Hakone is a hilly hot-spring town whose scattered attractions are both cultural and natural. Popular as a resort since the 9th century, it can be very crowded. The
Hakone area extends across the collapsed remains of a huge volcano, which was active until 3 to 4,000 years ago, leaving a legacy today of hot springs and steam vents.
Although Hakone can be visited as a long day trip from Tokyo, it is worth an overnight stay. Two- or three-day publictransportation passes are available on the Odakyu line from Shinjuku, Tokyo. A convenient circuit of the main sights starts from the onsen town of Hakone-Yumoto, taking the Tozan switchback train up the hillside to Hakone Open-Air Museum, with its modern sculptures. Continue via funicular to Hakone Art Museum, which has an excellent Japanese ceramic collection and garden. Via the funicular and then a ropeway over the crest of the hill is the fascinating Owaku-dani (“valley of great boiling”), an area of sulfurous steam vents. The ropeway continues to Lake Ashi, where replicas of historical Western-style boats run to Hakone-machi and Moto-Hakone.
In clear weather there are stunning views of Mount Fuji. At Hakone-machi is an interesting reconstruction of the Seki-sho Barrier Gate, a checkpoint that used to control the passage of people and guns on the Edo-period Tokaido road between Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. From Hakone-machi it is a short walk to Moto-Hakone. In a prominent position on a hilltop overlooking Lake Ashi, Narukawa Art Museum exhibits 1,500 artworks by modern Japanese masters, and has spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Over a pass beyond Moto-Hakone is the Amazake-chaya teahouse, and Hatajuku village, known for yosegi-zaiku, a form of decorative woodwork.