When in the Hakone region of Kanagawa, there are many places to go and many things to do. All of these things, on a clear day (a rarity in the summer), will afford you a great view of the icon of Japan, Mt. Fuji.
Taking a sightseeing cruise on Lake Ashi (芦ノ湖, Ashi-no-ko in Japanese), is one of the best ways to see the area and learn a bit about the lake itself.
The boats used are unique themselves and are part of the charm of the trip too. There are three boats in the fleet and they are all life-size replicas of old man-o-war ships. Named Victory, Royal and Vasa, these ships make regularly scheduled round trips of the lake departing approximately every 40-50 minutes from one of three locations. It is possible to take the cruise one-way or round-trip.
I settled on the round-trip option on my recent trip and started the journey at Togendai-ko station at the end of the Hakone Ropeway.
Onboard, most people head immediately up to the top decks for the best views, thus those areas are always quite crowded. For those that want to stay out of the sun and wind, there are a couple of lower level rooms with benches to sit down on that offer similar views, just a little limiting, one of these being a first class cabin that requires an additional fee to enter. The advantage of staying in one of these rooms is that you are able to listen to some pre-recorded information about things you can see around the lake. These announcements are made in both Japanese and English and can be useful in learning about local landmarks such as Hakone Shrine and its torii gate located in the water.
Up on the top deck, you are afforded a 360 degree view of the lake and Hakone area. And if you are lucky, you will be able to get your picture taken with a crew member dressed up in an authentic period costume.
The first stop after Togendai-ko is Hakonemachi-ko and the Hakone Checkpoint as well as some hotels, and places to rent small pleasure craft to take out on the lake (such as paddle boats in a swan shape, or canoe-like boats).
The third stop is Motohakone-ko, which is the closest to Hakone Shrine, but also passes by the location of the former Hakone Castle.
The trip back to Togendai-ko is much like the ride out except seeing the same places again can actually help you notice things you might have missed the first time.
The entire round-trip will take approximately 55 minutes and is a must to do on your trip to Hakone. Another option is to take your time, get off at some of the stops for some sightseeing, making your way back gradually.
You’ll be glad you did.