This last trip to Japan we had the awesome opportunity of traveling to Hakone and staying at a ryokan, which I will blog about next! It had been dream since our last trip but we just didn’t have enough time last time, so this time we made it a reality.
I just wanted to share some of the tips/tricks we learned during the trip to Hakone, hence this little guide.
- Hakone Free Pass: The Hakone Free Pass has two versions, one from Shinjuku (5140Y) and one from Odawara station (4000Y). The Hakone Free Pass from Shinjuku gives you one round trip between Shinjuku and Odawara station only on the Odakyu Line, and then gives you free access to the 8 different transport systems in Hakone like the cable car, buses, train, ropeway, boat cruise, and discounts to some of the hotels and onsens, museums, points of interests, etc. The Odawara free pass version isn’t worth it at all because it doesn’t include your transportation getting to Odawara, which is the most expensive part to be honest. You won’t be spending 4000Y for transportation in two days in Hakone.
- Hyperdia: This website is Japan’s own transportation website that is more comprehensive than Google Maps, it takes into consideration if you want to take a Shinkansen, limited express trains, etc. Sometimes Google Maps would not give you all the options, or may even be slightly inaccurate with the cost and train departure times.
- Odakyu Line: Name of the train company that provides the Hakone Free Pass, Romance Car and direct train rides to Hakone. There’s still a number of other train companies like JR that can go directly to Odawara as well.
- Romancecar: Odakyu Line’s limited express train from Shinjuku to Hakone Yumoto Station. It has fewer stops, and it goes directly to the Hakone Yumoto station, so it reduces you one transfer . It’s only by reservation so you can only take this train with a normal ticket + reservation ticket. If you wanted to take the Romancecar with the Hakone Free Pass, you have to pay an additional Y890 each way for the reservation.
- Odawara Station: This is where most trains, such as JR and Odakyu Line, arrive. So when you are planning a trip without the Hakone Pass, you will have to use Odawara as your destination. Then, you will need to take a Hakone Tozan Line to Hakone Yumoto station (15 min ride, 310Y), or a bus. The train station terminates at Hakone Yumoto station, you’d have to get off if you want to go even further into Hakone.
- Hakone Yumoto Station: This is like the epicenter of Hakone transportation. All the buses, trains at some point will end up here. If you wanted to tour around Hakone, you will need to get to this station to get to anywhere, such as taking the bus, or the Hakone Tozan train to Gora.
- Hakone Tozan Line: This is the “mountain” climbing train that takes forever to get up the mountain to Gora. After being in Tokyo for the past couple of days, everything seems so much slower in Hakone, haha! It’s a 40 minute train, but it sure feels longer than that. It terminates at the Gora station. There’s 3 switchbacks on this train ride, too, so it’s a little confusing sometimes because you feel like it goes back and forth.
- Gora Station: This is were you would stop to take the Hakone Cable Car, which is a train that just goes uphill for about 10 minutes. It still felt longer than that because we had to stop at every stop (4 stops).
- Hakone Cable Car: Free for the Hakone Free Pass. If you don’t have it, this train does not take Pasmo/IC cards. If you want to go to the top for the Hakone Ropeway, you would have to buy it at the ticket machine for Sounzan. You can use your Pasmo/IC card to pay for the ticket (420Y). To be honest this didn’t feel like a conventional cable car for me. It was like a slanted train that went up the mountain diagonally, versus hanging by a cable from one area to another. The Hakone Ropeway was closer to a real Cable car for me. It’s just called a cable car because it uses a giant cable to bring the train up from the bottom.
- Hakone Ropeway: Free for the Hakone Free Pass. This ropeway is accessible once you get to Sounzan. If you don’t have the Free Pass, and you want to go all the way to Lake Ashi and do the boat cruise, you would have to buy a ticket for Togendai. This ropeway does not take Pasmo/IC cards as well, and the machine was broken so when we bought it at the counter you could use Pasmo/IC card to purchase the ticket (1370Y). The Ropeway is absolutely stunning, the views are so breathtaking. It has 3 stops I think, and you would want to stop at the first one, Owakudani.
- Owakudani: This is a volcanic valley that has active sulphur vents and hot springs. Gorgeous views here. After the station, you would start to see Mount Fuji (or Fuji-San) on a clear day.
- Togendai: This is the stop you would want to get off to get to Lake Ashi and take the boat cruise, which is just a couple of steps away. This is where we took a bus to head back to our ryokan. All of the buses would say 35 minutes to Hakone Yumoto station, which is a complete lie because people stop at a lot of the stops, so it’s more like 50-60 minutes depending on how busy it is.
