Nestled in the hills of Hakone resides an art museum like no other – at least in Japan. The Hakone Open-Air Museum is just that, a museum open to the great outdoors with lots to see and lots to explore.
Upon entry into the grounds, you are whisked down an escalator to the museum “floor.” From here you get an appreciation of the surrounding mountains as well as the expansive grounds on which the museum sits. Armed with a handy English map available at the front gate, the best idea is to head immediately right into the first building to a non-descript desk with an attendant and rent a digital “tour guide.” You will be expected to lay down ￥1000 (of which you will get ￥500 back when you return the device). This is a handy item for learning about the numerous structures within the grounds. To learn about each sculpture, simply choose a language on the interactive map, then point to the sculpture on the map and the recording will tell you all you need to know about the particular sculpture that you are viewing.
You are free to go off exploring in any direction that pleases you as there are different themed areas to view including a standalone building in the middle of the grounds that houses a large Picasso collection (no pictures are allowed in here). Works from artists from all over the world are showcased in the great outdoors in their themed areas.
While you cannot touch most of the pieces, there are some that are supposed to be interacted with, such as Woods of Net that allow children to climb inside. Another couple of unique things to do are the hot spring foot bath and the vertigo-inducing Symphonic Sculpture where you can walk up stairs to the top from the inside of a stained-glass structure to get a great view of the entire grounds and area.
The sculptures themselves range from the abstract and unusual to the more mainstream and recognizable.
Access is easy inside the grounds even for those that need assistance with wheelchairs or strollers as there are a few well-placed elevators to get up the small hills. On the far side of the grounds next to the foot bath, there is a cafe and small gift shop that can break up the day.
Back inside the main building you will find a restaurant and another gift shop for your interest.
After several hours here, which is easy to do if you are taking it slow, it is a short walk back to the Hakone Tozan Line Chokoku-no-Mori station for that slow ride back down to the bottom of the mountain.
Well worth the time and money to visit and a must on your list in Hakone.