Although the Fuji-Hakone route is widely explored by travelers, I had a huge struggle in planning this leg of the journey. The information provided online is either incomplete or in bits and pieces and I simply could not find any blog or forum which puts them all together. The Fuji Hakone Odakyu Free Pass had been modified on 1st April 2016 to a price of 8000Y (previously 7200Y), with an increased coverage of buses and trains.
A lot of time & effort was spent in preparing this entry and I hope that it will be of good help!
Note: this post will only be talking about the planning, purchase and transport coordination. Reviews of each individual attraction/accommodation will be reviewed in a later post.
Here’s a summary of my itinerary, in order of the sequence I visited.
Booking was a complete mess and headache
- Fuji Hakone Pass cannot be booked/purchased online unless you are booking it as a package together with a hotel accommodation
* Hotel + Pass package can be found at Odakyu Travel Website
- If you are planning to take Romancecar (a faster train between Shinjuku & Hakone Yumoto Station), it is advisable to make a payable booking online before your trip as tickets may run out early on popular dates.
It is an additional 890Y (on top of the 8000Y you will be paying for the pass) and it guarantees you a comfortable seat for the 85-min journey.
Should you choose to take the public train (free with the pass), be prepared to squeeze with the usual Japanese crowd along the Odakyu line which runs southwest of Tokyo. Furthermore, there are no reserved seats and the journey takes approximately 2 hours long with a change of train @ Odawara Station.
*** If you are holding on to a JR Pass, it is advisable to take JR Lines to Odawara Station and purchase the cheaper Fuji Hakone Pass at 5,650Y.
- Fuji Hakone Pass only covers highway buses from Kawaguchiko to Shinjuku Station (not Shibuya Station). Please do NOT book the wrong one.
Booking of bus ticket is necessary and tickets for the later timings often gets “booked” out very quickly.
While we were purchasing the Fuji Hakone Pass at Shinjuku Odakyu station one day before the trip, there were only morning return options from Kawaguchiko to Shinjuku station. It wasn’t the best case scenario as we planned to explore a couple of attractions in Kawaguchiko prior to our return. (I’ll talk more about it in my experience below)
Do note that booking for these bus tickets can only be done one month in advance on the highway buses website and the crappiest part of this booking is that payment is not required and you do not get any email confirmation. Only first name, last name and contact number is required and you need to print out your confirmation.
Why is this crappy? Irresponsible people can book multiple timings without any penalty if they do not appear. There were empty seats in our bus.
If you were not able to get a seat in the buses back to Shinjuku, do note that buses to Shibuya and trains back to Tokyo is not covered with the Fuji Hakone Pass.
My long and complicated annoying experience (can skip if you don’t intend to be confused)
The Planning of Itinerary
The first (usually the toughest) question is usually to decide if you should start off with Kawaguchiko or Hakone first? Initially, I preferred to start off with kawaguchiko as I felt that returning from Kawaguciko to Tokyo was riskier as it can only be done by buses which has lesser capacity compared to the trains. Furthermore, trains are likely to be more reliable in timings. However, while searching for ryokan accommodation, I chanced upon a ryokan which gives you Mt Fuji view from your bedroom window at $200/night (includes breakfast, no dinner)! The catch was that toilets and shower facilities are shared but at the price for that view, it was too good to be true! This ryokan (which only had 5 rooms) was only available on my 2nd night and it was the LAST ROOM LEFT according to booking.com. Without hesitation, I booked it immediately (2 months prior to my trip) since it was free cancellation (up to 14 days). I was really very lucky to even get a room as this property is usually sold out!
Using the only recommended itinerary of Hakone I found online as reference, I started to draft my own itinerary.
[8:53] Romancecar Train from Shinjuku (Odakyu Line) to Hakone Yumoto Station
Tickets were pre-booked prior to trip. Romancecar tickets are reserved seating. Surprisingly, no one checked our tickets this time round. I guess the train conductor would probably have a list of reserved seats and as long as there’s no one sitting on a supposedly empty seat, they wouldn’t bother to check our tickets.