- Lake Ashi: This is where the boat cruise would take place, free on the Hakone Free Pass. If not, you would have to buy tickets, which I think differs on where you want to land or if you want a round trip. It would normally be around 1000Y for a single trip. Then you can take a bus from the end of the cruise to head back to Hakone Yumoto or wherever you are staying that night.
Hakone Free Pass – to get or not to get:
- If you are coming from Shinjuku, this is a good deal. We were staying in the Ueno/Akihabara area, so travelling to Shinjuku would have added 30 more minutes to our trip, and after calculating everything it would be cheaper not to get it. However, in hindsight I would have done the travel to Shinjuku,because the only way the trips would be cheaper would be to take local JR trains (taking the Shinkansen would be way more expensive), which means you may not get to sit down for the entire trip, which happened to us… a little crazy if you’re lugging around all your luggage.
- If you are really close to the Odawara station, I would say no need to get it.
Romancecar or not:
- I would say, if you had 1780Y (890 both ways) to spare, take it. That way you ensure yourself a relaxing ride to the Hakone. You can even make reservations a month in advance. You also save yourself one additional transfer between Odawara and Hakone Yumoto station, and with the Hakone Tozan line being so slow, I would take it.
- It’s only truly scenic around Hakone from Odawara to the Hakone Yumoto station.
- If you can help it, don’t bring your big luggage around, just a day pack. There’s tons of lockers at Shinjuku station that you can leave your luggage in, just don’t forget where you placed it. The Hakone Tozan Line can get really busy and it’ll be hard to lug around. The streets of Hakone are also incredibly narrow, we felt it was super dangerous to be walking on the road without a sidewalk, lugging our big luggage around
- Start early. Because the trip from Shinjuku still takes 1.5 hours, and every little train / bus / cable car / transportation takes at least half hour, with places closing at 3-4PM at times, make sure you have enough time for everything or split it over two days.
- We didn’t do the Hakone Free Pass, so we took the JR Utsonomiya Line from Ueno station to Odawara station. It’s a busy train lots of people coming in and out, and it took around 80 minutes. We didn’t buy the green car tickets so we just stood around that time.
We actually bought bento boxes at the Ueno station but because we didn’t take a seated train we didn’t get to sit down to eat them, so we just stopped by the roadside and ate our delicious bentos!
We arrived at the Odawara station and took the Hakone Tozan Line to Gora, and stopped at Chokoku No Mori Station (one stop before Gora) and walked to the Hakone Open Air Museum. It’s 1600Y for the entrance and 1400Y if you had the Hakone Free Pass.
Personally, I thought I would like it more than I did but I didn’t feel it was worth the money.
Then, we took the Hakone Tozan Line one stop to Gora. Upon arriving in Gora, we bought the cable car ticket to Sounzan. As I mentioned earlier, they don’t take Pasmo/IC cards but you could pay for the ticket using the Pasmo/IC Card. To get to the Hakone Ropeway in Sounzan, it’s 420Y, or free if you got the Hakone Free Pass.
Here we are at the Hakone Ropeway! You would need to buy a ticket again for this one if you didn’t have the Hakone Free pass, so buy the ticket for Togendai if you want to get to the bottom of this ropeway, which is 1370Y. We used the Pasmo/IC card to pay for it but you couldn’t just go through with just the Pasmo/IC card.
Super stunning views especially on the right side of the cable car, so if you can stay on the right, you should!
Then you’ll start to see the Owakudani valley on the left side of the ropeway. I would recommend to stop over at Owakudani!
This place was just so breathtaking!
Then we hopped back on the Ropeway and you could see Fuji-San a little bit more.
Since we went in the Fall / October time, we could see the trees starting to turn orange, which is so gorgeous. It was still honestly pretty warm for fall but I’m so glad to see the leaves starting to change.
At the bottom of the ropeway will be the Lake Ashi cruise, which we didn’t take. We arrived around 3PM and the last cruise that way was 3:40, but we felt like we wanted to head back to the ryokan and enjoy all the facilities there instead of this. Thankfully the info stations could all speak in English and helped us find the right bus to take for our ryokan, and after about an hour we arrived safely in our ryokan. Google Maps is a little easier now too that has all the stops written out, so we were just matching it with the screen inside the bus, to make sure we were heading the right direction and to get off the right stop.
The traffic was so slow so it took us over an hour to get back instead of just 40 mins! Thankfully I got to eat some yummy soft serve ice cream before we left!
The next day, for our trip home we used the Romancecar because we needed to go to Shinjuku to transfer to the Narita Airport, and it was super worth it! I would recommend it at least for one of your rides, if you didn’t want to do both ways.
I hope you learned a little bit about travelling to Hakone from this guide!