Hakone sits at the foot of Mt. Fuji, 80-minutes south of Shinjuku via train. The town comprises of several villages, each one renowned for its history and natural splendor. Known for its hot springs and stunning mountain views, this popular holiday destination is perfect for those looking for a nearby country retreat.
A well-known gem here is the thriving open-air museum scene. The whimsical sculptures and interactive displays are set to intrigue and excite the imagination. Combined with the views of Lake Ashinoko and (of course!) Mt. Fuji, it’s a photographer’s dream location!
Here’s our list of top 5 sights guaranteed to leave you breathless:
Hakone Open-Air Museum
The museum’s mission to this day remains to “consistently [astonish] as many people as possible” – which it has exceeded beyond expectation. It features both indoor and outdoor exhibits, along with a hot spring foot bath and displays open for children to play in. Cafes, benches, and toilets are conveniently spaced throughout the park.
The sculptures take inspiration from mythology and nature, with works by European and Japanese artists. A particular homage is paid to surrealist, Pablo Picasso; the Picasso Pavilion holds over 300 pieces of the artist’s own ceramics, sketches, and paintings.
The Woods of Net and Curved Space Diamond Structure are what the museum calls “hands-on art” experiences for young children. Watch in mild bemusement and envy as your child swings from a rubber wrecking ball or bounces on a giant crocheted hammock.
The museum is a two-minute walk from the Chokoku-no-Mori station, and five minutes from the Ninotaira Iriguchi bus stop. Admission costs 1600 yen for adults, 1200 yen for students, and 800 yen for children. The museum’s website has a page that offers a 100 yen discount if printed and presented to ticket staff.
Little Prince Museum
Inspired by the life and writings of French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, this quaint museum transports you to an idyllic French town tucked away in the hills of Hakone.
Wander through the provincial streets and beautiful flower gardens, greeted by characters from The Little Prince along the way. In the far corner lies a small chapel with a big surprise: a flower wall bursting with pastel shades of pink and white. The twinkling fairy lights add that extra romantic touch.
The exhibition hall immerses you in the exciting world of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. From his childhood, to his years as a writer and his aviation career. Much like the exterior, there is a corridor decorated like a European street, with open rooms styled in the image of his apartments and childhood home.
There is a café and shop by the exit. Admission costs 1600 yen for an adult ticket on the day, and 1400 yen if booked in advance. A child’s ticket costs 600 yen on the day, with a 100 yen off if purchased beforehand.
The museum has its own bus stop: Kawamukai Museum of The Little Prince. From Hakone Yumoto station, the bus journey should only take you 30 minutes.
Venetian Glass Museum
Hakone Glass no Mori, as it’s officially titled, displays works of Venetian glass that go back as far as the 14th century. Their contemporary collection can be seen in their garden displays that overlook the steaming Owakudani hot springs.
From intricately painted doorknobs and antique vases, to the dazzling corridor of light, the museum seeks to emphasize the elegance and versatility of glass. The building is styled in a traditional Venetian manner, leading directly onto a river-like pond. The garden contains larger sculptures, along with a seasonal flower garden.
Adding to the aura of grace and sophistication, internationally acclaimed classical musicians perform concerts (both inside and outdoors) at regular intervals throughout the day. The museum restaurant specializes in Italian cuisine and has a spectacular view of the building and gardens. Further into the gardens, however, is a seating area with stalls selling slices of stone baked pizzas, hot and cold drinks and other delicious light bites.
Just like the Little Prince Museum, this place has its own bus stop: Hakone Glass Forest. The price of admission for an adult is 1500 yen, 1100 yen for a high school student, and 600 yen for children. Discounts are available for groups of 9 or more.
Lake Ashinoko and Mt. Komagatake
A trip to Hakone wouldn’t be complete without a trip to see Mt. Fuji! Arguably the best views can be seen from Lake Ashinoko and the cable car up Mt. Komagatake. Two mountains for the price of one.
From the Hakone-En bus stop, a ticket kiosk for the Komagatake ropeway is only a short walk away. Souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes and public toilets are also clustered together within easy reach of one another.
A return ticket for the ropeway costs 1080 yen for adults, and 540 yen for children. The ride takes around 7 minutes each way. Panoramic views of the lake and Mt. Fuji can be seen on both journeys. Winter is the best time to visit; the clear skies offer a higher visibility of the mountain.
At the peak stands the red torii gates leading to the Hakone Mototsumiya Shrine. Look out for the “Bakou-Seki,” or “horse descent stone”. It commemorates a heavenly deity who descended to earth on a white horse, landing just by the torii.
For a more comfortable view, why not try a lake cruise on a Hakone Pirate ship? Based on 18th century European influences, each vessel values comfort and access to the finest views. Both Mt. Fuji and the famous torii gates of Hakone Shrine can be seen on the longer rides.
There are three ports to choose from:
Hakonemachi-ko, Motohakone-ko, and Togendai-ko. Set routes from the three ports range from 10-60 minutes. Round trips are also available for 1930yen for adults and 940 yen for children. First class access can be purchased for an additional fee.
Each location has its own bus stop which can be accessed from around Hakone and Odawara.
Yunessun Spa Resort
This particular onsen is known for its alternative “hot spring” baths. Along with the standard mineral infused spring water, visitors can also bathe in wine, coffee, sake or green tea. Technically, the contents of each pool can be drunk, but it’s heavily advised that visitors refrain from doing so.
Aside from the themed baths, the resort has a variety of child friendly water attractions. Mountain water slides, jungle gym pools and cave baths are but three of the family fun activities open for children.
If you’d prefer a quieter visit, the resort boasts an impressive selection of spa treatments. Luxuriate in the tranquility of an open-air bath with a view of the mountains. Let your muscles truly relax in a lie-down bath. Perhaps a sauna or jacuzzi might do the trick!
Most of the pools here require bathing suits to be worn, which is a comfort for first time onsen goers. The Yunessun area also accepts customers with tattoos, if they are covered at all times.
The park is split in two: the Yunessun and Mori no Yu areas. Admission can cover one or both areas. A day passport for all areas costs 3500 yen for an adult and 1800 yen for a child. Discounts are available for the elderly or disabled. The resort is located by the Kowakien bus stop, which can be accessed via most Hakone bus lines.
Hakone can be accessed from Shinjuku via train or bus. The views along the way have a transportive effect, taking you further away from the bustling metropolis and deep into the heart of the mountainside.
The duality of Hakone’s eclectic museums and cultural heritage sights paint an enchanting picture. On the one hand, you can rejuvenate your senses amongst the fresh mountain air and steaming onsen. On the other, there are little realms of wonder that can be stumbled upon in the most unlikely places. Leave your worries behind you, and head for the mountains!