[10:36] Arrival at Hakone Yumoto Station
Weirdly, I couldn’t find a counter which has the stamp/chop. I thought it was a common thing for train stations in Japan.
Anyway, it was quite a straightforward station, follow the signs and you should be able to find the bus stop to Moto Hakone.
There were several souvenir shops in the area but we didn’t stop by any as we were in a rush.
[10:50] 40 mins Bus ride to 元箱根 (Moto Hakone) at Lake Ashi
If you are holding on to a Fuji/Hakone Pass, you can just flash the pass before you board and alight.
If you do not have a ticket, please remember to collect a ticket which indicates which station you boarded the bus from. You will have to pass this ticket to the driver when you alight and pay the bus fare as indicated on the screen in the bus. If I didn’t record wrongly, the bus ride cost 960Y from Hakone Yumoto to Moto Hakone.
[11:42] Walk & Explore Hakone Shrine + Tori Gate in Water
After alighting the bus, we took a walk towards Hakone Shrine. It was quite a bit of walking (maybe it felt tougher because of my 3D2N load + tripod). After visiting the shrine and doing the usual routine, we walked down searching for the semi-submerged Tori Gate. We waited a really long while before being able to take a photo without any human disturbance. I got to admit that my photos for the entire trip were quite terrible as the weather/sky wasn’t good and I don’t have time to do any editing. So.. I’m just showing the reality of a not-so-good-sky-day photo.
[12:42] Lunch at random restaurant
We had lunch at a random (somewhat traditional) ramen/soba place near the Pirate Boat area. It tasted very average (kind of disappointed); nothing worth mentioning.
[13:20] 30 minutes Pirate Boat ride to Togendai
This Cruise/Boat ride in a Pirate-looking ship will bring you to Togendai. It is the second boat terminal you see if you’re walking away from the Hakone Shrine. Please make sure that the boat you are boarding brings you to Togendai. (There are other cruises for sightseeing which makes a loop trip) You can check the timetable if you want to plan more accurately. With Fuji Hakone Pass, the ride is free. Without it, it will set you back at 1000Y. You can print out a 10% coupon from this website too.
When you are in the cruise (and feeling bored), there are trick eye pieces that you can take photos with.
[14:06] Ropeway from Togendai to Owakundani and down to Ubako
Once you reach the dock, follow the crowd/signage to Togendai Station (Hakone Ropeway aka Cable Car). The cable car is covered by the Fuji Hakone Pass (otherwise it is 1370Y). It will bring from Togendai to Ubako. However, you have an option to take the ropeway to the next station (Owakundani) for a round trip. Do note that you will have to leave your cable car, walk a small passage way within the station, but you will not be allowed to leave the Station due to presence of volcanic gas. You will be able to smell some sulphuric gases and this is not ideal for pregnant woman or people with respiratory problems. A small wet towel is given in case you need to block the smell from your nose. Furthermore, there’s a small emergency kit located in every cable car.
If I don’t recall wrongly, each cable car can sit 8 people and they will assign you base on the crowd. Although it wasn’t particularly crowded, we still had 8 people in our car; not lucky enough to have a private one. As you ascend up, you may feel a slight change in ear pressure and on good days, you can chance upon Mt Fuji!
The view gets better when you go higher so I recommend that you do the extra loop to Owakundani!
[14:44] Bus transfer to Souzan
As the ropeway is not operating from Owakundani to Souzan, you will have to return to Ubako and take a bus transfer to Souzan.
[15:18] Tram down to Gora Station
From Souzan Station, you will transfer to the Hakonetozan Cable Car (which feels more like a tram ride – similar to the one in Hong Kong Victoria Peak)
It will be a very expensive 10 minutes ride, costing 420Y without the Fuji Hakone Pass.
