Located southwest of Tokyo, in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, Hakone is a small-ish town located in the mountains, most known for its onsens and proximity to volcanic activity. You're a dumbass if you come to Hakone and don't stay in an onsen, I feel like. Surely you just spent 5 days in Tokyo walking your fucking ass off and would like to get in a natural hot tub a few times a day, and Hakone is the perfect place to do so.
Specifically, Hakone Tent, a hostel/guesthouse/onsen that was once a ryokan [旅館] (the original type Japanese style inn) which can be super fucking expensive. Hakone Tent is essentially all you could ask for when staying in Hakone. While there are plenty of attractions and things to do in central Hakone and the surrounding areas, taking a day in the middle of a two week trip to decompress, heal your body, and eat a shit ton of convenience store food will do wonders to extend your overall enjoyment and keep you from your wit's end. This was made easier for us by a typhoon sort of forcing us inside for a day in Hakone, but all was not lost, Hakone Tent was an amazing place to spend a couple nights.
Located about a 5 minute walk from Gora Station (Hakone's main hub for in-and-out traffic), Hakone Tent is an onsen that touts two private baths, Japanese style futon rooms, a full bar and kitchen, and a ¥500 breakfast if you want it. I would say pass on the breakfast. Japanese breakfast food is surprisingly king of shit, and is usually just a corn chowder or minestrone soup. Once again, just go load up on shit from Lawson down the road.
While Hakone Tent showed plenty of typical hostel attributes like dorm rooms, shared bathrooms, and commons areas, it's Japanese roots are not to be ignored. As it once was a ryokan, the character of the building still gives off some of the old feel. Short doorways (6 feetish), sliding doors, and tatami mat + futon sleeping arrangements, among other things, kept the authentic and Japanese-like attention to detail that we grew familiar with over the trip.
A large commons area has both a couch and coffee table, as well as a kotatsu (traditional, small floor table) for eating or when you need more table space. A deck is availble if it's nice, but it was a fucking typhoon our second day in Hakone. Bummer.
Both of the hot springs were incredible. If you've ever been to volcanic or geothermal springs before, it's essentially a very hot mineral bath with supposed healing effects. I would imagine similar to an epsom soak, but better. Again, much appreciated after walking and traveling for 5 days in one of the world's biggest cities.
The two baths are used on a group by group basis, and are each totally visually private (same room, but large rock divider in between). A couple times when you want to get in it's in use, but it can get so fucking hot within 15 minutes more than likely a space will free up in one of them.
Live music is typicall played one Saturday a month, and we were lucky enough to be treated by local 3 piece band, Asuka Trio. Forget his name but the main dude on the drums was the fucking man!
The bar itself serves Asahi beer, numerous types of sake, and also some mixed drinks. The kitchen's menu is small, but holds its own. Pizza is a main dish, and afer having a bite of my girlfriend's I would say it's worth the ¥500 price tag. She tried one of the noodles dishes and enjoyed it as well. The kitchen also has free types tea and instant coffee, if you don't want to buy anything.
While the food and drink situation at Hakone Tent is pretty impressive, the nearest Lawson is about a 10 minute walk West, and has lots of cheap food and drink, that's actually really good. They do allow you to bring in your own food and drink inside so if you're realllly gonna be drinking it's more cost effective to go there.
Hakone Tent made the experience in Hakone, and during a monsoon gave us enough to do so we could decompress and take a day off before heading to Kyoto. Hot springs were the shit. The beer and food is great. And the rooms are large but still in an authentic Japanese style. Cannot recommend Hakone Tent enough. A bar-setting experience for future hostel stays, 100%.
Hakone itself has good eats too. Gyoza Center was an amazing restaurant that to no surprise specialized in gyoza. It was pan fried and delicious, a large menu of hot dumplings and soups that was perfect for our first night of chilling the fuck out in Japan. I tried a couple varieties of gyoza and it seems you can't go wrong, both of mine were delicious and the place was pretty full of patrons who had the same idea. Ramen and noodle dishes also seemed to be very popular. This place reminded me of a small, homey feeling diner you might find in the South. An older lady and gentlemen seemed to be in charge, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if they were living upstairs as well. It really felt like you were in someone's home.
On our last day in Hakone we wanted some curry (Japanese curry is WAY fucking better than Indian curry, btw) and found a super hole-in-the-wall spot up North up the ridge. This place reminded me of the food version of getting your hair cut in someone's house as a kid. This place looked like half business, half residence.
The food could not have been better, though. The curry was phenomenal, and they thankfully had an English menu despite a lot of Hakone outside the popular spots not having them. A true surprise for us that wound up making me a Japanese curry fan for life.
The Open Air Museum lies about 5 minutes West of Gyoza Center, and was an incredible sight to see, especially approaching dusk. It's essentially a large, mostly ourdoor museum located in the mountains of Hakone — which makes not only the visual of the art beautiful, but the back drop as well.
The museum had a large Picasso exhibit, which was my first real introduction to him as an artist. Very eye opening to see not only the broad and different mediums he created with, but the fact that he was creating it until the day he died. A nice surprise to an already incredible spot.
Our last day in Hakone before heading to Kyoto on the Shinkansen, we headed up towards the Owakudani sulphur springs via the Hakone Ropeway. Great views of Hakone and Mount Fuji can be seen on the way to Lake Ashi. Owakudani is one of the worst smelling places I've been, and it's famous for it's visibile sulphur spouts and disgusting fermented black egg, also cooked in those same gasses.
Hakone can't be beat as a place to stop if you're eventually making your way to Kyoto from Tokyo, or vice versa. The onsens make it easy to get your body some rest, and the mountains and calming contrast to Tokyo's intensity give your mind a break. Whenever you're making your way through the incredible country of Japan, go chill the fuck out at Hakone Tent.↑