A stay in Tokyo is usually hectic, filled with excitement, and a plethora of activities. This can and should be exhilarating. But what many visitors seek, after several days spent exploring the dense city jungle is a getaway. And the most popular nearby getaway for many Tokyoites is in Hakone.
Hakone is in Kanagawa Prefecture, next door neighbors to Tokyo. It’s main city is Yokohama, which is so close that it was recently voted the best neighborhood in Tokyo to live in! Hakone is in the mountains, though, a bit further away from Tokyo than Yokohama. It’s close enough, though, that the train from Shinjuku to the gateway station of Hakone-Yumoto takes only a little over 90 minutes.
How to get There
The Odakyu Railway from Shinjuku offers, by far, the most options for visiting Hakone. The various kinds of tickets they offer, though, can be confusing. There are at least 6 different types of discounted tickets, covering a range of areas, travel methods, and time periods. For most people, the best options are the Hakone Freepass, Fuji Hakone Pass, Hakone Kamakura Pass, and the Hakone Kowaki-en Yunessun Hot Spring Coupon.
If you’re just planning to go to Hakone, then the Freepass is good enough. But to visit either the Mt. Fuji area or the area around Kamakura and Enoshima, then you’ll find the other passes to be a better bargain. The Yunessun coupon will give you a discount into a huge hot spring complex, one that has a bathing suited mixed bathing area as well as a full-fledged and separated Japanese style bath. Using the pass and the coupon together, you’ll be certain to get the full Hakone hot spring experience, just like a local.
But before you just head out, you’ll need to purchase your ticket, and, for couples, the best trip is going to be on the Romancecar. The Romancecar will cost a bit more, but it will get you there faster and, for couples, the name alone should be reason to ride the train.
The best place to buy your tickets is at the Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center in Shinjuku. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, then another option is the Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center in Odawara. Either way, you can buy your passes, make reservations, and get maps to Hakone at the center. The Romancecar is not only the fastest train to Hakone from Tokyo, but all of the seats are in pairs – perfect for couples. If you’re lucky, you can get a seat at the front (or back) of the train, looking straight out to the tracks! The conductor in these special trains rides in the driver’s cabin above the front car, so passengers can sit right at the end of the car!
What you’ll find in Hakone
Hakone is most famous as a hot spring resort. There are a great many bathhouses to choose from. The Yunessun resort is the most accessible, because of the mixed bathing areas. The resort has many baths indoors and outdoors, including baths that have Roman architecture, coffee, green tea, and sake waters, and a water slider. The Japanese style bath in a different area inside the same complex has one of the largest outdoor baths in Japan.
Another great hot spring that you can visit is Tenzan. The baths here are much more traditional, with one of the baths featuring a low-ceilinged “cave” sauna, as well as a cascading bath built into the rocky hillside. If you want a taste of a more traditional onsen and are comfortable bathing nude, then Tenzan is highly recommended!
Going to Gotemba
Using your Freepass or Hakone Kamakura Pass, you can go from Hakone to Gotemba on a 90 minute bus ride. Gotemba is most famous for its Premium Outlet Mall. This mall is huge, with 210 shops. From the mall, you will have a great view of Mt. Fuji. The mall is filled with pretty much every brand name you can think of, from sports to fashion to shoes, bags, home furnishings, outdoor, jeans, and lots of food. It isn’t just international brands, too, so you will be able to find original Japanese gifts here – at discounted prices, too!
Getting back to Tokyo
The Hakone Freepass or Hakone Kamakura Pass will also whisk you back to Shinjuku, 90 minutes on the Romancecar or 2 hours on a regular express train. With a Japan Rail Pass, you can also get back to Tokyo in a little more than 2 hours by JR.
There are so many more great reasons to explore the Kamakura-Gotemba-Hakone-Fuji area, including Enoshima, the beaches of Shonan, Lake Ashinoko, and Fujikyu Highlands, but writing about each of these would take a blog post for each one! I’d recommend you get a 2 or 3 day pass to Hakone and spend one or two nights there. Whether you go for the shopping, art galleries, sightseeing, amusement park rides, beaches, hiking, cycling, crafts, or hot springs there is something to do for everyone. There is Romance not only in the train to Hakone, but in the water, air, and everywhere.