Hakone is a photographer’s paradise

Hakone shrine lake torii
The famous torii of Hakone Shrine.

A two-hour train ride in summer, 2023 found me in Hakone. Have you heard of it? It is in the foothills of Mount Fuji. This picturesque area is renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, history, and cultural richness. It is a hidden gem that offers many visual delights. Photographers love it.

That introduction is quite typical of travel writers and bloggers. It’s true. Hakone is a great place for your travel itinerary. Unfortunately for this visit, I had two problems. The first was that it was completely overcast. So the photos here aren’t exactly what I wanted.

And more disappointing, I was there on a work trip. As some of you know, I am now a tour guide. My company sent me there for training. I had to learn the area. It was a great day with a senior guide. He was a young guy but knew everything about Hakone.

Mount Fuji clouds
Mt. Fuji hiding in the clouds.

We had to walk a lot. That was good as it was the perfect (and only) way to learn a route. It also allowed me to take some photos. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take many, but I got enough for this article.

The weather was most unfortunate. Clouds covered the sky most of the day. I only got to see the peak of Mount Fuji from Owakudani. It was visible for only a few minutes.

I enjoyed myself, especially as I hadn’t been to Hakone for a few years. If you are a photographer, you should love it too. It’s easy to understand it is so great.

Hakone Lake Ashi and checkpoint museum
The Edo-period checkpoint museum and Lake Ashi.

Why do photographers love Hakone?

Mount Fuji

Hakone is perfect for photographing Mount Fuji. The mountain’s beauty changes every season. And it serves as a captivating backdrop for photographs. You can it against Lake Ashi or the rolling hills. It will be an unforgettable experience.

Diverse Landscapes

Hakone offers a plethora of natural landscapes, each presenting unique opportunities for photographers. The region boasts dense forests, cascading waterfalls, tranquil lakes, and hot springs. They will be a tapestry of visual wonders.

The Hakone Open-Air Museum allows you to juxtapose contemporary sculptures against the mountain. Owakudani Valley, with its sulfurous fumes, offers a surreal atmosphere. I’m sure you will enjoy the atmospheric shots.

Tranquil Waterways

Hakone is blessed with several serene bodies of water, enhancing its appeal. Lake Ashi provides photographers with a tranquil setting surrounded by mountains and forests. Capture Mount Fuji’s reflection in its waters during calm weather or frame. 

For a unique perspective, take a cruise on the pirate-themed ferries. They give you opportunities for unforgettable shots from the water. I must say the boats seem out of place on the lake. There is nothing Japanese about them.

Hakone Tokaido cedar forest trail
A trail on the old Tokaido.

Historical and Cultural Heritage

Beyond its natural beauty, Hakone is steeped in history and culture. The region is dotted with traditional ryokans, ancient shrines, and serene temples. There is so much to see.

You can explore the iconic Hakone Shrine with its torii gate standing in Lake Ashi. Or you can wander through the streets of the Hakone Yumoto. Your camera will capture the essence of traditional Japan.

During the Edo period, Hakone was one of the checkpoints on the Tokaido road. You can walk a small part of it. Photograph a friend from behind as they walk through the trail’s cedar trees. They will look so small compared to the massive trunks.

Owakudani sulfur mine
Owakudani's sulfur mine.

Seasonal Delights

Hakone’s ever-changing seasons are a dynamic canvas for cameras. Spring cherry blossoms transform the landscape into a sea of pink petals. In summer, vibrant greenery envelops the hills and mountains, offering lush backdrops. Fall paints the area in hues of red, orange, and gold. Winter snow offers breathtaking photography.

Wrapping up

Hakone is a true photographer’s paradise. It offers a treasure trove of captivating scenes that will delight and inspire. Beautiful Mount Fuji, tranquil lakes, diverse landscapes, and rich history await you.

A visit to Hakone is an experience for professional and amateur photographers. So, grab your camera, pack your lenses, and head there when you are in Japan. You will fill your memory cards with remarkable pictures. I can’t wait to return to this photographer’s paradise when the weather is better!

cable car view of Hakone forest area
The cable car view of the Hakone forest area.

How can you get to Hakone?

If you leave from Shinjuku, you have two options:

  • Odakyu Railway will take you to Hakone-Yumoto Station. The company has the Romance Car which only has reserved seats. A one-way trip on this limited express takes about 90 minutes and costs 2470 yen (or 2420 yen if using an e-ticket). 
  • You could also use a local train. That takes about two hours with a transfer at Odawara. It costs 1270 yen.
  • As a more expensive but luxurious option is the Shinkansen. You could ride one from Shinagawa to Odawara, then transfer to a local train to take you to Hakone-Yumoto. That will cost about 7000 yen one-way.

Bonus Tip

Get the Hakone Free Pass. It provides unlimited use of Odakyu-affiliated buses, trains, boats, cable cars, and ropeways. You also get discounted admission to selected tourist attractions. Check the Odakyu website for full details.

You’d think the morning local trains leaving central Tokyo be empty. Not always! Tokyo is a metropolis. It has many big sub-centers like Shinjuku and Shibuya. But there are many more, like Machida and Shin-Yurigaoka (both on the Odakyu Line). Many people head to them in the early hours for work or school. They can be crowded.

What Fujifilm camera gear did I use for these photos?

  • Camera Body: X-T3
  • Lens: XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

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