Side trip from Tokyo! Lake Ashi in Hakone, Japan
When I was in Japan in June, I took a 2 day trip to Hakone which is in the nearby mountains. Lake Ashi is a crater lake surrounded by mountains. Going for the lake itself is worth the trip from Tokyo! I went in June for 2 days, 1 night, and enjoyed the ferries from dock to dock. It takes a few hours by train and other transportation to get from Shinjuku to the lake, but totally worth it! You can get the Hakone Pass for 2 or 3 days which allows you to take the train and then the cable car, ropeway, and the main ferry company. It is beside Mount Hakone which is a volcano that last erupted 3000 years ago, when it formed a caldera that has gradually filled with water over the years. The lake was really the main draw for me. It was relaxing to just be on the water and breath in the fresh air. It got a bit breezy and chilly, but I didn’t mind. It was glorious to be on a boat on a beautiful lake and see green mountains all around! I spent most of my free time taking the ferry from dock to dock, and had just enough time to check out the Hakone Shrine (箱根神社, Hakone Jinja) before catching the last ferry back to where I stayed.
If you are not used to the public baths that are common in Japan, you should be brave and try it out. If you are squeamish about being naked around others, oftentimes you may be the only person there if there aren’t that many people staying at the same inn, or the bath may be open 24 hours so you can go at a time that isn’t as busy. It isn’t as awkward as you might think, and it is very relaxing to sit in the hot water after a quick shower. Please do read through the directions though, and make sure you follow the rules and show common courtesy (such as not wearing clothes into the bath area and showering before entering the hot spring). Also, don’t be afraid to stay in a traditional Japanese style room. Some places won’t have Western style rooms, if any. Both are a part of the culture that you should experience if you can.
Another great thing about going to Hakone was that every room in the inn where I stayed had a view of Mount Fuji. It wasn’t always a clear view especially during the day when there were clouds rolling through, but if you got up early you could get a better view. I was able to just about see Mount Fuji on the cablecar ride and at sunset in my room. I was also excited to be able to wear a traditional yukata around the inn and my room. I tried to take some photos of myself, but they didn’t come out so great. Hahaha!
I thoroughly enjoyed the relaxing night in, and watched some Japanese TV programming. One program was a travel show and the 2 ladies who were hosting were actually going around on hikes and to restaurants in the Hakone area. I hope to go back and try some of the hikes and definitely find the noodle shops!
You can buy the 2-day or 3-day Hakone Freepass (no, it isn’t free, it just means you are free to travel for several days) from the Odakyu train company which includes an option with the roundtrip train ride from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. You don’t need more time than that, and the lake is a beautiful place to hang out. Make sure to check out the temple and the iconic red temple gate/archway that is out on the edge of the lake just outside of a forested area. Accommodations might be a bit pricey if you are used to going around on the cheap, especially if the inn or hotel has its own hot springs, but for at least 1 night it is worth it! You don’t have to stay right on the lake either, since there are plenty of good options just a short bus ride down the road.
So if you are thinking of going to Tokyo, don’t spend all of your days in the city! I highly recommend going to Hakone for 2 or 3 days! It was really nice to get out of the urban area and crowds of people.