Tokyo guzzler June 2016, part 1 – Hakone Free Pass

For anyone looking for a great day trip from Tokyo, Hakone offers something for everyone. Gas masks are essential if you plan to get out atop the volcano, or advisable if sharing a cable car with anyone who’s recently had a ramen lunch.

Situated around 100km west of Tokyo, Hakone is one of Japan’s most famous onsen areas. It seems to be hugely popular with visitors from all over and is easy to access from Shinjuku. The Hakone Free Pass represents great value for money. For just ¥5,140 (about £32 or $46), you get return travel from Shinjuku to Hakone, plus: UNLIMITED travel for 2 days around Hakone, including the mountain train, cable car, ropeway to the volcano, all buses in the area, AND the famous Lake Ashi pirate boats; and discount on attractions in the area. The pass is valid for 2 days, although you can buy a 3 day pass for a little extra cash. It’s incredible value, especially if you’re planning on staying in the area for a night or two. However, even if you’re just going for the day it still represents great value for money and beats paying for each individual mode of travel.

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You can also jump on the limited express “Romance Car”, getting you to Hakone in around 90 minutes, for a few extra Yen. Not a lot of romance was had, however. Although the trolly dolly did brush my leg as she walked by. Phwoar!!!

You’ll do well to avoid the crowds (standard) and it can become extremely busy, especially at peak times and weekends. The best thing to do is to set off really early from Shinjuku. If you can get to Lake Ashi by 9am, you’ll not only beat the crowds, but – weather permitting –  have incredible views of Fuji before it hazes over.

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I’ve Guzzled about Hakone previously (see here), so I thought I’d list my top things to do in the area for anyone interested in visiting (in no particular order):

1 – Hakone Open Air Museum

You don’t need to be an arty farty critic or lovey to enjoy this awesome place. The museum is set in beautifully landscaped gardens and hosts some incredible pieces of contemporary art, including many pieces by the legendary Henry Moore. If you’re not into art per se, then just the wander around the gardens is worth the admission:

There’s also an awesome collection of Pablo Picasso’s work housed in a cool outhouse:

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2 – Pirate boat on Lake Ashi

Make your way down to Lake Ashi crater lake. Here is proof of me attending said lake:

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3 different boats stop at 3 different little ports. That is, unless you’re made the walk the plank. Landlubbers beware!

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The lake is about 6km long and the trip from one end to the other takes about 20 minutes. You pass by the famous red torii gate in the water (seen on the right of this shot). Wrap up warm as it’s pretty chilly on the lake!

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First class at the front. A new, unwelcome, addition. You can see by its popularity that it’s a pretty dumb and unpopular idea. “All plebs to the stern, please”.

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However we pulled a few strings and shortly after Maz was steering us away from danger!

3 – Gora and Gora Park

Near to the Open Air Museum lies Gora, a sleepy little mountain town, where you can buy all sorts of touristy crap. You can grab some nice ramen or soba if you’re feeling brave enough to venture into a local eatery. Just up the hill lies Gora Park. Entry is free with the Hakone Free Pass. It was chucking it down when we went, but the flowers (and the rain!) reminded us of an English country garden:

4 – Hakone Shrine

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The torii gate at Hakone Shrine at dusk. All day trippers departed. A beautiful place, but especially so after 6pm.

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Lanterns lead the way to the shinto shrine.

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Nearly there…

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The little shrine sits just up the hill, but was closed up when we arrived. Still, it was beautiful being there without anyone else around.

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Scary!

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This side of the lake is a really great place to watch the sunset. Especially as there’s a konbini there where you can grab some beers and karaage.

5 – Hakone Tozan train, cable car and ropeway

The various travel modes included in the pass are a great way to get around. You can fall asleep on them as many times as you wish during the day:

6 – Hakone-Sekisho

This is an important site for the history of transport and communication during the Edo period and has been restored after 140 years (thanks Wiki). There’s basically nothing original here, and in all honesty it’s not a must, but it offers a beautiful view of the lake if nothing else! Take in Onshihakone Park too – it’s next door and probably even nicer. I say probably as it was raining cats and dogs as we wandered around, trying and failing miserably not to get wet.

7 – Wander around the lake at sunset

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Early morning and early evening are the best times to see Fuji. The fish even jump out the water to catch a glimpse. Grab a few beers and hire a pedalo and you can’t go wrong.

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If you want to have “fun” on the lake, then get it out your system by 6pm. There is a strict curfew on laking “fun” after this time.

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Tranquil end to the day.

So that’s it. Looking back I’d say the list runs in no particular order, although the lake, museum and various modes of transport are must-dos. It’s not an exhaustive list of everything you can see. For example, you can take the ropeway and ascend the volcano, like we did last year. However, due to the recent volcanic activity, you can no longer go outside onto the volcano to see the eggs being cooked. The sulphur fumes reek and you can smell them from within the ropeway gondola (or at least, that’s what I was telling everyone inside the gondola. I’d had ramen for lunch an hour or so earlier).

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2 thoughts on “Tokyo guzzler June 2016, part 1 – Hakone Free Pass

  1. Superb!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Marion. You look really happy and they are great photos.

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