VIDEO: Spring once more! A pleasant walk in Hakone, Japan

Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi
Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi

VIDEO: Spring once more! A pleasant walk in Hakone, Japan

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Japan

Though the cherry blossoms are long gone In the Kanto, you don’t have to go very far to catch a bit of spring. Hakone is a short drive from Camp Zama and NAF Atsugi and thanks to its elevation, you’re guaranteed cooler temperatures and spring conditions even as the season heats up in the Kanto.

Hakone is a beautiful town in a mountainous region with many attractions for you to enjoy, like museums, traditional Japanese inns and hot springs. My wife and I went on the hunt for April cherry blossoms, to visit the Shinto shrines and check out the impressive views of Mt. Fuji over Hakone’s beautiful lake and mountains.

To get there, we left our home in Yokosuka City, home to the U.S. Navy base, early in the morning and drove along Route 134, a coastal highway, and then along the Seisho Bypass through Odawara, a large town at the western end of the Kanto Plain on the way to Hakone.

Alternatively, Hakone is accessible from many train lines, but we chose to drive via the turnpike since it gives us a stunning view of Lake Ashinoko and the mountains surrounding the town. If you’re driving, make sure to stop at the Mt. Taikanzan parking stop for the panoramic view. further down, take a break at the Hakone Sekisho checkpoint for souvenirs and snacks. The historical checkpoint is where you can have steamed eggs, a quick soba lunch and manju buns filled with azuki bean jam.

Our first stop in Hakone was the Hakone-en Garden. From the parking lot, we walked over to Lake Ashinoko and were astonished by the enormous cherry blossom tree there. The 100-year-old, loner sakura tree’s branches spread 22 meters wide, its trunk is five meters around and the tree stands 12 meters tall above its admirers. This massive tree was brimming with pale pink blossoms.

Nearby, a cute pony was grazing in the field and, according to an employee at the Hakone-en souvenir shop, a small zoo nearby often brings out ponies, rabbits and other small creatures to the field where the cherry blossom tree stands. The impressive view of a large cherry tree and a lovable pony made a great spring scene for my wife and me.

After the impressive view in the Hakone-en Garden, we went up to Hakone’s signature mountain, Mt. Komagatake, via ropeway. While the ropeway was taking us up to the top of the 1,356-meter Mt. Komagatake with a 7-minute ride, we enjoyed a panoramic view of the lake, town and surrounding mountains.

On the top of Mt. Komagatake, we enjoyed walking through well-paved stone and wooden paths while enjoying panoramic vista of Lake Ashinoko, Hakone Town, Mt. Fuji and Sagami Gulf with Izu Peninsula. Although the temperature was nearly zero Celsius, plenty of warm sunshine made it a pleasant walk in the sky for us.

The hiking path finally led us to Mototsumiya Jinja, a Shinto shrine also known as “Shrine in the Sky.” According to shrine legend, the origin of the shrine dates to 2,400 years ago when a hermit established the spot as a place for worshipping all the Hakone mountains. Since ancient times, the Hakone mountains were considered a border between the human and god worlds.

Completing our walk in the sky, we came back to the Hakone-en with another 7-minute ropeway ride, then headed to Hakone Jinja, another Shinto shrine.

Hakone Shrine is known as one of the most important Shinto shrines in the Kanto region and is widely considered a Power Spot for luck and success in battles, business and competitions.

Be sure to stop by the impressive vermilion torii gate on the Lake Ashinoko, as it is known as one of the most popular photo spots in Hakone. Just plan for crowds since tourists come here for great Instagram pics.

The weather and views are a good reason to go Hakone, but the hot springs and delicious local foods make it a place you definitely have to see for yourself!

Mt. Taikanzan Parking Area (Sky Lounge & Observatory)
Location: 955 Kajiya, Yugawara Town, Kanagawa Prefecture (on Hakone Turnpike)
Tel: 0460-83-6591

Hakone-en (garden and ropeway)
Location: 139 Motohakone, Hakone Town, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa Prefecture
Tel: 0460-83-1151

Hakone Jinja (Shinto shrine)
Location: 80-1 Motohakone, Hakkone Town, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa Prefecture
Tel: 0460-83-7123

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