Less than one hundred kilometres west of Tokyo, in the foothills of Mount Fuji, lies the sleepy town of Hakone, the perfect blissful escape from the bustle of the big city.
Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, a serene pocket of Japan, famous for its hot springs, traditional inns, world-class art museums, outstanding natural beauty and spectacular mountain scenery. Ashino-ko Lake lies at the centre of it all, the setting for the iconic image of Mount Fuji, crowning the vistas, with the red torii gate of the Shinto shrine, Hakone-jinja, rising from the glassy water in the foreground.
The area clearly lends itself to picture perfect scenery, and there are a variety of hiking trails around Hakone, by which one can discover some of its offbeat gems, or for those feeling more languid, capture the ‘shy’ mountain while enjoying the ride by mountain railway, cable car or even pirate ship. However, travellers mainly come here for the onsen – Hakone has been one of Japan’s most popular hot springs resorts for centuries, and bath houses and ryokans scatter themselves amongst the numerous hot springs all along the green forested valley and the shores of Lake Ashino-ko.
Hakone is also home to Japan’s first open-air museum. The sprawling Hakone Open Air Museum creates a harmonic balance between art and nature, breathing life and mountain air into the art. The impressive collection of Henry Moore, Picasso, Taro Okamoto, Yusuo Mizui, Rodin, Miró and other large-scale sculptures, are spread creatively across the undulating landscape of manicured lawns and intricate water features, all beautifully framed against the spectacular backdrop of the surrounding scenery. The Okada Museum of Art is the latest addition to Hakone’s notable artwork endorsements and was built to house industrialist Okada Kazuo's personal treasures from Japan, Korea and China. Both in scale and substance this incredible museum impresses, and much like the city's open-air museum, hours can be lost exploring the various works here.
Hakone is within two hours of Tokyo's Shinjuku Station on the Odakyū line, and is ideal for either a day trip from Tokyo or as an overnight stop to break up an itinerary.