Tranquility: Hakone’s Green Landscapes and Nature-Rich Cuisine Part III: Sights to See
For centuries, Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture has been a destination for people to relax and enjoy its famous onsens (natural hot springs). Just over an hour away from Tokyo, it’s an easy getaway from the city and has numerous activities to enjoy including hiking, art museums, traditional craft-making and all its delicious local food.
There is both a retro and modern looking railway climbing up the mountain in Hakone Tozan | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
Despite wanting to continue eating all the delicious food in Hakone, I had to raise a white flag at the end of the day. Thankfully, it was very easy to find omiyage (food souvenirs) to take home - although I couldn’t resist eating some while I was there!
MARUSHIMA: HAKONE ONSEN MANJU
Marushima specializes in Hakone onsen manju, a thin, cake-flavored steamed bun filled with a sweet bean paste. Perfect with tea, it also pairs well with black coffee which moderates the sweet bean paste. If you have time, the second floor of the shop is a cafe where you can enjoy freshly made Hakone onsen manju from a steamer.
Address: 706-14 Yumoto, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0311
KAGOSEI: FRIED KAMABOKO (FISH CAKE)
Kagosei is located inside the MiTsuKi souvenir shop and sells freshly made fried kamaboko (fish cakes). These ready-to-eat kamaboko are made fresh everyday and are usually gone by the late afternoon. They can be bought blended with seasonal vegetables such as sweet onions and burdock (root vegetable). And if you enjoy spicy food, I recommend the spicy burdock kamaboko that has a zesty kick to it.
Address: 701 Yumoto, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0311
SUZUHIRO: YAKIBOKO (BROILED FISH CAKE) WITH WASABI PASTE
Suzuhiro is a long-established brand in the Odawara area near Hakone. They’re known for using all-natural ingredients and their commitment to environmental sustainability. To learn more about the kamaboko-making process and Suzuhiro’s history, there is a Kamaboko Museum in Odawara where anyone can participate in the kamaboko workshop.
I bought an omiyage called yakiboko which comes in a cute basket that can be reused later to store fruits or vegetables. Fish cakes have a flavor that can be enjoyed as is, however they can also be dipped in soy sauce and wasabi. The store has packets of fresh grated wasabi, far different from regular wasabi which is diluted water and wasabi powder turned into a solid green paste. Since the fish cake has a smooth spongy texture, the crunch from the grated wasabi adds a nice contrast and a delightful spicy tingle.
Address: 706-47 Yumoto, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0311
JOURNEY AROUND HAKONE USING “TOKO TOKO KIPPU”
If you plan on staying overnight, I highly recommend purchasing a “Hakone Free Pass” that includes a roundtrip ride to Odawara from your departure station on the Odawara line (such as Shinjuku station) and unlimited rides on the Hakone Tozan Train, the Hakone Tozan Cable Car, the Hakone Ropeway, specific express or tourist buses, and even a Hakone pirate ship. Plus this pass offers discounts to more than 70 facilities in Hakone. The “Hakone Free Pass” is available for up to three consecutive days during a trip.
Hakone Tozan’s zig zag rail that travels up the mountain | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
For day-trip travelers, there is an unlimited day-pass called “Toko Toko Kippu” that is only ¥1570 for adults (¥790 for children). I love the sound of “Toko Toko” which is a Japanese onomatopoeia referring to the sound of a moving train. This day-pass can be purchased at Odawara station or Hakone-Yumoto station if you happen to ride on the Romancecar, and is available for use on the Hakone Tozan Train and the Hakone Tozan Cable Car. It also includes discounts to multiple onsens, museums, parks, cafes, and more.
The Hakone Tozan Train, inspired by Switzerland's zig zag railway, is a soothing experience as it climbs the mountains. It stops frequently to “switchback” which allows passengers on either end of the car to see both the front and back view during the uphill ride.
Hakone Freepass: https://www.hakonenavi.jp/international/en/discount_passes/free_pass
Hakone “Toko Toko Kippu”: https://www.hakonenavi.jp/international/en/discount_passes
Cable car that goes directly to the top of the steep hill | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
While it took an entire day for me to enjoy all my food stops, I still managed to visit two tourist locations during my day trip that are worth a visit for anyone planning a trip to Hakone.
Local souvenirs found at Cu-mo along with their specialty “cloud” themed cafe | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
CU-MO HAKONE: CABLE CAR TO SOUNZAN TOPHILL VIEW WITH A FOOT BATH
An hour away from the Hakone-Yumoto station is Sounzan station’s rest stop, Cu-mo (meaning “cloud” in Japanese). Its wooden architecture and cloud themed cushions allow travelers to take a break and recharge before heading to the volcanic valley of Owakudani via the RopeWay or back to Hakone-Yumoto. Cu-mo has a souvenir shop that sells local crafts, food and limited edition Hakone Ropeway goods. It also has a small cafe that sells “cloud” themed drinks and snacks to enjoy on the skydeck while observing the surrounding landscape that changes color with the seasons. The highlight of Cu-mo is its public foot bath where daimonji (a long standing summer festival tradition where locals light fires on numerous torches to form a “大” or “large” in Japanese) can be seen engraved in the mountain.
Cu-mo’s foot bath with a view | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
A beautiful mountain, a warm relaxing foot bath and local drinks at Cu-mo | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
Address: Sounzan Station, Gora, Hakone, Kanagawa
GORA PARK: TRADITIONAL CRAFT MAKING AT THE CONSERVATORY
A few minutes walk from Gora Station (40 mins away from Hakone-Yumoto station via the Hakone Tozan Line) or a very short walk from the Shunsai restaurant, is a western-style botanical garden with a restaurant, cafe, tea house, conservatory and “crafthouse”. The “crafthouse” is not a craft-beer brewery, but a traditional craft-making studio where you can learn glass blowing, ceramics making, kiriko (glass cutting), lamp working, beading and more. You can comfortably spend more than two hours or even a half a day here as you enjoy all the recommended experiences in Japan.
You can easily spend half a day walking through Gora Park’s gardens, participating in a tea ceremony and learning how to make local traditional crafts | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
**Note: Some crafts are delivered after a few days and only have domestic shipping options. If you’re traveling from overseas, try to visit at the beginning of your trip and have your crafts delivered to your hotel before you leave.
Address: Hakone Gōra Park, 1300 Gora, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0408
Enjoying the breeze from the wide-opened windows on my way home from Hakone | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
Cu-mo and Gora Park can easily be visited within a day. However, if you have room for an extra night to stay in the area, it would be good to explore the active volcanic valley, Owakudani, visit various open-air and sculpture museums, and take a ride on a Hakone pirate ship on Lake Ashi.
Despite saying Hakone is an easy day trip from Tokyo, the myriad of adventures makes it feel like one day is not enough to explore it all. For a town that has a long history of soothing travelers through nature-rich onsens and cuisines, Hakone’s hospitality continues to today, welcoming people from both Japan and every part of the world on a tranquil journey.
Born and raised in Japan, Mary Hirata McJilton is a graduate of the University of Minnesota. While earning her degree in Global Studies and a minor in Political Science, she worked at a Japanese restaurant, was actively involved in a Japanese student group that hosted Japanese food events, and interned at Slow Food Minnesota. These experiences nurtured her curiosity around food culture and sustainability. With characteristic serendipity, she spontaneously meets new people wherever life takes her, expanding her repertoire of original Mary-stories that she loves to share over meals. In her downtime, she enjoys cooking with herbs and vegetables that she grows herself on her cozy balcony, and refreshing the Italian she learned from a stint studying abroad.