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Hakone - Hot spring baths and natural beauty of volcanic origin

For many centuries Hakone has been a very well-known excursion region in the immediate vicinity of Tokyo, which is visited at least once in a lifetime by almost everyone who lives in the greater Japanese capital. Located in the southwest of Kanagawa Prefecture, bordering Tokyo, the landscape of Hakone was formed in an old volcanic crater, a so-called caldera. Due to the relative proximity to Tokyo of only 100 kilometers, around twenty million visitors come here every year, both from Japan itself and from abroad.

Many visitors are drawn to the hot spring baths that are here. According to legend, the "17 Hakone Hot Springs", which feed from underground deposits and are scattered throughout the region, were discovered in 738. From the 17th century onwards, Hakone developed into a popular and flourishing bathing resort with hot springs. The region is also known for the arduous section of the famous Tokaido highway. This road, which rises to a height of up to 800 m above sea level near the coastal city of Odawara, connected Edo, today's Tokyo, with the old capital Kyoto during the Edo period (1603-1867).

 


An open-air bath at Sengokuhara, one of the "17 Hakone Hot Springs"
with the sight of Mount Fuji. (Photo: Hotel Green Plaza Hakone)

 

Overwhelming scenery of volcanic origin

From Tokyo, the train ride to Hakone Yumoto, the gateway to Hakone, takes about 90 minutes. There you board the Hakone Tozan Railway, which has some of the steepest sections of the railway in Japan, to get further into the mountains. The end of the line is Gora, a village with numerous luxurious Japanese-style hostels. From there you can enjoy the view of the Owakudani valley from a cable car, which suddenly opens up below you and forms a special highlight within the diverse natural beauty of Hakone. Formed from the crater of a volcano that erupted around 3,000 years ago, there are crevices everywhere in this valley, from which hot steam still flows today. The heat in the underground is used to boil eggs, which get a black shell. These kurotamago ("Black Eggs") are a specialty of Owakudani, whose name translates as "Great Cooking Valley".

 


Left: The Hakone Tozan Railway provides a convenient way to travel in the Hakone region.
It climbs some of the steepest inclines found on railway lines in Japan.
Right: In the Owakudani valley, hot steam rises constantly from a crevice,
which was created during a volcanic eruption 3,000 years ago.

 


Kurotamago ("Black Eggs") are an Owakudani specialty.

 

We continue with the cable car to Lake Ashinoko, which has a circumference of approx. 19 kilometers and is also of volcanic origin. Excursion boats offer passengers the opportunity to enjoy the lake in all its beauty during the journey to various landing stages. In the restaurants on the bank, visitors can enjoy freshly prepared wakasagi try salmon trout that come from the lake. On the southern bank, in the village of Moto-Hakone, visitors will find a popular vantage point from which they can see Mount Fuji, Lake Ashiniko and the famous red torii gate of the Hakone Shrine at a glance and of course take photos together. In the vicinity of Moto-Hakone you also have the opportunity to walk on the remains of the old Tokaido trunk road - today a footpath between tall cedars - and to visit a restored road station.

 


There is a spectacular view of Mount Fuji
the visitor from Lake Ashinoko.

 


Left: Baked on a skewer or in hot oil wakasagi (Salmon trout)
from the lake Ashinoko a tasty delicacy.
Right: The old Tokaido Street with the tall cedar trees on either side
offers the visitor a little flair of the Edo period.

 

Traditional handicrafts that are also very popular abroad

For more than two hundred years there has been a handicraft called Hakone wood mosaic art, in which small pieces of differently colored types of wood form geometric patterns. These handicrafts can only be found in Hakone and are also very popular with foreign visitors as a souvenir and gift from Japan. It is said that Hakone's wood mosaic art has over a hundred different patterns, as the artisans combine thin wood chips that they have cut from boards with a plane. These patterns then form the surfaces of furniture and other objects. A wide variety of wood in three different types and colors is used to create complex designs that look surprisingly colorful and varied when you consider that only natural colors of wood are used for this. Extremely popular are, for example, plates, bowls and other dishes made from Hakone wooden mosaics, but above all the so-called "secret boxes" (himitsubako), which can only be opened once the individual parts have been moved in a certain order.

 


"Secret box" decorated with mosaic patterns that can only be opened
after moving the individual parts in a certain order.
(Kindly supported by Mitsuya)

 

A wide variety of fresh sea products

Even if Hakone is in the middle of the mountains, it offers a wide range of fish and seafood, as the port cities of Odawara and Numazu are only 40 minutes by car from the shores of Lake Ashinoko. Hakone Yumoto can even be reached in just ten minutes from Odawara Port. Hence, the visitors have many opportunities to sushi and other dishes with freshly caught seafood from Sagami Bay with Odawara Port or Suruga Bay with Numazu Port. Indeed you can sushi With kinmendai (Kaiserbarsch), which is caught in both bays, and other specialties from the sea, which are rarely found in Japan, can be enjoyed in a large variety in Hakone. Odawara also offers a specialty, the kamaboko is called, a solid fish paste that is cooked or grilled. This dish is so popular in Japan that between Odawara and Hakone you can even get one kamaboko Theme park built.

Hakone's abundance of crystal clear water is used for the production of tofu, soba (Buckwheat noodles) and other dishes that can then be enjoyed in the restaurants on site. With its numerous well-known specialty restaurants for soba and tofu Hakone gives visitors the opportunity to explore these culinary delights of Japan on their own.

Located just outside Tokyo, Hakone offers a variety of opportunities for recreation and leisure. The residents of Tokyo as well as their guests from home and abroad are always invited to leave the lively metropolis behind and simply relax in a hot spring bath or in the pristine nature of Hakone.

 


Above left: Hakone offers a wide variety of fresh seafood,
which are perfect as ingredients for artfully prepared sushi suitable.
(Kindly supported by Yamahiko-zushi)
Bottom left: Kamaboko (a solid fish paste) is a specialty in Odawara,
a port city in the immediate vicinity of Hakone.
Right: Many on-site restaurants offer dishes with tofu and soba at,
the crystal clear water of the region is used for their production.
(Kindly supported by Hakone Akatsuki-an)

 

 

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