I’m looking at this view and wondering why the locals call this the Valley of Hell. Two hours away from the bustle of Tokyo is Mount Hakone, which is comprised of more than 10 mountains. Owakudani, located at center of the volcanic area, is the largest eruption site in Hakone. The last eruption occurred in the summer of 2015 after 800 years of inactivity.
Hakone can be done in a day and it’s the perfect day or weekend trip for everyone – young and old, fit and not so fit. It’s more expensive over the weekend as that’s when locals from Tokyo and neighboring cities come to this resort town to escape and unwind.
Purchase a Hakone Free Pass at Shinjuku Station (~$45), which covers all transportation in and around Hakone
Using your JR Rail Pass, take the train from Shinjuku Station to Hakone Station
At Hakone Station, transfer to the Hazone Tozan train (sit on the left for the views) and take it up to Gora – a French inspired park with a large fountain and rose garden
From Gora, you can wander around the park or head towards the Tozan cable car and take it up to the Hakone Ropeway Station
Take the ropeway down to Togendai Station and get on the Hakone cruise
Take Hakone cruise through Lake Ashi to the Motohakone Port
Get off and visit the Hakone Checkpoint and shrine
Head to Hakone Station for the train back to Shinjuku
The Hakone Ropeway Station drops you off at Owakudani, the main eruption site. This crater along the Hakone Ropeway appeared 3,000 years ago after the last eruption. The clouds of white steam is from the volcano is water vapor and volcanic gases from the underground water that’s being heated up by volcanic activity. It’s a usual, every day sight. It also carries a very distinct, but familiar odor for me. The vaporized sulfur smells like rotten eggs and reminded me of Iceland’s geyser eruptions.
If you’re lucky, you can catch a breathtaking view of Mount Fuji from here. I was trying real hard to look for it through the clouds of gloom and vapors. I had much better luck catching a glimpse of it from the Tokyo Tower of the Tokyo Skytree – the two tallest towers in the city.
Hakone Black Eggs
One of the most popular trails around the Owakudani station is one that leads to the area’s famous black eggs. These eggs are specially made and is believed to add five to seven years to your life! They are boiled in 175°F for 60 minutes in natural spring water. Then, they’re steamed at 212°F for 15 minutes in steel baskets. The water used contain sulfur and iron, which is why the eggs kind of smell like sulfur. If you rather not do the uphill hike, you can also purchase them at one of the stores in Owakudani Station.
Pirate Ship Cruise on Lake Ashi
Leaving Owakudani, take the Hakone Ropeway Station to Togendai Station for a pirate themed cruise through Lake Ashi. Yes, pirate themed. Just another one of Japan’s random quirks. On a clear day, you can get a glimpse of Mount Fuji. Clearly, I did not go on a clear day. Mount Fuji was nowhere in sight from my pirate ship. This lake is also where the iconic image of Mount Fuji is photographed with the Hakone Shrine rising from the water.
Once you get off the cruise ship at Motohakone, the Hakone Checkpoint and Hakone Shrine are just a short walk away. For getaways longer than a day, the relaxing onsens, traditional ryokans, art museums and zen mountain scenery is worth sticking around for.