cover photo: Torii gate of Hakone Shrine at Lake Ashi
This is Japan:
Land of Ancient Wisdom and Modern Precision
Hakone and Lake Ashi
(Second of Four)
By: Amber Creighton
Photos By: Amber Creighton
After Tokyo, we set off to Hakone, which is set in the scenic Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. This region is filled with volcanic hot springs, mountain lakes, pirate ships and glimpses of Mount Fuji.
We stayed at the most idyllic ryokan, called Paz Yoshino, in Hakone, Japan. Ryokans are typically composed of tea house-style rooms during the day and offer a multi-course very traditional Japanese breakfast and dinner. A futon-style mat is brought out after dinner. Ryokans have a separate formal dinning room and exquisite Japanese baths.
The enclosed Japanese baths, also known as onsen, are a key Japanese experience. The baths in our ryokan were crystal clear, huge, rock-lined pools heated by natural volcanic springs. The baths are separate male and female changing rooms and pools. Guests are provided shower areas and soap to clean before entering the baths. Clothing is prohibited, but guests are provided with tea-sized modesty towels to use in the bath and with traditional Japanese robes and sandals to use after.
The transportation in Japan is efficient and on time, but there are rarely any direct routes. Taking multiple trains and forms of travel are often required. Make certain you have your tickets in advance and that you are aware of the name of your stop. Stops are often (not always) stated in Japanese and in English. Also, the luggage forwarding service, offered by all major hotels, is highly recommended. We forwarded our heavy bags on to our longer stay destinations and kept light travel bags with us.
After arriving in Hakone, we immediately traveled to the open air sculpture park in the village of Chokokunomori. This is home to Japanese modern art, Picasso, Rodin, Henry Moore among others. Most of the exhibits are located outside and the interaction and photo opportunities are incredible. The indoor Picasso Museum in the center of the park is spectacular.
Next, we went to the picturesque Lake Ashi on a scenic mountain tram. The volcanic activity was too high for us to take the famous gondola up Mount Kami. Keeping the natural elements in mind is always important when traveling in Japan. After arriving at Lake Ashi, we embarked on an incredible pirate-style ship. The intricate architecture of the pirate ship is an experience in and of itself! We glided across the lake that offered beautiful views of Mount Fuji no matter what the weather.
Many shrines come into view while sailing amidst the beautiful greenery and forests of the mystical mountains surrounding this gigantic lake brings. When we arrived on the over side of the lake, we hiked to the famous red torii gate of Lake Ashi. A hike, with amazing photo opportunities, begins along the shore of the charming Japanese village, Moto-Hanone. This area is home to the Old Hakone Checkpoint, which controlled the road during the Edo period.
Finally, we returned to our ryokan to enjoy a 7-course exquisite traditional ryokan Japanese dinner. Each course is petite but offers an array of extraordinary pleasures for the palate. Many guests bathe before dinner and wear their traditional Japanese robes to dinner.
Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park
At our ryokan in Hakone
Traditional dinner served at our ryokan
It is customary to be in traditional Japanese robes for dinner
On the way from Hakone to Tsumago
Under a torii at Lake Ashi
Boarding our Lake Ashi pirate ship tour boat