Hakone is located inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, just less than 100 kilometers or a couple of hours south from Tokyo. The area is well-known for hot springs, natural beauty and the view of nearby Mt. Fuji. A popular destination among local Japanese and international tourists alike, its perfect for a day trip for people looking for a break from Tokyo.
There's much to do in Hakone to keep you busy for the day or even a whole week. Things to see include, Lake Ashi, Hakone Open Air Museum, Hakone Shrine, Owakudani or Great Boiling Valley, plus much more. You can also see Mt. Fuji right up close from Hakone too.
If you are looking for something to do there's plenty of hiking in the area that suits all levels of expertise, from easy (1-2 hours), to moderate and difficult (2hrs - full day). No matter what you fancy you'll find something! It's also worth mentioning that there are some pretty splendid hot springs in the area too. A must visit is the Tenzan Tohji-kyô hot springs. They have indoor and outdoors, saunas, and other great facilities.
Tamura Ginkatsutei is a traditional style pork katsu (crispy battered pork) specialist in Hakone. Located just a mere 100m from Gora station its one of the most convenient restaurants to drop by on your travels around Hakone.
They specialise in katsu but have many variations on the menu with the most popular being the Tofu Katsu in a special broth. Served in dish with a flame underneath you watch it bubble and cook right in front of you! If you want to try something a little different, the katsu sandwich is delish!
With a name like Panomimi (literally "the bread's crust) you know you're for something a little quirky. With first glance of the restaurant it's kind of hard to tell what kind of scrumptious treats inside... but do not be a strayed. This place is pack with let me say, cheesy goodness! It's located a short 8 min walk from the station across the river. If you're feeling lazy just grab a taxi which will cost less than 800 yen for one-way fare.
If you're like me and eat with your eyes then you've come to the right place. Order the Pannomimi Gratin - trust me, you'll have no regrets! I think you'll thank me later!
What else is there to say... YUM!
Also located across the river and about a 10 min walk is Yamahikozushi. Don't be deterred by the distance though, lunch here is seriously cheap for the quality of sushi you get! Dinner gets a little more pricey so if you want some sashimi or sushi then hit this place for lunch with the average fare around 1000 yen per person.
Try one of the Kaisen-don (Fresh seasfood sashimi rice bowls) or a nigiri sushi plate. Either way you'll walk away a happy chap! They quality of seafood here is something special and so is the presentation. Makes sure to try uni (sea urchin), its delicious!
Popular with visitors to Hakone is the Gyoza Center. Located about a 5-6 min walk south of Gora station is a restaurant that, you guessed it, specialises in gyoza! Pan-fried to perfectioin, the gyoza here go smashingly well with a big bowl of shoyu ramen (ramen with soy sauce broth). The servings are reasonable and prices are fair dinkum too!
The shopfront and interior is quite fitting for the Hakone, using natural wood as one of the main features in the restaurant. Whatever you end up on deciding on, maybe wash everything down with a special edition Hakone Sapporo beer. Pretty hard to resist on a hot summers day!
Kirakusou is a traditional and long-running soba restaurant serving up daily hand-made soba noodles! It
is very close to the station which definitely adds to its popularity for the lunch-time crowd. Don't wait until the last minute get here though if your keen on getting your soba fix, they close up shop when they sell out of noodles!
One thing to note is that the noodles are extremely fresh compare other soba restaurants you may have been to, as they make they each day. Expect soft but firm beautiful long soba noodles to slurp your heart out!
A big positive about Kirakusou is the fresh wasabi that you get with the soba. You get to grate it fresh at the table and add to your cold tsuyu broth. Unlike most of the wasabi that you find elsewhere, fresh wasabi is much more mild if spice levels, but with a bold flavour! Enjoy!
The aptly named Mami Kitchen, which is named after mummy or mother, serves up home-cooked-style meals for hungry locals and tourists exploring the Hakone area. It was made semi-famous by a famous comedian whose catchphrase is "Maiyuuu", meaning delicious but said backward. After having visited the restaurant for it's hearty and warming meals, the place was soon a hit with locals and tourists coming to check out the food.
The meals are relatively well priced and average for around 1500 yen or under. A fair price to pay for someone's hard work! The tempura on rice here sure does like tempting!
Another customers favourite is the Sri Lankan curry set. A little spicy but perfect to re-energise the body after a big morning of hiking or walking about town.
Mami Kitchen is located just a minutes walk from Gora station. Definitely a hot place to visit on your next trip.
Though Nakamura isn't located within walking distance of Gora station it is worth a mention due to the amazing soba noodles they serve up on a daily basis. The family-owned-and-run restaurant delights customers with their handmade and cut soba noodles. There's often a family secret or tradition with this kind of stuff so if you get the chance to eat here, consider yourself lucky.
The main thing to order here is soba noodles with a side of tempura vegetables. Couple that with an ice cold beer in the middle of summer and you've got a match made in "Hakone"!
If you're not feeling as hungry you can always scale down to another fantastic dish called "yamakake soba." Super healthy and light, the noodles sit in a warm broth and cover with a sticky potato-like starch, topped with sliced leek or green onions.
Getting to Hakone
Hakone is just a few hours south of Tokyo and is easily reached by train, bus, car, bicycle, or for the more adventurous: on foot. No matter how you choose to get there, it's a great destination to go for a wander outside of Tokyo
By far, the easiest way to get to Hakone is the by taking the train or bus.
If you're heading own just for a day either a regular bus or train will be fine, however, if you're thinking of staying overnight or spending a couple of days exploring the area there's a pass called the "Hakone free pass". The pass gives you a round-trip fare from Tokyo, as well as eight different types of transport in the Hakone region. You can use the Tozan train, bus and cable car, the ropeway, the lake pirate ship, and three other buses. It's a darn good deal if you want to explore a little more. Priced at just over 5,000 yen you can't go wrong with getting this deal.