One of my favorite places I ever visited in Japan was definitely Hakone, a beautiful, small town in the Kanagawa prefecture, approximately 60 miles away from Tokyo. My friends and I went there for a short weekend trip and later wished we could have stayed longer.
Hakone is well known as a health resort and tourism magnet in Japan. It's located near volcanoes and mountains, which surround the lake Ashi. There are a lot of ryokan with onsen for the visitors of Hakone. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese hotel with hot springs/baths (onsen), that can be used privately or together with other guests. There's a great variety of hotels in the city, from small, really old ones, to luxury, big ones that can host a great number of guests.|
From Tokyo, you can take the Romancecar to Hakone. This is a special express train of the Odayaku Electric Railway, especially used by tourists. We took the longer route with a slower, commuter train, which was also a bit cheaper. The Romance car stops at Hakone-Yumoto station, the biggest station in town, but we went a bit further to Odawara station and switched to a bus. And that was a ride, guys! If you're afraid of narrow roads and heights (like me), I wouldn't recommend this trip but there was really no other way to get to our ryokan. The view was breathtaking though! The nature in and around Hakone is absolutely stunning!
The ryokan we had booked for the trip was small and a bit hidden in a more rural area of Hakone, surrounded by fields and maple trees. There was an inside and an outside onsen we could book for half an hour each in the evenings and in the mornings. The traditional rooms' floors were covered with tatami mats and we had yukata laid out for us, as super soft futon. The staff gave us some information about popular tourist spots, but since Hakone's nature is really spacious, we didn't run into many people.
Since the weather was really nice, we first wandered to lake Ashi and some way around. The lake belongs to the Fuji-Hakone-Izu national park and was formed out of a 3000 year old volcanic crater.
I know I repeat myself when I say this, but it's truly beautiful there! Around late afternoon we arrived at one of the wharves for the tourist ships that are navigating from different spots over lake Ashi. There's even a ship that looks like an old pirate sailing boat!
We took the ship to get back to our starting point, sitting on the deck, enjoying the wonderful view. Thanks to the great weather, we were even able to see Mount Fuji! If the view over the maple-spotted mountains of Hakone somehow looks familiar to you, imagine an angel from the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion suddenly emerging from said mountains, fighting an EVA. Yes, Hakone, especially the location around lake Ashi, appears several times in the original series. That is why there's even a merchandise store at Yumoto station.
Have you ever been to Hakone? What did you do there and what did you see? Let me know in the comments!