Less than 100 kilometers from Tokyo lies Hakone, Japan, home to the Hakone Hot Springs. A perfect vacation spot for all types of visitors, the picturesque landscapes, deep history, and delicious food will leave you feeling relaxed as you enjoy your adventure through this mountainous town.
The Hakone hot springs were first used in the 8th century but didn’t gain their renowned status for healing until the Edo period (1603-1867). In fact, there is a guide from 1811 that details the seven original onsen of Hakone and their individual therapeutic properties.
As tourism and technology grew, so did the exploration and digging of more hot springs in the area. Today, there are up to seventeen different hot springs, each with its own healing properties.
Seventeen Springs For Healing
Hakone is known for its multiple first-class, high-volume spring water onsens, with its name, Hakone Ju-nana-yu, literally translating to “seventeen hot spring sources”. Each spring, as mentioned earlier, offers unique healing properties for a myriad of health issues.
For individuals suffering from skin conditions, such as neuralgia and dermatosis, hot springs abundant with sodium chloride will provide the most health benefits. A few springs in Hakone worth visiting are:
Hot springs rich in calcium sulfate, like Sengokuhara, provide visitors with glowing skin while those bountiful in alkaline, like Hakone-Yumoto and Kowakidani, aid with blood circulation and nerve pain. Whether you are simply looking to relax, or wish to alleviate pain, Hakone has hot spring options for everyone.
Types of Onsen at Hakone
Most of the hot springs in Hakone are located in traditional Japanese inns called ryokan, however, there are a few unique options as well.
For visitors who feel uncomfortable bathing naked with others, and don’t want to pay for a private bath, the Ashiyu onsen is a great option. This hot spring is focused on the feet, providing visitors with baths for soaking their toes. Additionally, there are plenty of restaurants in Hakone which serve you a meal while you enjoy the ashiyu, including Bakery and Table Hakone, Naraya Cafe, and The Hakone Open-Air Museum!
The Higaeri Onsen is made specifically for day trips. These facilities have all you need for your visit including saunas, restaurants, snack vendors, and both indoor and outdoor baths.
Whether you are a bit body shy, needing alone time, or are planning a romantic weekend away, a private bath may be the perfect escape from the world. While this soaking experience is more expensive than a traditional hot spring, it allows visitors to unwind behind closed doors.
Hakone Kowaki-en Yunessun is an amusement park hot spring, great for families. While they have a traditional clothing-optional section for soaking, they also have a swimsuit area with a kid pool and outdoor slide for families to enjoy.
For those looking for a unique soak, Hakone Kowaki-en Yunessun allows guests to bathe in wine or coffee! While exploring the water park, stop in at one of the many shopping areas, restaurants, or lounges located on the property.
Which Onsens Should I Try?
Like most hot spring towns, you have a choice of public or private onsen. Most ryokan in the area can only be used by guests, but many offer day passes for a small fee. While all the hot springs in Hakone have their own charm, there are a few that stand out.
As previously mentioned, Kowaki-en Yunessun is a family-centered resort and a great choice for this area. It has a great mix of contemporary and traditional baths to meet the needs of all its guests.
Located near the entrance of the city in the Yumoto are is one of Hakone’s best known hot springs, Tenzan. This hot spring boasts numerous bathhouses, with the ryokan situated near the spring. Tenzan is a private, traditional-style outdoor hot spring surrounded by nature.
While in Yumoto, you may also enjoy the public onsen Hakone Yuryo, which separates baths by gender for both their indoor and outdoor baths
If you are visiting Japan, you should definitely add Mount Fuji to your list of must-see places. The Hakone Green Plaza Hotel has wonderful views of the majestic mountain from its outdoor Sengokuhasra onsen!
Visiting Onsen (Hot Springs) with Tattoos
While tattoos often show artistic stories about your life and values, they are still rather taboo in Japanese culture. Many citizens still associate tattoos with gang culture and organized crime.
While many traditional Japanese establishments look down on displays of ink, there are still some ways to experience these hot springs respectfully.
- If you’re looking for a public hot spring for day visitors, Tenzan is a good option. It is open to visitors with tattoos as long as they don’t have full-body art and are not in a group of inked individuals.
