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With tour leader Mark Fujishige‘s handy guide, there’s no reason to let the closure of the Hakone Ropeway stop you exploring this picturesque mountainous area.
Alternative Hakone Loop
Remember that science textbook from your childhood? Skim through its pages until you reach the section about volcanoes, the Earth’s crust and the molten rock that lies at its core; around here you’ll find a page or two on the ‘Ring of Fire’. I bet there’s a map with a red line following a curved shape along the edges of several countries and continents that touch the Pacific Ocean. One of those countries is Japan, which explains the magnificent mountain ranges, soothing hot springs and active volcanoes in Hakone.
In recent times, one such volcano, Mount Hakone, has been more active than usual. In 2015 it awoke from an 800 year slumber, causing tremors and sending up plumes of volcanic gas; this resulted in the closure of the immediate area and portions of the popular ‘Hakone Loop’. At the time of writing, it is at it again and the Hakone Ropeway section of the loop is closed once more.
Can you still see Hakone when the ropeway is closed?
Luckily there is an alternative ropeway in nearby Mount Komagatake that hasn’t suffered from the same spate of closures. The Mount Komagatake Ropeway and connecting Izu-Hakone Ashinoko Boat Cruise are run by a different company than the rest of the loop, so if you are using a Hakone Free Pass this alternative will cost 2,650 yen extra person. It is definitely worth it!
Pick up the loop from the Open-Air Museum at Chokoku-no-Mori station on the Hakone Tozan Densha (mountain train line):
After you’ve taken in both the art and surroundings, walk back towards Chokoku-no-Mori station. From here, take the Tozan Densha (mountain train) one stop to Gora, or a 15-minute walk following the train tracks.
From Gora you can board the Funicular Train up to Sounzan station; a steep 15-minute ride on a fun little train which departs every 10 minutes or so.
Normally you would continue to the Hakone Ropeway, but when it’s closed, use the ropeway replacement bus service to get down to Togendai at Lake Ashi (#OH 65).
When you alight at Togendai turn left and walk along the neatly paved sidewalk:
Hakone Kojiri Terminal
After about 10 minutes, you’ll reach the Kojiri Terminal to board the Izu-Hakone Ashinoko Boat Cruise.
En-route you’ll spot pirate ships plying the waters of the lake. Unfortunately, the Izu-Hakone Ashinoko Boat Cruise is not one of them, but this sacrifice is all part of the greater plan: to see Mount Fuji from the top of Mount Komagatake. Keep your eyes on the prize!
Once inside the Hakone Kojiri Terminal, purchase your tickets for the boat cruise and the Mt. Komagatake Ropeway on the right hand side. If you’ve been using a Hakone Free Pass to cover the cost of your train and bus journeys, bear in mind it is not valid on these boats or the ropeway. Never fear though, several combination tickets are available. Be sure to tell the staff you want to take the boat to ‘Hakone-en’, ride the Komagatake Ropeway round trip, and continue by boat to ‘Sekisho-no-Ato’. While this route is not advertised, the staff will let you do this as an altered combination ticket for 2,650 yen per person.
5-minutes prior to departure they’ll check tickets and begin boarding the boats. ‘Hakone-en’ is the first stop and a pleasant 15-minute cruise away. If you enjoy lots of information, keep an ear out for the explanations about Lake Ashi’s features played over the speakers in English and Japanese.
Upon arrival at ‘Hakone-en’ follow the signs (or your line of sight) to the ropeway station. Your combination ticket includes the cost of the ropeway, so you can skip the ticket queue and line right up. The cable car departs in both directions every 10 to 20 minutes depending on how busy it is.
On your way up to the summit of Mount Komagatake, cross your fingers for a view of Mount Fuji but keep in mind that seeing it is an exception to the rule!
After your fill of fantastic panoramas and Mount Fuji views (or fog, in my case), head back down to the pier you arrived at and continue by boat to ‘Sekisho-no-Ato’ (which translates to ‘check-point remains’ in English). Again, your combination ticket covers this, so line up and enjoy the 15-minute cruise.
Upon arrival at ‘Sekisho-no-Ato’, head up the stairs to the left, before you enter the souvenir shop; these stairs take you right to the check-point.
The significance of the checkpoint and its will have to wait for another time, but know that as you pass through the gates and emerge on the other side, you are walking in the footsteps of history.
Once through the checkpoint and at the top of the gentle slope, follow the white pavements around the edge of the parking lot (talk about contrast).
Just past the parking attendant’s booth you’ll see a sign pointing you towards the ‘Cedar Avenue’.
Follow the sign and cross the street, turning left once you reach the opposite side. Keep walking straight until you find yourself under the shelter of cedars that have watched over travellers for centuries.
Enjoy the stroll (less than 10-minutes) under the towering trees until you reach a path paved with flat stones to your left, leading to a crosswalk.
Cross here and go down the stone steps to the shore of the lake, following it for a few minutes until you reach the pirate ship dock/bus station at Moto-Hakone.
Here, you can enjoy the scenery, perhaps visit Hakone Shrine, have a cup of coffee or browse some of the shops.
From Moto-Hakone you are well connected by buses to take you back to your accommodation, or the Hakone Yumoto or Odawara train stations.
If you are heading to Hakone Yumoto take the scenic route bus following the old Tokaido road past the Amazake-chaya tea house. You could walk some or all this route stopping at tea house for refreshments along the way.
Whether joining one of our award-winning Small Group Tours or taking a Self-Guided Adventure, our team on the ground in Japan are always on the look out for ways to make your trip go smoothly.