In my previous post, I mentioned that it was possible to visit Hakone from Tokyo and have a complete tour of the area in a single day. In fact, many Japanese tour companies offer a Mt Fuji-Hakone 1-day tour which is a popular way of visiting the region. All the tour companies follow a similar Hakone ‘Round Course’ tourist route which can be completed in a day.
However, we decided to take two days to complete the Hakone ‘Round Course’ for the following reasons:
1. Hakone has many beautiful places that can only be enjoyed on foot – and little feet take a longer time to cover a shorter distance.
2. Rushing about from one tourist spot to another is not how I like to travel. I like to take my time to soak in the atmosphere and drink in the little details. I find that I learn more about places that way. Sometimes, in the quest to see as much as possible, one ends up noticing very little.
3. Children often find new places rather overwhelming so if you want them to appreciate a new location, it’s worthwhile setting aside extra time to allow them to explore and discover at their pace.
Travel Tip: When sightseeing with children, remember that less is more! If you cram too many activities within one day, the sensory overload may result in over-tired and grouchy tots.
The Hakone ‘Round Course’ is quite easy to navigate without the help of a tour guide, and the Hakone Freepass (a two or three day travel pass) covers all the routes mentioned in this post.
I highly recommend the ‘Round Course’ route to anyone travelling with kids – especially kids who are intrigued by different modes of transportation – as this scenic journey involves having to take different types of trains, as well as buses, cable cars and ship!
Travel Tip: In Japan, kids who are 5 years old (and under 5s) travel free on all forms of transportation!
Our journey started at Gora station, where we got onto a funicular railway train (Hakone-Tozan Cablecar) that crept slowly up the side of the mountain.
During summertime, the train track is bounded on both sides by beautiful hydrangea blooms of all colours. Unfortunately, we arrived in autumn, so we were only able to imagine what would have been by looking at the ajisai-printed seat covers on the train!
We got off at the end of the line at Sounzan station which is also the start of the Hakone Ropeway, an aerial gondola lift which would take us from Sounzan to Togendai. The view over the mountain ranges was spectacular and on a clear day, one can even see as far as Mt Fuji!
We stopped midway at Owakudani station, which is a short stroll away from the hot springs site. The path up the side of the mountain to the hot springs is well paved but has many steps (so leave your pram behind if you want to check this place out). The hike is a little bit of a challenge for preschoolers, but it’s still a fun hike!
Owakudani is an active volcano and one can see the sulphur vents (and smell the sulphurous gases) whilst passing overhead in the aerial lifts. The local specialty here is kurotamago or ‘black eggs’. These are eggs that are boiled in the hot springs which turns the eggshells into a charcoal black colour.
The eggs themselves taste pretty normal, however, it is believed that eating one of these eggs will increase a person’s lifespan by seven years. The eggs are typically sold in little paper bags of five, which is supposed to be shared between two people, as eating two-and-a-half eggs (thereby extending life expentancy by seventeen and a half years) is considered prudent, whilst eating THREE eggs is ill-advised.
I was unable to get pictures of the kurotamago – the kids loved the taste of them so much that they finished the whole lot before I could get my camera out!
After this, we continued on the rest of the Hakone Ropeway route to the Togendai station endpoint. The Togendai station is located on the edge of Ashinoko (or Lake Ashi) which is a serene, volcanic crater lake. The Hakone Sightseeing Boat, which is a purpose-built pirate ship, leaves from the pier at Togendai station and goes across Lake Ashi to Hakone-Machi and Moto-Hakone. Whilst waiting for the ship to arrive, we took a short stroll by the lakeside, under the cool shade of cedar trees.
By this time, Little E was getting a little bit tired, so she took a nap whilst the rest of us milled about the deck of the ship.
The cruise was about half an hour long and it was fairly comfortable on board the boat. It was a dry but cloudy day, so although we were able to enjoy beautiful views of the wooded mountains surrounding Lake Ashi, Mt Fuji was no where to be seen.
Although J liked the idea of being on board a pirate ship, I personally found the boat a little…tacky. However, it was easy to forget the gimmicky nature of the tourist boat by staring out across the clear and beautiful Lake Ashi.
There was a pleasant smell of cedar trees on the breeze, and now and again we would see a red torii gate pop up amongst the trees by the edge of the lake.
It was lunchtime when we arrived at Hakone-machi, so we headed to a nearby cafe for tasty hot lunch.
Hakone-machi is a very popular tourist destination since the start of the Edo period, when the town was a major post station for travellers to take their rest whilst journeying along the Tokaido (The East Sea Highway), which connected Shogunate headquarters at Edo (now known as Tokyo or ‘Eastern Capital’) to the imperial court at Kyoto (the ‘Western Capital’). All travellers entering and leaving Edo were stopped at the Hakone Sekisho (Hakone Checkpoint) where their travel permits and baggage would be examined to restrict the travel of weapons (and women!).
The pathway leading through the Hakone checkpoint is open to the public, and for a small fee, one can enter the checkpoint museum and explore the reconstructed buildings to learn about the purpose of the Checkpoint, the Tokaido as well as life along the long road to Tokyo.
The children found the museum intriguing as it shows the quarters of the soldiers who manned the checkpoint as well as the interrogation rooms and the prison.
My particular favourite part of the museum was visiting the Checkpoint Guestroom – this was the waiting room for travellers passing through the checkpoint filled with all manner of weaponry in neat, shining rows, placed there by design, in order to
intimidate gently remind all visitors to behave in a seemly manner.
The entry fee to the museum also includes access to the lookout point which has lovely views across the lake (if you can make it up the long flight of stairs!)
From there it was another short stroll to the Hakone Detached Palace, which used to be the summer palace for the imperial family. The palace is surrounded by a lovely park (Onshi Hakone Park) which is known for its scenic walking trails and panoramic views across Lake Ashi (and Mt Fuji, if visibility permits).
We weren’t able to catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji from the Hakone Detached Palace grounds – even though it was bright and sunny, there were some wispy clouds in the distance that obscured the mysterious mountain from our view. It was still a gorgeous, peaceful place to visit, and the children really enjoyed exploring the winding lakeside paths and tree-lined walkways.