When I made the decision to move to Japan, naturally, I went to Pinterest to figure out all the things I wanted to see and do while I lived abroad. The picture below was one of the very first I Pinned. I thought that it was breathtaking and I wanted to stand in that spot and look up to see all the beautiful colors streaming in through the windows. So I Pinned it, and 3 years later, I finally made the trip.
A few friends and I decided to head out of town in June for a quick weekend trip. It happened to be my birthday weekend so I was all over the chance to actually do something more than order-in pizza or go to an izakaya. The planning didn’t include much besides where we were going to stay. We ended up booking an Airbnb that was absolutely stunning and very cozy. It had a large family/dining room and two bedrooms – one western style with two single beds and one tatami room that could fit up to 4 people.
The couple who owns the place are young (late 20s to early 30s) and have transformed their family home into an inviting and more reasonably priced place to stay (Hakone is a resort town and lodging is quite expensive at most places). For a little extra money, they provided home-cooked meals for us, as well as a place to sleep and an indoor natural hot spring tub.
Getting to Hakone requires some fortitude. It’s not a quick trip, not to mention it takes a long time to get there and there are a number of transportation transfers. We live in Saitama, so first we had to get to Shinjuku. Once in Shinjuku, we bought the Hakone Freepass which gives the holder access to transportation as well as discounts at local stores and The Hakone Open-Air Museum. Included in the pass is a round-trip fare to and from Hakone from Shinjuku Station. We took the less expensive and longer route which had us transferring at Odawara Station.
When we got to Odawara, rather than getting directly onto the next train, we took the short walk to Odawara Castle. Absolutely worth the time. There, you can take pictures with people dressed as a samurai and there are amazing views from the top of the castle.
We also went downstairs in the station to get something to eat. The food there is EXCELLENT. I highly recommend that you take the time to go down there. I had a couple different kinds of salad, roasted veggies, and probably the best karaage I’ve had in Japan.
Once back on the train, it wasn’t a terribly long time until we transferred again. This time at the Hakone-Yumoto station which put us on the train that would take us up, up, up into the mountains! The trip was slow because it is said to be the steepest gradient in Japan and requires the train to maneuver on several switchbacks. The scenery is beautiful though and before you know it, you’re at the top.
At Gora Station, we got off the train. That is where our Airbnb was. Once we settled in, we walked back to the station and proceeded to take the next cable car to the top.
At the top, we made our way over to Lake Ashi where we would take a ferry (dressed up like a pirate ship!) across and then back again. We made it onto the ferry and enjoyed the trip across. Despite the overcast weather, it was a very nice trip. When we got to the other side, we disembarked and immediately found out that we’d inadvertently taken the last ferry over AND there was only one more bus back to the other side. Luckily, we made it just in time after a quick look around and a sprint to the convenience store.
The next day, the sun was out and it was our last day in Hakone. I told you! Quick trip! There are so much more things to see and do in Hakone, we really only scratched the surface. The rope tours were closed because of the recent activity of the mountain (it is a volcano after all) so we made our way to The Hakone Open-Air Museum, which is where the source of my desire to go to Hakone was.
If you are slightly (or largely) skeptical about modern art, I believe you’ll still enjoy this museum. It’s very much like going to a place that happens to have a large number of sculptures and paintings scattered around the grounds.
There are a few places where you can interact with the artworks. For example, there’s a large over-easy egg near the opening and the tiny footprints that you can follow around. Additionally, at the back, there is a cafe and a natural spring foot bath that is lovely after walking around a couple hours.
The large building that says “PICASSO” across it, of course, is filled with works by Picasso. But they are not just pieces that you could look at and say, “Oh yeah, that’s Picasso.” They tell a story from the beginning of his art endeavors that include several different mediums. I had no idea he dabbled in pottery!
However, the source of my desire to make the trek was between the front entrance and the foot bath. The “Symphonic Sculpture” with the stained glass staircase was more than I hoped it would be. When you go in and begin to climb the stairs to the top, if you look closely, you’ll see not just abstract collections of glass but very distinct designs as well. It’s enormously satisfying to spend time simply searching for the many different kinds of animals and objects scattered throughout the tower.
This feature would have made the entire trip worth it if I hadn’t enjoyed anything else (which I did, the whole trip was a blast). It’s absolutely stunning and no picture I can show you will do it justice, so you’ll just have to make the trip yourself. It’s worth it.