** If you are ending your day trip in Hakone, you can return to Odawara or HakoneYumoto by taking the Hakone Tozan Train. If you travel in June, you will be greeted with full bloom Hydrangea flower lining the sides. More information.
[15:29] Walk to Hakone Open Air Museum
Instead of waiting for the train, we decided to save time by taking a 15 minutes walk from Gora Station to Hakone Open Air Museum.
[15:45] Hakone Open Air Museum (Close at 5pm)
The entrance fee was not covered with the free pass but we had a discount paid 1400Y (original 1600Y). Don’t forget to flash your Fuji Hakone Pass as there will be discounts at most attractions! The annoying thing is that I couldn’t find a listing of discounted attractions online.. (A kind reader left me a link for the list of attractions which provides discount, but they don’t state how much is the discount.). Alternatively, you can print a 100Y discount coupon from their website online.
There are lockers available at the entrance of this museum and the best part was that the 100Y we inserted was refundable! It was nice to deposit our heavy backpack and enjoy the afternoon walk in the museum with just our camera and valuables.
The premises is pretty big, even if you intend to rush through everything, you will need at least an hour. If you have the luxury of time to appreciate and photograph every single artwork, I think it will require at least 3 hours! There’s a special museum dedicated to Picasso too. There are a few areas suitable for children to play or climb up. Would have been a fun place if I were a lot younger.
TIP: Don’t forget to leave some time for this free outdoor foot spa (65 degrees). If you need a towel to wipe your feet after you are done, you can get a souvenir towel at only 100Y! There are limited slots available so you might have to wait patiently for your turn. It was definitely a relaxing session after a whole day of adventure.
The museum closes at 5pm and we had just enough time to rush to the bus stop to catch the last bus to our accommodation. If I didn’t recall properly, the bus was supposed to arrive at 17:08 but it was delayed. Japanese public transport is so reliable such that if the bus didn’t come on time, we will be doubting the accuracy of the bus timing that google maps provide us with. Thankfully the bus eventually came and this 20-min ride (450Y) was once again covered by the Hakone Free Pass.
[17:13] Bus to Accommodation – SHINANOKI ICHINOYU 『品の木 一の湯』
[9:20] Bus to Little Prince Museum
Little Prince Museum was a 11-min walk away from our accommodation (according to Google Maps) but we managed to hop on a bus (covered by Hakone Free pass) with courtesy of Google Maps directions and reached Little Prince Museum in 5 minutes.
[9:28] Reached Little Prince Museum
There are lockers at Little Prince Museum as well, however, this time it was chargeable (100Y). Ticket price was 1450Y with the Free Pass (Original 1600Y) and you can also download a coupon to receive a 100Y discount from original price.
I highly recommend everyone to read the book or at least watch the movie before visiting this museum. Otherwise, the museum may be a lot less meaningful with you as you will not be able to understand how the museum attempts to draw parallels between the author’s life and the story. There’s an all english guide which you can read while walking through the exhibits. I had a lot of interesting insights through the walk as there were parts in the book which felt so negligible yet has a deep significance in the author’s life. Highly recommend a visit if you’re visiting Hakone. However, this place may not be suitable for children as the interactive areas were minimal. The gift shop was awesome.
[10:40] Bus to Sengoku
Followed the directions of Google Maps and we ended up with a route which required almost an hour of wait time at Sengoku. Do note that as it was a Saturday, the bus timings were a lot less frequent compared to regular weekdays.
[12:03] Arrived at Sengoku + waited
[11:40] Bus to Gotemba
Without the Free pass, the bus ride would have been 670Y. Anyway, for this part of the journey, google’s map routing of Gotemba is inaccurate for reasons I do not know. But basically, just confirm with your bus driver that you are heading for Gotemba station.
[12:03] Arrive at Gotemba
[12:08] Bus from Gotemba to Kawaguchiko
When you reach Gotemba, you will have to climb up the station steps, cross over to the other side and climb down the station steps to get to the bus stop which will bring you to Kawaguchiko. It was a mad dash for me as my friend was literally running towards the bus after her visit to the restroom. Thankfully the driver was patient enough to wait.
