at the freepass counter recommended us to take the Tozan train to Kowakidani station and then the bus from there rather than the bus directly from Odawara because of traffic. So here is the thing, when we researched everywhere was saying Hakone was very close to Tokyo, just half an hour on a train… but it’s not quite true. The train to Kowakidani and then the bus across the road from the station to lake Ashi takes quite a while. All in all be prepared to travel for nearly 2 hours from Tokyo. That’s why I wouldn’t recommend it as a day trip if you have to take a slow train from Tokyo. But I would still recommend going if you have the time to stay overnight.
When we arrived at Kowakidani station, we were literally in the middle of nowhere with no English speaking tourists in sight. Well actually there was only us two and two Chinese tourists who kept on walking. We found a bus stop across the road and thanks to google map I could check it was the right direction. Very quickly a bus arrived and we just needed to show our pass. It was quite busy as it is a local bus residents use to get around. Luckily like everything else in Japan, it is very organised and stops are announced in English on a screen. We got off at Motohakone-ko along with some Japanese tourists, the bus stop is about a minute away from the lake.
Now when you get to the lake, if you walk along it on the left you will have the view of Mt Fuji with the temple gate. We were lucky, it was a beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky but even then the mountain was surrounded by clouds. It’s unpredictable and you could end up not seeing it. There are other view points you can get to by train, cable car and cruise boat, those are not included in the basic freepass. But the view we had was enough for us, we sat down and had lunch. There are loads of place to eat from, but we do love our 7Eleven lunches. More on that to come.
Then if you walk along the lake in opposite direction, you will get to the gate on the lake. We had seen many pictures of people standing in the gate with not a soul around. Well, that’s because people queue to take the picture. And I loved it. I loved that people are orderly enough and clever enough to queue so everyone can get the picture they want rather than no one. You would never ever see that in France. Obviously it also means you need to be ready to take your picture and be pretty swift. It still felt like a special place. I liked standing there on my own my feet almost in the lake underneath this big temple gate.
We then walked up to the main temple and from there you can see an alignment of gates all the way down to the lake. We walked around and then strolled back down to the bus stop. It was quite busy on the way back, be ready to travel standing up or wait first in line for the next bus.
Even though we were there in December, the weather was incredible and we felt tired like after a good day out by the sea – but still refreshed as if we had had a longer break from Tokyo.
Is going to Hakone, even for a day, worth it? Many many times yes. It was one of my favourite days of the trip. It was beautiful, different and I would go back again.