Hakone’s hidden gems for families

12 May 2020 in With Kids

From a pirate ship ride to an open-air museum, discover Hakone for kids and parents.

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Thinking of taking your family to Japan? The challenge of any family holiday is to balance the wants of both adults and kids. Ideally, you need a destination with something for everyone.

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So, how about a region where you can walk amid bubbling geothermal pools and then visit a kid-friendly volcano museum? Where sweeping lake vistas of Mount Fuji can be admired from a pirate’s ship? And where hot spring baths become a water theme park?

Welcome to the region of Hakone, just an hour by train from Tokyo and set in a breath-taking national park.

A base for exploring

Where to base yourself during your stay in Hakone? If your family are creative souls, Hoshino Resorts KAI Sengokuhara is an excellent option. Some of Japan’s best museums are within easy access of the ryokan, and you can participate in the evening art workshops, where guests paint their own tenugui hand towel.

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Alternatively, Hoshino Resorts KAI Hakone is a ryokan set on a verdant hillside by the babbling river Sukumo. From here, you’ll have easy access to the beautiful caldera Lake Ashi, home to a host of family-friendly activities.

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Parks and boat rides

From Hoshino Resorts KAI Hakone, mighty Lake Ashi is a short bus ride away. You can also reach it by taking your family on a hike along an ancient cobbled trading path in the forest.

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Walking on the old Tokaido highway, you’ll be following in the footsteps of Japanese traders and travellers from 400 years ago!

Lake Ashi is a scenic spot lined on its south-eastern side by Onshi Hakone Park, a peninsula with landscaped gardens and winding paths that are great for kids to explore. On a clear day, head to the Lakeside Observation Building for views of Mt. Fuji reflected in the lake.

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Best of all for kids, you can cross the lake in a pirate ship. The half-hour trip takes you past the floating torii of Hakone shrine – and there’s plenty for kids to explore onboard. Look out for lifelike pirate figures and 3D art, or challenge your kids to find the hidden treasure chest on board.

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For a post-pirate ship treat, head to Bakery & Table Hakone. Here, you can eat while soaking your feet in hot spring water!

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A foot bath replenished by local hot springs is positioned under the outdoor tables, so you can munch sandwiches, sweets and soft ice cream with your feet in the water and views of the lake.

Volcanic adventure

The area of Hakone is famous for its geothermal activity. Take your family to the Owakudani valley to see plumes of smoke rising from gaping volcanic vents.

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You’ll be able to walk along a short trail to get close-up to bubbling pools and hot rivers. As a fun experience for the kids, try one of the celebrated kuro tamago or black eggs. These boiled eggs are cooked in the local springs, with the shell becoming black because of the sulphur and iron in the water. According to local legend, you’ll add 7 years to your life for each egg eaten.

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On the same site, the Hakone Geo Museum offers a fascinating insight into volcanoes. Children can view different types of lava under a microscope and take part in experiments, such as reconstructing a volcanic eruption with balloons!

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Not far away, Hakone Kowakien Yunessun is a unique hot spring amusement park for everyone from babies to adults. Most hot spring resorts are calm, adults-only affairs, requiring bathers to be naked. But not here!

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The complex includes hot springs where you can wear swimwear, a 30cm deep hot spring for babies wearing diapers, water slides, and a pool with suspended buckets of warm water emptied onto bathers below.

Outdoor exploration

There’s plenty of grandiose scenery in the Hakone area. One easy walk for all the family is the Dogashima Valley Promenade, a 1-mile trail that follows the river Haya and takes in a suspension bridge and a weir.

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Nearby, the Hakone Open-Air Museum combines the outdoors with art.

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The sprawling grounds are home to 120 large-scale sculptures, plus 5 exhibition halls featuring the likes of Picasso, Rodin, Miro and Henry Moore.

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Kids will love Curved Space, a giant play area where they can climb into a structure of hollow geometric blocks.

For an adrenaline rush, head to the treetop adventure courses of Forest Adventure Hakone. Older children will love the ziplines, Tarzan swings and tightrope walking, and younger kids can play on the climbing wall, trampolines and mini-golf.

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A great way for the kids to expend energy before you all head back to the ryokan to relax in style.

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