Hakone in winter

Over the weekend I went on a short trip to Hakone, a region famous for its many onsen and spectacular view of Mount Fuji, as well as providing the backdrop for the yearly Hakone Ekiden. Hakone is about 90 minutes out of Tokyo, in the westernmost part of Kanagawa-ken. Though it’s not technically in Tokyo, it’s one of the closest resorts around for Tokyo denizens.

Getting to Hakone is cheap enough, but don’t let that fool you. It’s a tourist area just like any other, and once there you’ll find yourself paying for all variety of buses, cable cars and boat rides just to find something to do. The best thing to do is purchase the Hakone Free Pass and a spot on the Romance Car heading out of Shinjuku Station. It’ll cost you around 6500 yen, but it’s worth it unless you stay inside your hotel the entire time.

Which brings me to that uncomfortable topic. Hotels and ryokan in Hakone don’t come cheap. The closer you are to Lake Ashi, the more expensive they get. That plus the fact that each additional person has to pay the same room rate even if you’re all sharing one room (don’t get me started on that practice) means your wallet might take a hit or two. The hotel I stayed at, Musashiya, was 36,000 yen for two people and one night. Of course, I could jump out my window and land in the lake it was that close, and there was an onsen on the 5th floor, but strangely these things don’t seem as important when you’re checking out.

So what’s there to do in Hakone? For starters, there’s the various ships touring the lake that you can ride on. One of them just goes out for half an hour and returns you at your destination. Another takes you to the other end of the lake, where as far as I could tell there was only 1 thing to do – ride the ropeway.

The ropeway is nice for sight-seeing on a clear day. Unfortunately it was overcast much of Sunday, and the ropeway is out of view of Fuji much of the time. This is my way of saying I ain’t got no pictures for you. There are two or three stops on it, and the whole thing, like the boat rides before it, takes less than 45 minutes. While that may not take up too much time, if you get out at Owakudani you can visit art museums, parks and a little museum dedicated to The Little Prince. There’s a lot to do, and you can’t do it all in a day (especially if it’s like -50 degrees outside with a heavy wind from the lake). If you bought your Hakone Free Pass, these trips between places are all included, so you might as well use it.

All in all, Hakone is a great place to visit if you need a break from Tokyo’s hectic schedule. It costs a bit to get out there and find a place to stay, but you can find cheaper places 40 minutes out from the lake that won’t break the bank. Bring something to do, though. A lot of the time will be spent on a bus or train, so make sure to carry your favorite book or PSP games with you.

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