The bus ride was approximately 100 minutes long and it will bring you pass Lake Yamanaka along the way. Below is one of the few photos I managed to snap while I’m on the bus. Would love to return one day to complete my visit of all 5 lakes of Mt Fuji.
[13:39] Arrived at Kawaguchiko Station
This is definitely one of Japan’s prettiest train station with Mt Fuji as a backdrop!!
[14:05] Queueing + Lunch at Noodles Restaurant opposite the station
After purchasing tickets to the no-longer-pink-moss flowers festival, we had lunch at this famous and traditional noodle house, Hoto Fudo. It was situated right opposite the train station and it has a queue (I mean things with queue should hardly go wrong..). It was 1,050Y for the pot below and this serving could easily feed 2! To be honest, I’m still unsure about Japan’s sharing culture. For example in some cafes, we do see fine print which says that each person has to order at least one drink.. so we’re not sure if it’s the same for F&B. There might just be an unspoken rule which you will get eye-judged if you didn’t follow. Who knows?
It could be just me or perhaps udon is just not my thing. The soup was nice but it gets a bit gelat after a while. Furthermore, there’s no meat in the dish so my meal feels a little incomplete =
[15:01] Bus to Pink Moss Flowers Festival
We deposited our backpacks in the lockers at the station. The lockers were almost 90% taken and we were very lucky to find a medium-sized locker for sharing at 500Y if I didn’t recall wrongly. Do note that there are more lockers situated outside the station, somewhere on the right side. We only discovered this info on our last day! Anyway, the people using the lockers are very trusting. Inside the locker room, there were a few big luggage left unattended. These luggage obviously couldn’t fit into the lockers provided and the owners just left it inside. When we returned at 5pm, they were gone.
[15:34] Arrive at Festival Venue
Despite being informed that the peak for Pink Moss Flowers Festival is over (they even show photos of the current situation), we decided to proceed with our visit as it was a Mt Fuji viewing spot too. There was even a discount for our (bus+ticket) purchase as the Festival area is now free and all that we were paying was for the two way bus ride. Price was 1450Y (discounted from 2000Y) and there was no extra discount for the Fuji Hakone Pass.
The Sakura flavoured ice cream was not nice at all =( I guess Sakura does not have much flavour to begin with)
Anyway this video sums up my experience of expectations vs reality..
[17:00] Bus back to Kawaguchiko Station
It was a pretty rush visit for us as we had to make sure we got back to Kawaguchiko Station in time to transfer to the last bus for the red line which will bring us to our accommodation for the night,
[17:45] Board Last Red Line Retro bus to Komaya Ryokan
Thankfully, we were able to made it in time and the driver of the bus was really nice! When we boarded, he asked where we were staying for the night and even stopped us nearer to our accommodation even though it was not a stop!
If you don’t have the Fuji Hakone Free Pass, you will have to pay 1200Y for 2 days unlimited usage of the Retro bus. If you just need a one-way trip, the price ranges from 150 to 480Y depending on the distance covered.
[18:07] Alighted & Walked to Komaya Ryokan
The accommodation we stayed in was pretty much a self-service ryokan. For the first time ever (in all my ryokan stays), we were instructed to self-service our mattress and bed sheets from the cupboard. Will talk more about this accommodation in a separate entry. We stayed in the second room from the left!
[18:47] Walked out to find Dinner
I did not book the half board option as I wanted to save money and the plan was to grab cup noodles prior to going to the ryokan but we were rushing too much that we didn’t stop by the convenince store. Thankfully, the old granny at the recep understood what we wanted which was “food” and gave us a map to find food. It took us almost half an hour to walk and decide on a restaurant amongst the 3 empty restaurants in that area. The town was kind of dead quiet and there weren’t many people on the streets either.