- Private hot springs provide visitors with privacy, allowing guests to relax without worrying about others.
- If swimsuits are allowed, wear a rash guard to hide your tattoos.
Other Activities To Do
While visiting Hakone, make sure to go sightseeing, try different food, and really immerse yourself in the culture.
- The Komagatake Ropeway – If you’re looking for mountain top views, the Komagatake Ropeway will take you from Lake Ashi to the main peak in Hakone in only seven minutes. There you can see the snow-covered peaks of Mount Fuji as well as the shrine at the top of Komagatake, considered to be one of the first in the area.
- Lake Ashi – This beautiful lake was created after the explosion of the Hakone Volcano in 1170. It is a dream location for fishermen and tourists alike, with scenic views of majestic skies, a shimmering lake, and sensational views of Mount Fuji.
- Hakone Shrine – This historic and sacred shrine is over 1200 years old. The view from this spot on Lake Ashi is not only beautiful but also connected to legends of samurai warriors and dragons!
- Sengokuhara – These pampas grass fields are spectacular and one of the top scenic locations in Kanagawa.
- Hakone GeoMuseum – Science and rock lovers will love Hakone GeoMuseum. With detailed information about the Hakone Volcano, hot springs, and geographic area, this museum will have you exploding with knowledge.
- Ishidatami – The Hakone mountain trail was considered the steepest in Japan during the Edo period. Although it was the main route between the East and West, it would often become a muddy mess during rainstorms, requiring hikers to climb on their knees. Eventually, the government placed rock trails to help make the voyage easier.
- Hakone Tozan Train – This train is one of the easiest and most accessible ways for someone to see the natural beauty of this area. You will ride up from the base of the Hakone mountain and down through valleys as you travel to the Gora region.
One of the best parts of vacationing is trying new food! While you are in Hakone, here are some suggestions:
- Itoh Dining by Nobu – The famous chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa helped in the creation of Nobu. It has premium Kuroge Wagyu Beef, seafood, and vegetables.
- Amazake Chaya – This traditional tea house can be found in the mountains between Lake Ashi and Yumoto. After 200 years of tea making and run by the 13th generation of the Yamamoto family, you won’t want to miss an opportunity to taste this authentic and delicious Amasake tea. Amasake gets its name from “sweet sake.” This warm rice tea will give you energy and comfort.
- Kikka-so Inn – This traditional Japanese cuisine was originally built in 1895 for the Imperial family. The Japanese architecture and gardens provide a beautiful setting to enjoy an upscale, seasonal Japanese meal.
You may never have another opportunity to experience Japan’s unique cultural activities, so take full advantage while visiting!
If you have ever wanted to meet a Geisha, now may be your only chance. These professional, highly trained performers will mesmerize you with their singing, music, games, and dancing. If you buy a ticket to Meet Geisha at Hakone Yumoto Station, a drink and food are provided.
Yosegi is a traditional method of woodworking that uses geometric shapes to create designs. You can make your own yosegi coaster at the Honma Yosegi Museum, Kanazashi WoodCraft, and Hamamatuya.
Zazen meditation will help you find internal relaxation through a Zen experience. After making a reservation, you can go to Jyosen-ji, a Soto Zen Buddhist temple, to meditate and try the Shojin-ryori sweets.
Japanese tea ceremonies are deeply rooted in culture. Hakuun-do tea garden is a wonderful place where you can sit and relax while drinking matcha tea and eating a few sweets.
Rickshaws (Jinrikisya) were once a form of a taxi during their time. You can take a tour of Hakone by rickshaw with your driver as your tour guide and source of local information. Two to three people can ride at a time in this unique fashion.
The most popular way to arrive is by train. Take the Shinkansen to Odawara Station. After a quick 15-minute train ride, you arrive in Hakone Yumoto. The easiest choice is Odaky’s Romancecar directly from Tokyo’s Odakyu Shinjuku Station to Hakone Yumoto Station.
There are also buses that you can take for a more economical route.
Taking the Shinkansen is the easiest way to arrive from the south, just make sure it stops at Odawara.