Although Mount Fuji lies only 80 miles from the heart of Tokyo, it’s hard to see the mountain from the city unless it’s a perfectly clear day. While I arrived in Tokyo at the end of Mount Fuji’s official climbing season, I still wanted to get up close and see one of Japan’s most iconic landmarks.
If you want to enjoy spectacular views of Mount Fuji without climbing it, the tourist town of Hakone offers almost any activity you can imagine, from shopping and exploring museums to relaxing in onsen (hot spring resorts). Hakone lies in the Kanagawa prefecture of Japan, a little over an hour outside of Tokyo.
One of the biggest draws of Hakone is Lake Ashi, a scenic lake formed by a crater near Mount Hakone. The lake offers views of Mount Fuji, boat cruises, and several hot springs resorts. Although I stopped at a point where Mount Fuji was barely visible, the beautiful lake more than made up for my lack of view.
Many vantage points along the shores of Lake Ashi offer souvenir shops as well. If you’re looking for a Fuji-inspired present or a traditional Japanese craft, make sure to stop by.
For beautiful views of Mount Fuji, Lake Ashi, and the surrounding countryside, I highly recommend taking a gondola among the mountains, called the Hakone Ropeway. The aerial lift has several stops around the mountains, ending in a stop right by Lake Ashi. This line is one of the best opportunities for sightseeing in the area, particularly during the fall when the leaves are changing.
While you can take the gondolas for a round trip, I recommend getting off at Owakudani, or the Great Boiling Valley. Owakundani is a volcanic valley with active sulfur vents and hot springs, which offers even better views of Mount Fuji on a clear day, hiking trails along the vents, and souvenirs. You can definitely smell the sulfur in the air, but it’s pretty cool to walk along active steam vents.
Owakundani is known for its kuro tamago, or black eggs. These are a local specialty food in Hakone, where the eggs are boiled in the sulfur hot springs. As a result, the egg turns black from a chemical reaction and smell like sulfur. Eating a kuro tamago is supposed to add longevity to your life (seven years for every egg), but be warned: if you eat more than two and a half in seventeen years, there could be dire (and unexplained) consequences. I thought the eggs tasted exactly like normal hard-boiled eggs, but eating one gave me a stomachache later.
If you’re interested in more manmade attractions, Fujiya Hotel is another Hakone must-see. This historic hotel was built in 1891, and is a mixture of both western and Japanese architectural elements that were popular during the Meiji period in Japan. The beautiful hotel has hosted many notable people and celebrities over the years, including the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Charlie Chaplin, Helen Keller, and the Showa Emperor.
If you can’t stay overnight at the hotel, make sure to take a tour of its rooms and historic artifacts, and plan to stay for dinner. Fujiya is famous for its beef curry, which is served in its French-inspired restaurant.
I ended my time in Hakone at the Hakone Open-Air Museum, a park full of beautiful sculptures, interactive art that you can play on, galleries, and more. With works by Picasso and Henry Moore, it’s a great way to walk around in the fresh air and enjoy some art. My favorite part was a tower constructed from stained glass, which you could climb up inside and enjoy views of Hakone’s countryside.
Whether you’re looking for spectacular views of Mount Fuji or just want a break from Tokyo, Hakone offers an activity for everyone. Bring good walking shoes and plenty of spending money, as you’ll definitely want to try more than one destination. Hakone is a perfect place to grab an iconic picture of Mount Fuji, and still have plenty more to do.
Next time I’m in Japan though, hopefully I’ll be able to photograph Mount Fuji from its summit instead.