[19:14] Dinner @ Unagi Restaurant
We eventually settled for an Unagi Restaurant (we were perhaps the only customers that night) which was pretty pricey. I paid 3600 for an Unagi Set + Gold Flake Sake. The sake felt really cool though, like you’re drinking gold.
*Thankful for the minimal english*
We stopped by Lawson’s on our way back. It was an approximately 15 to 20 minutes walk from our accommodation. I recall that the night was pretty chilly with constant winds as we trekked the dark path back. Do note the the road lamps in such outskirt places can be quite far apart.
Set my alarm at sunrise to take several photos and videos. The plan was to get out of my room but I was already so satisfied with the view, thus I didn’t bother walking out =p
Breakfast was a simple affair at Komaya but I recall that slice of melon being exceptionally sweet and tasty!! The melon is likely to be a seasonal fruit so keep your expectations low! Fruits in Japan are rather pricey and I was a little surprise that that a lower budget ryokan would serve it.
[9:15] Left Komaya Ryokan
If we could, we would have left earlier but the earliest public transport (Retro Bus) reaches our stop only at 9:24.
Familiarize yourself with their bus schedule here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/heritage-tour/detail/id/1/
[9:24] Board First Red Line Retro bus to Natural Living Center
Since it was a loop bus starting from Kawaguchiko Station, we hopped on the earlier bus and visited this Natural Living Center (which was the turning point stop)
[9:32] Arrival at Natural Living Center
It was a wise decision to visit this place! We could see Mt Fuji at this area and it was really worth the short visit! We couldn’t linger longer (only stayed for 10 mins) as we had to rush for our planned itinerary.
Ever wondered why Japan is a clean country? It was 9+am on a Saturday morning and there were groups of people strolling everywhere to pick up rubbish. These groups of people (of all ages) were probably the residents around the area as I saw that them gathering at a school nearby. I’m really curious if this project was voluntary or an “unspoken compulsory” as I could sense the differing enthusiasm levels (especially from the teenagers who looked really tired). Nevertheless, it’s a good and healthy habit – having a morning exercise and keeping their surroundings clean at the same time!
[9:42] Board Red Line Retro bus to Kawaguchiko Station
[10:09] Arrive at Kawaguchiko Station
Once again, we deposited our backpack into the lockers at the station. As we were early, we were able to secure a small locker (300Y) each.
[10:50] Board bus heading to Mt Fuji 5th Station
The bus to Mt Fuji 5th Station (Subaru Line), is not covered by the Fuji Hakone Pass. Tickets were bought at a ticket counter within the station. We bought round trip tickets at 2100Y and there were no reserved seating. After you buy your tickets, it would be advisable to start queuing at the boarding area. The bus that ferried us to Mt Fuji was not the 42-seater. It was perhaps a 20-seater with a bigger standing area. We were lucky to secure a seat at the back of the bus!
[11:45] Arrive at Mt Fuji 5th Station
As it was a Sunday, the Mt Fuji 5th Station was swamped with coach buses, private cars and a lot of people. Note: if the climbing season is open (usually in July), private cars are not allowed to go up to the mountain. We visited the shrine (I did the usual fortune lot thing), bought some amulets, visited the gift shop and climbed up a viewing platform. After which, we just walked around the area while waiting for the next bus which would bring us down the mountain.
To be honest, visiting the 5th Station without the actual intention to climb up seems like a “Been there, Done That” agenda. There’s nothing much to do there and I may suggest you to drop this off your agenda if you don’t plan to climb up (or at least explore a portion of the hiking trails). I don’t think I will return here again in the near future.
[12:40] Depart Mt Fuji 5th Station back to Kawaguchiko
[13:25] Arrive at Kawaguchiko Station
[13:30] Lunch at Tempura Restaurant
We discovered a Tempura restaurant (Fuji Tempura Idaten) which was about 5 minutes walk leftwards of Kawaguchiko Station (back-facing). It was not bad and there’s an english menu! I remember having a lot of fun trying out the various salt and seasoning. Can you see the white saucer which looks like Mt Fuji at the bottom of my photo? I really love it a lot but I didn’t see it when I was there! Regretted not asking the staff where they bought it from =( If you happen to see it, please help me get it if it is less than 500Y!
