(Article updated to 2020)
Hakone is a vacation resort located in Kanagawa prefecture at the foot of Mount Fuji, considered a place of relaxation by the Japanese themselves. Here you come to rest and refresh yourself from fatigue and tiredness, since it is one of the reference thermal sites in all of Japan par excellence. In addition to the spas, Hakone is famous for its numerous natural sites.
Located less than 100 kilometers from Tokyo, it is a perfect destination to disconnect from the frenetic rhythm of the city and enjoy some peace and silence. After more than a week in Tokyo, in fact, Hakone is just ideal! My dispassionate advice is to book well in advance one of the most beautiful ryokans that the town hosts, to give you a day and night of absolute relaxation, also enjoying the famous kaiseki cuisine. An experience that you will certainly not forget and that you will carry in your heart over the years.
Make sure you buy the pocket wi-fi from Italy and pick it up as soon as you arrive in Japan at the airport (alternatively you can have it delivered to your hotel). This tool is essential because it allows you to always stay connected to the Internet during your trip. On your return, you can send it by post by inserting it in the envelope that will be given to you and leave it at the airport post office. The best and safest place to buy it is this one.
Google Maps works perfectly all over Japan, but if you want to use the site that the Japanese themselves use, download the HyperDia app (it's also in English) to find the timetables of public transport.
Japan Rail Pass: considered essential by many, in my opinion it is not always the case. My advice is to make a precise and feasible itinerary before leaving and to calculate with HyperDia how much you will spend with the means of transport. Very often making this purchase is futile. If not, it must be bought from Italy on this site.
Powerbank: always better to buy one so as not to remain with the phone down.
Money: here's what NOT to do before leaving, to exchange money in Italy. Changing is never convenient, so it's best to exchange money as soon as you arrive at the airport. However, bring a certain amount of cash money (needless to say that no one will steal it) because it can happens that the cards give problems, especially to ATMs. I recommend you top up your PostePay (the classic yellow, not the Evolution one) and if you have an ATM or a credit card it is always better to contact your bank to warn it that you will make payments in Japan (if you do not warn, they could block the card); also ask to put the card in "worldwide payments" mode on. Keep in mind that in Japan cards are used much less than in the West, so it is always good to have a certain amount of cash with you. Many restaurants only accept cash.
Health insurance: it is good to be careful and buy a valid insurance that covers as much as possible (you never know what can happen). In Japan health care is both public and private, and being outside the European Union, prices and bureaucracy are different. You can buy it here.
HOW TO GET
The most comfortable way to reach Hakone is to start from Tokyo, in this case from Shibuya.
From Shibuya Station, take the Yamanote Line to Shinagawa / Tokyo and get off at the Shinagawa stop (13 minutes, 5 stops). From here, take the Shinkansen Tokaido-Sanyo towards Odawara (27 minutes, 2 stops) and get off at Odawara Station. Head to the Odawaraeki bus stop and take the bus to Hakone Yumoto Station.
WHAT TO SEE
This lake was formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone following its last eruption 3000 years ago.
Today it is possible to take a cruise aboard a boat in the style of the eighteenth century.
Also called "Great boiling valley", it was formed following the last eruption of Mount Hakone. It is a very suggestive area because it is dotted with streams of boiling water and sulphurous sources. Here the water temperature is too high to dive in, so it is a recommended destination for the landscape.
SANCTUARY OF HAKONE
Going up a path lined with trees and lanterns, at the foot of Mount Hakone, you reach this sanctuary. Characterized by red torii, one of which emerges from the waters of Lake Ashinoko.
WHERE TO STAY
If you've come to Hakone it's because you want to stay in one of the many ryokans. Coming to this location and not stopping overnight, in my opinion, doesn't make any sense, much more because it is a fantastic experience.
A ryokan is a typical Japanese (more or less luxurious) inn whose style has remained almost unchanged over time: there are tatami floors and you can sleep on traditional mattresses placed on the ground (futons). Depending on the price and the type of structure, you will have a different treatment. Many offer both dinner and breakfast and some will make you taste typical kaiseki cuisine.
Being a thermal site, Hakone has ryokans where you can access the spas (onsen) directly inside the structure. The onsen is divided between men and women and is accessed completely naked, without wearing a bathing suit. For this reason, it is important to respect the rules of hygiene: you have to take a meticulous shower before diving into the common tub and you have to tie your hair well. Also, if you have tattoos, inquire beforehand if the ryokan accepts visitors with tattoos in the common pools, the alternative is to look for a ryokan with a private onsen.
I stayed in a really beautiful ryokan: Kijitei Hoeiso.
[address: 227 Yumotochaya, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0312]
Certainly not one of the cheapest, but for an experience of this kind I did not want to spare any expense. By booking several months in advance I managed to get the suite of about 80m², a really important size if you think that hotel rooms in Japan commonly measure no more than 15m² (bathroom included). If you decide to live this experience. I advise you to move well in advance because it is a type of holiday that the Japanese themselves do and therefore in the high season such as the hanami it will be practically impossible to find luxury accommodation.
The Kijitei Hoeiso is surrounded by nature, silence and peace reign here. Honestly, I have never experienced something so relaxing before.
This ryokan offers yukata (cotton kimono) including a heavy jacket if you are cold, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb and slippers both for the room and to go to the onsen. So if you come from Tokyo and on your return you will stay in the same hotel again, ask the reception to leave your suitcases at the luggage storage and go to Hakone in the least possible size.
Also with regard to the spa area you will find all the possible comforts: towels, hair dryers, make-up removers and face creams of excellent quality, as well as shampoo, conditioner and shower gel by Shiseido.
The suite consists of several rooms and large windows overlook the mountain: while relaxing and sipping excellent green tea prepared for you by a pretty girl in a kimono, you will admire the branches of the cherry trees moved by the wind. A truly moving show. The service here is personalized: in fact, you will be entrusted with a person (almost always a woman) to prepare tea, arrange the futon and serve you both dinner and breakfast.
Here the dinner is strictly kaiseki (ancient traditional Japanese meal consisting of numerous small refined courses). After having a regenerating hot bath, you will find in the room the complete dinner menu which will be based on local and seasonal ingredients.
I liked this gastronomic experience very much: the delicacy of the preparations and the spectacular way to serve them will leave you speechless.
I assure you that you will go to bed very early, you will be so relaxed from the hot bath that you will fall asleep immediately after dinner.
In the morning, it's nice to wake up early and take the last thermal bath before the Japanese-style breakfast (I know that many can make your nose turn up, but for once in your life why not try this too?).