One of the things on the list of destinations for me to visit while in Japan is a place called Hakone. There are quite a few things that are pretty awesome and worth checking out there. This includes a volcano that is active, a beautiful lake, great views of Mount Fuji, the Hakone Shrine, and also the Hakone Open Air Museum. Part of these are connected by a ropeway (or a skyway) and others are connected by pirate ship (we’ll get to this later). The whole area is beautiful and also perhaps a bit dangerous… judging by the signs in the area… this is true.
To get to Hakone, we took a couple hour drive up into the mountains. The GPS took us right up to the top of the mountain where the volcanic activity actually was happening. Steam could be seen coming out of the side of the mountain in lots of places. There was also a sulphuric smell that was quite strong. On either side of the mountain a skyway, or ropeway as it is called in Japan, could be seen descending down the side of the mountain. The air was crisp in contrast to the smell of the volcano, which had a hot smell to it.
The first portion of this adventure didn’t involve actually going anywhere. Instead, it involved eating a black egg. This location is known for them and they have the sales and distribution of them down to a science. They are grouped together in bags of five for about 500 yen. How do they get black, you ask? They are cooked in natural spring water for an hour. They then are steamed for 15 minutes in steel baskets. The water contains both sulfur and iron, which is what turns the shells for the eggs black. The inside of the eggs actually look pretty much like regular eggs, which was a bit of a surprise to me! They actually tasted pretty good too, although they were VERY hot. It is thought that eating this eggs will add approximately seven years to one’s life. I haven’t seen any scientific confirmation of this but I like the idea!
Having eaten our eggs, we spent a few minutes wandering around the top of the volcano and looking around Jigokudani,” or the Valley of Hell. It really was incredible how ridiculously close we were to the vents that had steam coming out of them. There were several times I was just a few yards away from where molten lava would be streaming out if the volcano were to erupt again. There were also signs warning that when (yes, they said when not if) an eruption happens to run inside. That safety tip noted, we continued to explore and then make our way up to the ropeway station. We also took several pictures of Mount Fuji as well as the day was beautiful and made for a great view of the iconic mountain.
Finally we decided to board the ropeway and make our way on to our next destination at the bottom of one side of the mountain down to Lake Ashi. The trip down was absolutely stunning. At first, the side of the volcano could be seen off to one side and Mount Fuji to the other. Then the lake became more of the central focal point, along with two “pirate ships” that were docked at our destination. These were what we were here for. After disembarking from the ropeway, we made our way through the station to the lower level where the dock for the tour boats/ships were. At the ticket booth for these, a very kind gentleman informed us that if we went up one level we could combine our ropeway and cruise tickets and save some money. I was quite impressed with this interaction and the one after as we combined our tickets seeing as nobody in our party on this day spoke ANY Japanese. Thankfully, there are a lot of kind Japanese people who really were saints and kept us heading in the right direction! Tickets in hand, we wandered around and looked at the lake before getting in line to board our “pirate ship.”
Now the “pirate ship” wasn’t really a true pirate ship. It looked like it was a walk-on ferry that had gotten some really fun cosmetic details added to it that were inspired by some pirate ships of different kinds. Inside and out there were some fun details to be found. There were also different levels and areas to visit, some indoor and some outdoor. It was a bit windy and cool but people still braved the outdoor top deck to take in some of the beautiful scenery. The trip on the ship was about an hour, a half hour to each end of the lake. The far end of the lake had two stops where people could get off. We did not do this. We did enjoy seeing the Hakone Shrine with Mount Fuji rising behind it as we arrived and departed from the second stop. As the ship made its way back to where we started, there were more views of Mount Fuji, Torii Gates, what looked like a temple, and other natural views to be enjoyed.
Back at the lakeshore, we hopped once again on the ropeway and returned to the top of the mountain. We briefly got off to get on a second line to go down the other side of the volcano. This turned out to the be the best ropeway experience of the trip. Within seconds of departing the station, the ropeway had us right above the volcano. While it was very cool in the moment, it is the LAST place I would want to be if that thing decided to explode. It was really quite impressive seeing this volcano basically surrounding the whole right side of the ropeway. Off to the front left, Tokyo and Yokohama could be seen in the distance. I definitely had the thought that if this thing really decided to go… I wouldn’t want to be down there either. However, I could also see there were vents and troughs that had been built to funnel any potential lava flow somewhere. There were also some buildings down in the volcano that almost reminded me of those found around mines. Oh, I should also mention… I saw signs for a tour where you hiked down into that volcano. You did have to wear hard hats. However, since I had a five year old nephew in tow it didn’t seem like the greatest idea. Maybe another time.
As we descended down the mountainside, the kindness of the Japanese was once again demonstrated. My nephew was acting a bit nervous about the whole ropeway thing and a gentleman started to talk to him about it. Within minutes, the entire gondola was all chatting with him and encouraging him. It was a very sweet moment that was representative of so many different experiences I had in Japan where people were kind, especially to the children. At the bottom of the ropeway, we departed and hopped in the car. We had one more destination for the day. This one turned out to be way more awesome than I’d ever have imagined.
The final destination of the day was the Hakone Open Air Museum. I will admit, when my sister pitched this to me I wasn’t completely sold. However, once inside of this museum, my mind changed quite quickly. As made our way around the grounds, there were multiple different types of art to be experienced. This ranged from intricate sculptures to a huge rubber replication of a fried egg (which was interactive). There were many different styles of art to be discovered throughout the museum and I’m not even going to pretend to know what they all were. I will tell you that they were interesting and all very different. Some of them were very serious, others whimsical. At the bottom of the hill, nestled in this little valley, a whole building was dedicated to Picasso! This was one of the highlights of this museum. There were multiple pieces of his work from different eras. It really was interesting to see how his art evolved as he aged. Just a few steps away, outside of the Picasso exhibit, there was a maze that had been cut into the hillside for guests to explore. There was also a children-only interactive exhibit where kids could play and even climb up into this netted exhibit. I can’t imagine something like this being offered in the United States but it was awesome to see and my nephew loved it.
As we continued around the museum, we found more gardens, a giant hanging orb, bridges that messed with size and depth perception, and also an area dedicated to creating fun and artistic photos for Instagram. While my nephew wasn’t super interested in this area, my friend and I were and we had a blast taking pictures there. At this point, we began to pick up our pace as the sun was starting to set and the museum would soon be closed. Our last main exhibit we saw was a giant head in a pool of water. By this point it was cooling off and the area was getting dark. We also had a couple of hours to drive back to where we were staying so it seemed like a good time to head out.
The darkness descended as we hopped back into the car and made our way back down the mountain and back toward what was “home” for this trip. The trip to Hakone was one that was full of pleasant surprises. It is also a destination I would love to return to and explore more in the future. There were plenty of more things to see and do in the area, just as long as the volcano decided to not do anything exciting!
What do you think of our Hakone adventures? Have you been there before? Would you want to visit there someday? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!