[14:40] Board Green Line Retro bus to Saiko Bat Cave
The next part of the journey – is something that I have debated within myself for a long while on whether I am brave enough to visit the suicide forest. This part deserves a full entry on its own so I’ll just post a few pictures. It is very accessible via the Retro Green Line (bus frequency 30 mins).
[15:21] Arrived at Saiko Bat Cave + Start Aokigahara exploration
[16:00] Got out of forest and found Lake Saiko
[16:19] Board bus to Kawaguchiko
Anyway, the only bad thing about Google Maps is that the Retro Bus schedule and route is not found in Google Maps (as at July 2016). I relied heavily on their bus schedule and it can be a little problematic if I don’t know where the bus stop was. Thankfully, my guess-timade skills and a very calm traveling partner allowed us to walk randomly before chancing upon a bus stop. Perhaps we missed the Retro bus (which was 30 mins frequency), but we managed to wave down another Keio bus (covered by Fuji Hakone Pass) which was heading towards Kawaguchiko Station. The place we were at was a yet-to-be-in-operation summer vacation houses/campsites and there were barely 10 people we met along the way. Even if we were to ask for directions, it would have been tough.
[16:43] Arrive Kawaguchiko Station
Since we still had time to kill before our bus at 8:30pm, we decided to visit the photogenic Pagoda which I didn’t put it as a must-go as it had 400 steps and we couldn’t make it in time for the best view in the morning. Anyway, do note that the last retro bus is about 5-6PM so do plan the places you wish to visit via train at the later part of the day.
[16:55] Depart by train to Shimo-Yoshida Station
[17:14] Arrived at Station and walk to Arakura Sengen Shrine + Chureito Pagoda
Directions to the Shrine and Pagoda from the train station is pretty straigh forward. There are signs along the way as well!
The #nojoke 376 steps left be breathless. I stopped a lot of times to snapchat my climb and to catch up on my breathing. haha.
The view is really quite nice up there (despite all that fog or haze). I would definitely recommend a visit to this place even though you can’t be there at the most optimal timing (early morning). However if you do drive, don’t forget to visit this place in the early morning where the skies will be at its clearest!
[18:55] Train back to Kawaguchiko
We had dinner at the convenience shop (Lawsons) which was a short walk away from the station. Do note that the gift shop at the station closes at 8pm do if you’re intending to get some souvenirs or last minute snacks, do make a purchase before they close. From 8PM to 8:30PM, there’s nothing much to do in that area but wait for the bus which will bring us back to Shinjuku.
[20:30] Bus back to Shinjuku
That’s all I have to share about the complicated planning for Hakone and Kawaguchiko using the Fuji Hakone Free Pass.
Now let’s do some numbers to investigate if the Free Pass is worth the money.
880Y – Train from Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto
960Y – Bus from Hakone-Yumoto to Moto Hakone (Hakone Shrine)
1000Y – Pirate boat ride
1370Y – Hakone Ropeway
420Y – Tozen Cable Car (aka Tram)
200Y – Hakone Open Air Museum Discount
450Y – Bus ride to accommodation
150Y – Little Prince Museum Discount
670Y – Bus to Gotemba
1510Y – Bus from Gotemba to Kawaguchiko
1200Y – Kawaguchiko 2 day retro bus
600Y – 2 way ticket from Kawaguchiko to Shimo-Yoshida (Pagoda)
1750Y – bus ride back to Shinjuku
Why pay 11,160Y when you can pay 8000Y for the Fuji Hakone Free Pass? Don’t forget to grab your pass at the Odakyu Travel Counter at Odakyu Station!
Need help with your plans in Tokyo? Check out this post for a 3-day Tokyo Itinerary Guide!