Japan // Around Tokyo //

Ashino-ko to Moto-Hakone

From Tōgendai (桃原台), a shoreline trail winds along the western side of Ashino-ko (芦ノ湖) to the small resort of Hakone-machi some 8km south, taking around three hours to cover. The western lakeshore, forming part of the Prince empire of hotels and resorts, is not covered by the Hakone Free Pass and so is somewhat marginalized – and all the more peaceful for it. However, most visitors hop straight from the cable car on to one of the colourful sightseeing ships modelled after the seventeenth-century man o’ war The Sovereign of the Seas, that regularly sail the length of the lake in around thirty minutes. Boats also run from Tōgendai to the Prince hotel resort at Hakone-en, midway down the east side of the lake, where there’s a cable car up the 1357m Komaga-take (駒ヶ岳), from where there’s a fabulous view.

A cluster of upmarket hotels and ryokan can be found at Hakone-machi, where the sightseeing boats dock. This is also the location of the Hakone Barrier (箱根関所) through which all traffic on the Tōkaidō, the ancient road linking Kyoto and Edo, once had to pass. What stands here today is a reproduction, enlivened by waxwork displays which provide the historical background. There’s nothing much to keep you here, though; instead, stroll north of the barrier around the wooded promontory, past the bland reconstruction of the Emperor Meiji’s Hakone Detached Palace, and take in the views of the lake.

Part of the Tōkaidō, shaded by 420 lofty cryptomeria trees planted in 1618, and now designated “Natural Treasures”, runs for around 1km beside the road leading from the Hakone Barrier to the lakeside MOTO-HAKONE (元箱根) tourist village. The prettiest spot around here is the vermilion torii gate, standing in the water just north of Moto-Hakone – a scene celebrated in many an ukiyo-e print and modern postcard. The gate belongs to the Hakone Gongen (箱根権現) and is the best thing about this small Shinto shrine, set back in the trees, where samurai once came to pray. From either Hakone-machi or Moto-Hakone you can take a bus back to Hakone-Yumoto or Odawara.