7 Reasons Why Hakone is so Popular among Japanese!

7 Reasons Why Hakone is so Popular among Japanese!

Located in the southwestern part of Kanagawa prefecture, Hakone is part of Fuji Hakone Izu National Park, known for great scenic beauty. The area is one of the most popular destinations in Honshu for Japanese people, and for several overlapping cultural and historical reasons, reasons that will also be apparent to foreign visitors seeking to experience Japanese culture.



 

7 Reasons Why Hakone is so Popular among Japanese!

 

1. The Love of Nature

7 Reasons Why Hakone is so Popular among Japanese! Nature

Whatever the season, it’s those views of the iconic Mt Fuji and unspoiled nature that is so significant for Japanese people. If Mt Fuji represents the heart of the nation, then nature is its soul; it’s a relationship we take special pride in. The best time to visit Hakone is the Autumn when everywhere you look are the blazing reds and golds of turning leaves, though there are a few Spring cherry blossom viewing areas, along the Hayakawa riverbank, at Gora Park, and at Hakone-en Park. In the Summer, Hakone offers a cooler respite from the oppressive heat of Tokyo.

 

2. Lake Ashinoko

7 Reasons Why Hakone is so Popular among Japanese! Lake Ashinoko

The lake offers visitors some marvellous views of Mt Fuji, lovely lakeside walks, and a variety of water sports and lake cruises. But it also serves as a reminder of the violent forces that have shaped the country, and which continue to shape the national consciousness. Lake Ashinoko is a crater lake that lies beside the caldera of Mt Hakone, a complex volcano that last erupted in 1170 AD at Owakudani.

 

3. A Special Journey

7 Reasons Why Hakone is so Popular among Japanese! A Special Journey

Nowhere is the relationship between natural splendor, volcanic activity and Japanese determination to overcome obstacles more evident than on the spectacular journey between Hakone-Yumato Station and Tōgendai. First stage on this mini-epic journey is the the Hakone Tozan Railway with its repeated switchbacks up the steep slope from Yumoto (80/1000) to Gora, the steepest slope of any of Japan’s railways. From Gora, one takes the Hakone Tozan (funicular) Cable Car to Sounzan, and from there the Hakone (funitel) Ropeway to Tougendai, across the ever steaming vents of Owakudani’s sulphurous valley below.

 

4. Onsen

7 Reasons Why Hakone is so Popular among Japanese! Onsen

Of course, our proximity to volcanic activity has made onsen (hot springs) a major part of life and culture all over Japan. Hakone’s internationally renowned onsen are said to be curatives for anything from skin diseases to arteriosclerosis, from women’s ailments to poor constitution. Whatever the truth of this, Hakone’s famed 17 Spas offer some 20 different mineral qualities: simple alkaline; common salt; gypsum; and more!

 

5. Ryokan

7 Reasons Why Hakone is so Popular among Japanese! Ryokan

As most Japanese today live in impersonal, modern, concrete apartment buildings, visiting a place like Hakone gives us the opportunity to experience, however briefly, a more traditional style of living at one of the many ryokan (traditional Japanese inns). As an onsen resort, it isn’t surprising that Hakone’s ryokan all have their own unique onsen baths which, together with the peaceful tranquility of Japanese-style rooms, dressing in yukata (cotton kimono) and geta (wooden clogs), helps us to connect with our history and culture in a very personal way.

 

6. History

7 Reasons Why Hakone is so Popular among Japanese! Hakone Shrine

Hakone’s history is closely related to Hakone Shrine with its unmistakable lakeside torii (gate). Said to have been established in 757 AD during the reign of Emperor Kōshō, legend also has it that it was founded by a priest, Mangan, after he pacified a 9-headed dragon that lived at the bottom of lake Ashinoko! Today, the shrine’s museum contains many artifacts of cultural significance from the Samurai times, and there is also a traditional archery school on the premises.

 

7. Open Air Museum

7 Reasons Why Hakone is so Popular among Japanese! Open air museum

Around Chokoku-no-Mori Station, there is the Hakone Open Air Museum, and one my favorite reasons for visiting the area. This museum features a 70,000 square metro park displaying around 100 modern and contemporary fine art sculptures in the open air, including works by Rodin, Milo and Moore. The stained glass tower, ‘Symphonic Sculpture’ by Gabriel Loire, with its spiral staircase is especially impressive. There’s also a Picasso Pavilion and Gallery, and a 20m long foot-bath at which up to 30 people can sit and dip their feet.

 

Conclusion

Hakone-Yumoto is only 90mins from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station by Odakyu Railways, or 120mins by slower express trains (kyuko), with a transfer at Odawara Station, or by direct highway busses, also from Shinjuku Station. Being usually encumbered with photographic gear, I’ll drive to Hakone via the Tomei Expressway & Odawara Atsugi Rd, which takes about 90mins plus seasonal delays. But however you get there, I hope the very special atmosphere and amazing sights of Hakone will inspire a new understanding of Japanese culture.

 

7 Reasons Why Hakone is so Popular among Japanese!

1. The Love of Nature
2. Lake Ashinoko
3. A Special Journey
4. Onsen
5. Ryokan
6. History
7. Open Air Museum