Just a hop, skip and a jump (read: a short bullet train ride) from Tokyo, on a good day Hakone offers views of Mount Fuji in all her glory — and it’s your best bet for a good time even if she doesn’t oblige.
Hakone has been a popular leisure retreat since 1590, when the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered a bathhouse to be built here for a bit of samurai R&R. We doubt he’d recognise the place now.
Criss-crossed by a network of boats, buses, cable-cars and funicular railways, Hakone today bristles with attractions. It’s not just bathhouses, though there are plenty of those (and some of them among the finest in Japan). It’s “hell valley”, where you can boil a black egg in the sulphurous water to extend your life. It’s the outdoor sculpture park, where you can wander through, climb on and interact with some the most amazing art installations in the world. It’s the frankly ridiculous number of museums and galleries, which range from a Ferrari showroom to a Venetian Glass theme park. On clear days, the ropeways provide spectacular views of Fuji and the surrounding mountains, but even when the haze sets in we defy you to be bored.
The key to loving Hakone is to know what to expect. Don’t come expecting Fuji views from your window (they don’t exist, even in good weather), and don’t come expecting unspoilt rural Japan. This is a crazy-popular, thoroughly commercial, and sometimes bizarre mixture of onsen resorts, world-class museums, Fuji views and pirate ship rides — and if you’re up for it, that can be all kinds of fun.