Japan is a relatively small country that is full of contrasts. If you're already familiar with Tokyo and have visited traditional Kyoto, why travel to Hakone? At Exoticca we can assure you that there are many reasons. To begin with, this area is much more rural than the better-known cities, is enormous and harbours a host of enchanting sights. From Hakone it's possible to visit Mount Fuji, one of the most revered places in Japan. Are you going to miss out?
If you're travelling to Hakone from Tokyo or Odawara, you'll arrive at Hakone-Yumoto, one of the main tourist attractions in the area. You can stay in a Western hotel or a traditional Japanese ryokan with its thermal baths. You'll also find a good number of Japanese restaurants, where you can try the delicious soba noodles, and plenty of souvenir shops.
Some of the things we recommend you do in Hakone-Yumoto are:
Stroll down the main shopping street. Take a look at all the shops first and come back to the most interesting ones later. Otherwise you may end up spending much more money than you were planning to. Try a little cake cooked in the sulphurous steam that has made the region famous. They're called onsen manju, and the best traditional baker's to buy them is the Manju-ya Nanohana. If you don't like sweet things, try the grilled senbei. Take a walk along the banks of the Sukumo river. Visit the Hayakawa bridge, especially if you're a railway enthusiast. From here it's possible to take some spectacular pictures of the Tozan train as it passes through the mountains. An image you won't want to miss.
Another place you can visit if you decide to travel to Hakone is Moto-Hakone, located south of Lake Ashi, where the beautiful torii is partially submerged in the waters.
Since you've come this far, why not visit the stone sculptures of Buddha in Sainokawara. If you're going up as far as the Hakone shrine, call in at the Kofukuin temple and see its small jizo statues, in stark contrast to its large bell.
The Hakone shrine is the best-known sightseeing attraction in the area. It seems to be part of the surrounding forest, which gives it a special appeal and also makes it difficult to locate. Pay attention to the surrounding toriis to get your bearings. The area is quiet, although taking a picture of the lake torii without people straying into shot may take some time.
Don't miss the chance to wander along the shore of the lake. It is one of the five main lakes in the Mount Fuji region. If you're lucky with the weather, you'll enjoy a beautiful view of the summit. But don't get your hopes up too high in this regard. Usually the summit is shrouded in clouds.
It's always a good idea to learn a bit of local history, so if you've taken the trouble to travel to Hakone, take a walk along the old flagstones of the Tokaido road. In the past, it linked Moto-Hakone and Hatajuku. Along the way, next to a charming teahouse, is the Tokaido Museum, which reconstructs buildings along the route and explains what life was like in the Edo period.
Alternatively, you can walk along the road's old avenue of cedars.
If you go a little further south you'll reach Hakone-Machi, where the old checkpoint on the Tokaido road is located. Here, traders had to show their passports and their goods were also inspected. The aim was to let the feudal lords, who the shogun had forced to remain in Edo, escape from the region. This prevented uprisings and skirmishes.
Emperor Meiji used to come here to get away from the stressful duty of ruling the country. You can visit the Imperial Palace, which offers views of the top of Mount Fuji, but only on clear days.
Go down to the lake pier for a drink or to buy some souvenirs. It's the liveliest area in Hakone-Machi.
Once in Gora and before continuing on your way through Hakone, visit its open-air museum, which houses works by Henry Moore and Picasso, among others. Inside, protected from the weather, you can see paintings by Utrillo, Kandinsky and Renoir.
This isn't the only museum in the area by any means. Travelling to Hakone is worthwhile to learn about pottery or see the terracotta statues of Haniwa, which are very similar to the Chinese warriors of Xian.
To get to Owakudani you have to take the cable car. This is no doubt the area you expect to see when visiting Hakone, as this is the place where active volcanoes give off the sulphurous vapours that are used to cook the famous cakes mentioned above. It's also typical to cook an egg in these vapours and eat it on the go. The famous black eggs.
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