Hakone

Within easy reach of Tokyo, the pleasantly kitschy area of Hakone has long been a popular tourist destination, and the area is best explored by the traditional combination of narrow gauge rail, funicular (or cliff) railway, gondola, and "pirate ship". Weather permitting, excellent views of Mount Fuji can be enjoyed from the Lake Ashi and Great Boiling Valley areas.

Much of Hakone falls within the lush Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, and the traditional route runs by switch-backing narrow gauge rail from the base town of Hakone Yumoto, through quaint old-fashioned stations and world-class museums set on densely forested slopes, to the prettily rambling village of Gora, where the hill becomes too steep for even narrow-gauge tracks and the route changes to funicular rail. From the top of the funicular railway, the gondola sweeps over the landscape, reaching its highest point at the Great Boiling Valley, where plumes of sulphurous smoke rise above the low peaks, and eggs boiled in the hot springs water are said to bring long life. The route continues down to the caldera lake, Ashinoko, where a cruise across the lake gives views of Mount Fuji in clear weather. The boat docks first at Hakone Machi before arriving at Moto Hakone.

The old cobbled path of the Tokkaido highway, one of the five main highways which connected the old capital of Kyoto to the Shogun's power center at Edo (now Tokyo), runs past old temples and through villages from the lakeshore Moto Hakone to Hakone Yumoto at the bottom of the valley. It is a pleasant way to complete the circular route, though there are buses or a return by boat for the less ambitious.

Hakone is still where Tokyoites come to relax, and the bubbling hot springs can be enjoyed by staying at one of the many luxurious ryokan - some of the best in Japan, such as the Gora Kadan and the Hakone Ginyu - which are scattered throughout the region. Into Japan Specialist Tours would be delighted to include a visit to Hakone, and a ryokan stay, in your tailor made holiday. .