Exploring Kanto Plain's popular Hakone area

Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi
Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi

Exploring Kanto Plain's popular Hakone area

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Okinawa

As the temperatures start to cool, you may want to explore and experience the pleasant autumn season. In the Kanto Plain, try Hakone, a popular tourist town with many beautiful attractions, including onsen hot springs, a beautiful castle, and impressive views of Mt. Fuji over its beautiful lake and mountains.

From Kanto-area bases, you don’t have to drive long to reach this picturesque destination. From Camp Zama and NAF Atsugi, it’s a short one-hour ride or easily accessible via train, so Hakone makes for an ideal weekend trip.

Since I live in Yokosuka City near the U.S. Navy base, my wife and I often hit the road for some R&R in Hakone. On a recent trip, we left our home around 6 a.m. and took the Route 134 coastal highway and Seisho Bypass, which took us to Odawara, a large town at the west end of the Kanto Plain within two hours.

Although there are several options to drive from Odawara to Hakone, we usually choose the turnpike because it runs via Lake Ashinoko to Hakone Town and offers the scenic views and fresh mountain air we are seeking.

Along the way, we always remember to stop at the Mt. Taikanzan parking for a splendid view of majestic Mt. Fuji and the impressive Hakone Mountain Range.

Mt. Taikanzan Parking Area (Sky Lounge & Observatory)
Location: 955 Kajiya, Yugawara Town, Kanagawa Prefecture (on Hakone Turnpike)
TEL: 0460-83-6591

Hakone Sekisho checkpoint
After enjoying refreshing morning air and the beautiful view of Mt. Fuji, we made our way toward Moto Hakone. After parking the car at the large public parking lot near Lake Ashinoko’s ferry port, we walked up to Hakone Sekisho checkpoint, on the lake’s bank.

The Hakone Sekisho is an elaborate collection of restored wooden gates and buildings built by the Edo Shogunate Government over 400 years ago. Near the buildings, there are samurai warrior wax figures to demonstrate the inspections travelers were subjected to during the time.

Take a break here for some great souvenirs, steamed eggs, a quick soba lunch and manju buns filled with azuki bean jam. We spent hours exploring the checkpoint then hit the road to Yugawara Town, another famous hot spring resort 30 minutes away.

Hakone Sekisho (Checkpoint)
Location: 1 Hakone, Hakone Town, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa Prefecture
Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Admission: middle schoolers or older: 500 yen, elementary schoolers: 250 yen 
Tel: 0460-83-6635

Yugawara City and Man-yo Park
Yugawara City is home to dozens of traditional hot spring ryokan inns, a beautiful valley with waterfalls and spacious park stretching along the valley with spa facilities.

Man-yo Park in the city center spreads along the Chitose River and was selected as one of the best 100 historical parks of Japan. The recreational area is great for hiking and a nice picnic.

At the park entrance, we grabbed a bento box, drinks and snacks for our al fresco meal inside. The park even offers Japanese-language book rentals, so you can take a break from hiking to sit and read to your hearts’ content.

In addition to offering reading material, the park also has another unique feature — Soyu, a sprawling spa with indoor and outdoor hot spring baths. For 5,500 yen (about $45), enjoy the facility for five hours and enjoy a lunch made local fish and vegetables. In addition, the spa also has a nice library of books about the city, Japanese culture and more, including some in English, for a nice reading break.

Although we didn’t reserve the spa facility, we instead enjoyed the foot spa at the entrance for free.

After we ate lunch on a bench overlooking the beautiful valley, river and cascading waterfalls, we were back on the road, driving along the Manazuru Road coastal highway of eastern Izu Peninsula. The shining, deep blue waters of Sagami Bay greeted us as we drove by.

On this stretch of road, we made sure to stop at a seafood shop for some dried horse mackerel. Yugawara is known for its tasty seafood, by the way.

Eventually, we ended up in Odawara City around 3 p.m. and visited the Odawara Castle to wrap up our day trip.

Yugawara Man-yo Park - Soyu Terrace “Books and Retreat”
Location: 566 Miyanoue, Yugawara Town, Ashigara-gun, Kanagawa Prefecture (One-hour drive from Camp Zama and NAF Atsugi)
Tel: 0465-43-7830

Odawara Castle
The landmark castle and icon of Odawara has been around for 550 years. The current four-story castle, however, is a concrete reproduction constructed in 1960.

Enter the tower to check out the castle’s history in exhibits featuring facts and figures, details about its founder, feudal lords and battles fought.

The castle grounds have a vast flower garden spread along the stone walls, a classic teahouse and a couple of museums housed in traditional buildings.

After we toured the grounds, we walked around the center city of Odawara looking for some local souvenirs. The area outside the castle has a variety of restaurants, ice cream parlors and souvenir shops, so grab a meal and some snacks before you head home.
By the time we had shopped ‘til we dropped, it was already 5:30 p.m. and time to go home.

Make plans to visit this beautiful region soon, especially as the foliage starts to change to vibrant yellows and deep crimsons. The weather and views are a good reason to go, but the hot springs and delicious local foods make it a place you definitely have to see for yourself!

Odawara Castle
Location: 6-1 Jonai, Odawara City, Kanagawa Prefecture
Admission: Castle Tower: High schoolers and older 510 yen, elementary and middle schoolers 200 yen. Samuraikan: High schoolers and older 200 yen, elementary and middle schoolers 60 yen. Ninjakan: Highschoolers and older 300 yen, elementary and middle schoolers 100 yen
Tel: 0465-23-1373

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