Visiting the Hakone region of Japan is a nice and easy excursion from urban sensory overload if you are visiting Tokyo. Located only about a 100 kilometres away from the capitol, Hakone is a very popular destination for both Japanese and international tourists to revel in some beautiful countryside. There are lots of fun things to do in Hakone with kids and it shows a very different side of Japan.
Some Fun Things To Do With Kids in Hakone
The best thing we found we did was actually just to go hiking. We wandered around some of the trails, hopping on and off the train which runs regularly to visit some of the little towns and generally had a good time exploring. Although the leaves had started changing, we did not have the full colour of autumn in the mountains of Japan which is a spectacular sight to behold.
Here are some other things to do that add more structure to your time in Hakone:
The Town of Moto Hakone
The Hakone Shrine is located in the little town of Moto Hakone and is surrounded by woodland. You can see the tori gate for the Hakone Shrine from the lake. Moto Hakone also has a giant tori gate as an entrance to the town itself. The pirate ships that cross Lake Ashi dock at Moto Hakone. Moto Hakone also has part of the old Tokaido Highway which was an important route during the Edo period of Japanese history. It is lined with hundreds of cedar trees planted in 1618.
Moto Hakone is supposed to have great views of Mt Fuji. By the time we reached the town though, the mists had rolled in and night was falling.
Cross Lake Ashinoko
This lake is a volcanic crater lake which has beautiful views of the surrounding forested mountains. The lake has lodging options as well as cute little row boats and swan boats that you can hire.
The boats that cross the lake look like pirate ships which my kids thought was fun. Within the boats themselves, there are cool 3D images where you can take photos pretending you are fighting pirates.
Visit a Hakone Onsen
For the Japanese, visiting Hakone invariably includes visiting one of the onsens (hot spring baths) that feed of the geothermal activity in the area.
If you are with children, the best option I found was called Hakone Kuwakien Yunessun. This onsen is located at the Kowaki-en stop on the Hokan Tozan light railway. It’s got a dedicated area for children which water slides. In addition, unlike traditional onsens, which require you to be nude, there is a bathing suit area which seems to be somewhat gimmicky. I expect the non-bathing suit area is what you would get from a more traditional onsen experience.
Explore the Hakone Open Air Museum
As I have mentioned in the post on the Hakone Open Air Museum, this place is a wonderful way to combine modern art with fun for the kids.
Take Some Cool Transportation Options
The Hakone Tozan railway is a charming little train that zig-zags up the mountain. It has 3 switchbacks which the kids found cool. The driver walks from one end of the train to the other at each switchback to drive it the other way. As Japan’s oldest mountain railway, in operation since 1919, it has fantastic views of the mountainside.
You can take a cable car in Hakone from Gora to the gondolas which cross the mountain. We were able to take the cable car but because of recent geothermal activity at Mt Fuji, the gondolas have been suspended for the last few months. Instead, we took a replacement bus service. Although nice, I’m sure the gondolas would have had better views!
The gondolas/replacement bus take you to Togendai which is where you get on the Lake Ashii pirate boats.
Tips for Visiting Hakone
Shinagawa station from where we took the Shinkansen has dedicated Japan tourist guides to help you sort out your trip and its details. There are various transportation options from Tokyo from tourist buses to DIY tickets on the Shinkansen (bullet train) or the Romance Car (a more direct route). We took the Shinkansen because there was no way my kids were not going on the bullet train!
You can do a circular route around Hakone starting with Odawara castle, the Hakone Tozan train, cable car/replacement bus, the Lake Ashi boat and then back to Odawara. It’s very easy to navigate with helpful staff along the way.
I really regret that I did not spend the night in Hakone. I didn’t realise how much fun it would be for the kids and myself. We took an early train to the area and barely made it back to Tokyo on the last train back!
We were having so much fun we lost track of time. I’m sure you know that when kids are having fun its hard to keep them on schedule. My kids can pretend fight with sticks, climb rocks and chase each other around paths until the cows come home. Staying overnight would have been a better option for us because it would have been more relaxing.
Many moons ago when I lived in Japan, I had visited Hakone as part of a longer trip which involved climbing Mt. Fuji. Getting to the top of Mt. Fuji for the sunrise is an event that many people like to do. It’s not a particularly hard climb in terms of mountaineering terms. We saw lots of elderly people doing the climb, too. I did not attempt the climb with my kids on this trip. If you’d like to know more about climbing Mt. Fuji, this article explains the enduring fascination that this mountain has for the Japanese people.