Surface area: 98,86 km²
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Hakone, which is famous for its hot springs, is situated 100 km from Tokyo in the Hakone-Izu National Park.
It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan, above all for people living in the vast metropolitan area of Tokyo.
The area of Hakone stretches over what was originally the basin of an ancient volcano that was active some three to four hundred years ago. This is the underlying reason for the wealth of hot springs and vapour clouds.
Ashi Lake, (also known as the Hakone Lake) is really at the centre of a visit to Hakone. It stretches for 6 km from north to south with Mt. Hakone to the east. .
The buses of the Odakyu line from Tokyo arrive on the lake’s north-eastern shore at Togendai and the cable car departs from here too.
The southern shore of the lake is the perfect spot for taking wonderful photos of Mt. Fuji and is a favoured spot for amateur photographers and lovers of beautiful scenery.
It is also possible to take a tour of the lake on a boat that is a replica of the old European sailing ships.
One of the main attractions is Owakudani, which means “the great boiling valley.” Here, as a result of the significant volcanic activity in the subsoil, you can see geysers and clouds of sulphuric vapour which emerge from below the ground.
This is where you can buy eggs that have been cooked in the boiling steam. They are known as “kuro tamago” which means “black eggs” because of the colour that the eggshells have become as a result of the sulphurous vapours. The locals extoll their benefits.
It is possible to walk around Lake Ashi in about two hours, but it is important to wear suitable footwear.
In addition to the special volcanic phenomena, the hot springs and the beautiful panoramic views of Mr. Fuji, you can also visit really interesting museums in Hakone which house some collections of great value.
The Hakone Open Air Museum (Hakone chokoku no mori bijutsukan), is a sculpture museum in the woods which has a particularly impressive collection of works by great western artists ranging from Picasso to Mirò, Henry Moore to Giacomo Manzù and from Renoir to Kandinsky.
What is of special note is the Museum’s collection of around 300 works by Picasso which ranges from sculptures to drawings due to which, the Museum is home to one of the largest collections of the artist’s work in the world.
Also worthy of a visit is the Hakone Art Museum which has a collection that is entirely dedicated to ceramics which covering every period of Japanese history.
Another enchanting feature is the mossy garden with its maple and bamboo plantations which put on a show of spectacular colours in the autumn.
It is worth mentioning the small museum of Venetian glass which shouldn’t be missed either.
In the town of Hakone itself, the point where travel controls between Kanto and the southern regions of Japan were enforced has been carefully rebuilt.
During the Edo period (1603-1867), movement was rigidly controlled and the Tokugawa (the feudal military government) forced the lords of other provinces to reside in Edo for six months of the year whilst keeping their families hostage for the remainder of the year, in order to prevent any attempts at rebellion. Hence the importance of the checkpoints such as that in Hakone.
Amongst the other places of interest is the Hakone Gongen Shrine dedicated to the goddess of the mountains who has been venerated since ancient times, in particular by various generations of warriors. The shrine was moved next to the lake during the Edo period.
In 1886, the Emperor built a residence in Hakone which is still one of the Imperial family’s residences today.
Hakone was especially known in ancient times as a place of worship for Shinto-Buddhism because of the Hakone Gongen shrine dedicated to the goddess of the mountains.
Tradition has it that the first temple was founded in 757.
It was under the control of the Hojo clan at the time that the states were at war with each other when the castle of Odawara, which is very close to Hakone, was one of the most important strategic locations in Kanto.
During the Edo period, it became one of the main customs barriers between Edo and Kyoto and it was here that travel permits and baggage were carefully checked.
When the Emperor situated one of his residences here at the end of the 18th century, it developed into one of the major tourist centres in Japan.