Hakone travel alternates – How to get around the Ropeway

This information is outdated.

As of today (May 20th in Japan), there is still a Level 2 volcano alert in the Hakone region, centered around a volcanic vent in Owakudani, one of Hakone’s famous attractions known for its hiking and its edible, sulfur-boiled black eggs. This means there is a 300-meter no entry zone around the vent, which has closed several roads and trails. More importantly, this affects tourists who take the “grand course” around Hakone.

This “course”, which is the top course recommended for Hakone Free Pass holders, involves the following, in either direction:
– Starting at the Hakone Yumoto train station, terminal for the Odakyu services from Shinjuku in Tokyo, take the Hakone Tozan Railway up the mountains and numerous switchbacks to Gora.
– Next, take the Hakone Tozan Cable Car further up the mountain to Sounzan
– Then, take the Hakone Ropeway across Owakudani to Togendai
– From there, board the touristy but fun boat that crosses Lake Ashi
– Finally, wind your way down to Hakone Yumoto train station on the express (or for the adventurous, local) bus

The problem is that since one of the Hakone Ropeway stations – Owakudani – is inside the no-entry zone, the entire ropeway is closed. It will remain closed until it is decided to reduce the Volcano Alert back down to Level 1.

Don’t let this closure of the Hakone Ropeway put a damper on any planned Hakone trip – outside of the 300 meter zone, Hakone is open to business… in fact, they want you to come and visit to enjoy everything that they have to offer. In the days since the no-entry zone took effect, the area has been doing their very best to communicate updates to foreign tourists.

Here are some ways that you can get around the area to explore more during the disruption:

– If you don’t want to stray off of the main “course” that takes most tourists around Hakone, a shuttle bus is now in operation between the Hakone Ropeway terminals of Sounzan and Togendai, avoiding Owakudani. They run for most of the day, but only at intervals of 15-20 minutes. Hakone Free Passes are valid for the shuttle buses, while non-pass holders pay what is normally charged for the ropeway.

If on the other hand, you want to avoid the ropeway’s path, you can rely on Hakone’s bus system, most of which is covered by the Free Pass.

– The T bus runs from Odawara to Togendai, the terminal for the Lake Ashi sightseeing ship, every 15-20 minutes during the day between the hours of 6:20 AM and 9:28 PM. Buses run via Hakone-Yumoto and Sengoku. The trip from Hakone-Yumoto to Togendai under normal conditions takes 35 minutes.

– You can also pick up the T bus at the Miyanoshita stop of the Hakone Tozan Railway. So, one alternate to the circular route around Hakone could be the Hakone-Tozan Line to Miyanoshita via the switchbacks, followed by the T bus to Togendai (around 22 minutes travel time) before continuing on to the Lake Ashi sightseeing ship. Why not stop at some of the other T bus stops along the way to explore more of Hakone?

– If you continue on the Hakone Tozan railway to Gora, swinging by the Hakone Open Air Museum along the way, you could use the S Bus. The S Bus runs from Gora to Shissei Ka-En Mae (the Botanical Garden) four times per hour during the day. Along the way you can get off at the Senkyoro-mae bus stop (15 minutes from Gora), from which you could cross over and pick up the T Bus to Togendai (10 minutes).

There are also direct buses from Hakone-Yumoto to the southern end of Lake Ashi. As mentioned earlier, some of these buses are part of the circular route that most tourists use.

– The R bus is the main one, which uses the highway to transport visitors between Odawara, Hakone-Yumoto and the southern Lake Ashi stops of Hakone-machi and Moto-Hakone-ko – though there are more R buses going FROM lake Ashi than there are going TO lake Ashi… in fact, there are only 3 R buses on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays, and none during the week.

– The H bus is a local bus operating along the winding roads of Hakone. Buses operate via Miyanoshita (the railway stop) and the hot springs resort Yunessun. Only take the H bus, though, if you are a fan of roller coasters, or if you do not suffer from motion sickness. It’s pretty twisty, as I can attest from first-hand experience.

– The K bus runs from Hakone-Yumoto to Moto-Hakone-Ko following the old Tokaido Road, established hundreds of years ago as part of the major trade route between Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. Note that buses operate the full route twice per hour from 9 AM to 5 PM daily, otherwise they will stop short. The K bus, though, is similarly windy to the H bus.

I hope this guide will help you if you want to explore more of Hakone and steer yourself around the uncertainty of the current Hakone Ropeway disruptions!

For more about Hakone travel and further updates, consult:

Hakone Navi – http://www.hakonenavi.jp/english/
Hakone Portal – http://www.hakone.or.jp/en/
Hakone Tozan Bus – http://www.hakone-tozanbus.co.jp/english/

Volcano Alert at Hakone

The Japanese Meteorological Agency has issued a Level 2 Volcano Alert for the Owakudani area of Hakone, prompting an evacuation of that area and a suspension of the Hakone Ropeway, which is one of the most popular tourist routes in the area. Be prepared for potential detours if you are planning to visit Hakone in the coming days/weeks, and consult local transit operators or local media for more information. Of course, if I have more news to share, I’ll do so!

Toyota car rental specials for Gotemba and Tokai areas

The Gotemba Premium Outlets are part of a national network of nine outlet stores in Japan. There are over 200 stores in the outlets from many popular brands such as Gap and Coach. It’s also in a unique location – not too far away from the foot of Mount Fuji and the historical / touristy Hakone region.

Gotemba Premium Outlets make special offers available to foreigners from their information center – coupons are distributed to those showing non-Japanese passports. Now, Toyota Rent-a-Car, in partnership with Gotemba Premium Outlets, is offering special tourist rates on rental cars from certain locations. These include the rental stations outside of the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train stops at Mishima and Shin-Fuji, as well as the JR station in Gotemba. These are ideally situated for those who want to drive to certain areas that are out of reach, or just want the convenience of a car to go to areas such as the Gotemba outlets, Mount Fuji or Hakone.

As a sample, a 6-hour rental of a standard car goes for around 6,000 yen, while a full day’s rental goes for around 8,000 yen. Of course larger and more luxurious vehicles will cost extra. They are also offering a 10% discount off of all of these rates by printing a coupon from the Gotemba Premium Outlets website. Just click on the “Rent a car plan” graphic. 

Of course, not only do you have to consider the expenses for renting a car, you must also adhere to Japanese traffic laws and you must have a drivers license recognized in Japan. Fortunately, the official English web site for Toyota Rent-a-Car explains a lot if you are interested in a car rental. Also you must keep in mind that a reservation must be made by telephone – presumably the “Toll Free” number listed on their web site is for reservations in English, and they take reservations 7 days a week from 7 AM to 7 PM *Japan Time*. Which means for us in North America, an evening or early morning call to make the reservation.

One of the things that is offered in the Gotemba Premium Outlets offer, according to their brochure, is a free ETC card rental. ETC is Electronic Toll Collection which is used on Japan’s major highways. It’s the EZPass, TollTag and FasTrak of Japan, basically. The toll charges are lower than cash, and presumably any charges are placed on your final bill. Also, a GPS device which can operate in English is available to use.

The 24 hour rental seems to be a good deal if you will be visiting any areas around Fuji, Hakone or Gotemba, or visiting/staying at any surrounding areas that might be out of reach. For example, know of a good onsen near Mishima that you want to visit? If it’s nowhere near public transit, driving a car there may be beneficial.