The cities in Japan are obviously the big draw for tourists, but we love heading out to the countryside too. If you are starting your trip in Tokyo and then planning on getting the train down to Kyoto or Osaka, we highly recommend breaking up the cities with two or three days hiking in the countryside around Mt Fuji. Here’s how to do it….
Hakone is one of the main areas people head to for a countryside escape, as it’s within easy reach of Tokyo and there’s lots to do in the area. There’s various ways of reaching Hakone from Tokyo but one of the easiest is to get the bullet train from Tokyo station to Odawara, which only takes half an hour. From there, you can catch a local bus or train to Hakone or whichever area you’re staying in.
Where to stay – KAI Sengokuhara
We stayed in a village called Sengokuhara which is just a little further on the bus from Hakone. It’s quieter than Hakone and a little higher up in altitude so there’s some great views. As well as hiking we also wanted to experience a Japanese onsen hot spring hotel, so we booked into the very smart KAI Sengokuhara, which offers a modern take on a traditional Japanese inn, complete with an incredible hot spring spa. The spa is fed by volcanic waters and the hot baths are said to carry numerous health benefits from improving circulation to reducing stress. There is also a great illustrated guide book which shows you how to to make the most of your bathing time, including stretches and breathing techniques. Not only is there an impressive public spa, each of the 16 rooms also has its own private bath on the outdoor terrace, which is a great touch.
The rooms themselves are beautiful too, with traditional tatami matt floors, futon beds and wonderful views – it’s a great place to come back to at the end of a day’s hiking. The in-house restaurant serves up a traditional multi course kaiseki meal featuring local specialities which is well worth experiencing. We also tried a couple of the local restaurants in town, including curry udon noddles at the Wetlands Teahouse and crisp, deep fired tonkatsu at the very atmospheric izakaya Irori-Chaya.
Hiking Around Hakone
There’s several hiking trails in the area but one of the best is the route that takes you up Mt Kintoki – at the summit you’ll be face to face with Mt Fuji. The trail head starts not far from KAI Sengokuhara, and although you can head up and straight back down again, we really recommend carrying on the loop back down the other way once you reach the summit. It’s much quieter and you’ll have several more opportunities to see Mt Fuji on the way back down. Just save this one for a clear day if you can, as Fuji is often obscured by clouds. Another great hike we did was around Lake Ashinoko, which is very pretty and easy going as it’s mostly flat – a relief after the steep climb of Mt Kintoki.
The big one – walking from Hakone to Mishima
The really big hike we had planned, however, was walking all the way from Hakone to Mishima, which included walking along the ancient Tokaido road, a historical route that linked Kyoto with Tokyo. Around Hakone there are well preserved parts that still have the old stone pathways. We chose to end up in Mishima as it’s a fairly large city where we could then catch the train down to Osaka the next day. If you’re wondering how we did this with our suitcases, then know that Japan has an amazing bag sending service where you can send your bags ahead to your next destination. We left our suitcases at KAI and the hotel team helped us with the forms to send them on to our hotel in Osaka, and we just took a backpack for our overnight stay in Mishima.
You can start the walk from various points, but we started it at the Amazake Tea House, a centuries-old tea house on the Tokaido road. From there we skirted up around the south end of the lake (you can pick up some snacks here) and through forests and quiet paths as far as the Mishima skywalk, where we then took a taxi the final bit on to our hotel in Mishima. It’s a wonderful experience to walk along these ancient roads, and once you’re past the lake area we really had the place to ourselves, only passing the odd person along the way.
Where to stay – Fujisan Mishima Tokyu Hotel
The best place to stay in Mishima is the Fujisan hotel as it’s located right in the middle of town and right next to the train station, making it super easy to depart the next morning on to our train for Osaka. The hotel itself is very comfortable and has views of Mt Fuji from many of the rooms. Best of all is the rooftop onsen baths, which have both indoor and outdoor sections and look out to Mt Fuji. Being able to dunk ourselves in the hot water after the long walk was absolute bliss and helped to soothe those aching muscles. You could also very easily base yourself here for a few days hiking in the area, as it would be a lot cheaper than staying in Hakone. Also, if you didn’t have much time, then stopping in Mishima for just a couple of nights would be ideal as it’s super convenient being located along the bullet train line.