Hakone is probably the only place where you can see an active volcano and ride in a pirate ship on the same day. Located about 2 hours from Yokohama Station, Hakone served as a midway point between Kyoto and Edo on the Tokaido line during the Edo period. The city has kept some of its traditional feel with its cobblestone roads and traditional onsens.
My group set out early in the morning to make sure we fit in all we could before the last ferry. From the YNU Gumyoji dorm, the easiest route is to take the blue line to Totsuka (06) and hop on a JR at that station. Once arrived in Hakone, we purchased a Hakone Freepass. For 4,000 yen, you can get access to all of the buses, boats, and cable cars in Hakone, many businesses also offer discounts with the pass. Even if you only spend one day in the city, the freepass is worth the money.
To start our exploring we rode Japan’s oldest railway system, the Hakone Tozan Line, up the base of the mountain. The train takes leisurely switch backs up the mountain giving you plenty of time to take photos of the leaves. If you’re looking for the best photo ops, visit in November when the leaves are turning.
The area surrounding the trains last stop is full quaint old style buildings, views of the mountain are available in most alleys. After checking out a few omiyage shops, we headed to Gora Park a few blocks from the station. I could easily spend a whole day walking in the park and the best part is that admission is included with the Hakone Freepass.
Once we had all the photos we needed, we headed back to the station to take a rail ride to the base of the ropeway. As there is only one way to get to the top, expect to wait at least 15 minutes for your chance to ride.
My whole life I have been afraid of heights, like crying on roller coasters afraid of heights, so I was a little apprehensive about the next leg of the journey. The Hakone Ropeway features spectacular views of the mountain and the active Owakudani or “Great Boiling Valley.” The entire cabin of the ropeway car is glass so there are plenty of opportunities for spectacular photos. Although I expected to be terrified, the car was slow and stable enough for me to relax, but if you have issues with heights it might be a good idea to let your friends take photos for you.
At the summit, you can try the famous black eggs that get their color from being boiled in the mountains volcanic water. Unless you absolutely love eggs, it might be best to spend your 500 yen in one of the ramen shops or food stalls in the area. Smelling the sulfury air coming from Owakudani will give you the same effect as eating one of the expensive eggs.
There is a beautiful small shrine at the top of the railway as well as a great look out point to take in the valley. A had a nice chat with some locals also visiting from Yokohama while taking in the view.
If you’re only spending one day in Hakone, 2 hours is probably the most you want to spend at the top of the ropeway. The ride down to Ashi-no-ko lake is a little longer than the ride up and offers views of the changing leaves. My group was lucky to have no wait time at this station.
Have your camera ready for your voyage across the Ashi no ko Lake in a ferry boat that has been decorated to look like a pirate ship. The ride takes about 30 minutes and is one of the best spots to capture photos of the fall leaves. If you’re feeling truly adventurous, you take pose with a plaster pirate at the helm of the ship.
Once the ferry docks, you are only a 15 minute walk from the famous Hakone Shrine. Follow a path along the waterfront and look for a red bridge in the wooded area across from where the ferry docks. If you feel lost, just start looking for other tourists, you’re all going to the same place.
The photo above is the view of the shrine, most people don’t see until they arrive and realize they’ll have to wait 30 minutes to take their photo. I’d love to post a photo of the nice view, but I actually waited in line so long that it was dark by the time I got to take photos. Everyone in line was really polite, they would run to the photo spot as quickly as they could. It’s definitely worth the stop, just allow yourself some time before sunset.
After your final photo op, enjoy the sunset over the lake as you wait for your bus back to the main Hakone station. Most of the bus drivers speak english and will be help you find the fastest route back.
On the subway ride home you can look through all of your photos and argue about which cloud storage service is the best for RAW files.