Hakone is a district 25 miles in circumference, bristling with mountain peaks, some of which are belching fumes of sulphur. It abounds in superb natural scenery, made up of manifold lines of undulating mountain, deep forest, silver lake, murmuring stream and health-giving hot springs. Add to them the little up-to-date village-towns, located here and there near principal resorts, with their smart shops, and comfortable, even luxurious, hotels as well as shrines, temples and wide motor-roads. It is altogether too wide an area to be mastered by one or two visits only. It is the sort of place one can become acquainted with only after a lifelong experience of visits and stays, repeated at frequent intervals in various seasons of the year.
Unlike Fuji, Hakone is an all-year-round resort, with attractions to match every season or climate. In spring it is bright with cherry blossoms and other flowers peculiar to Hakone, the color of which is enhanced by the verdure of its fresh sylvan beauty, and its sweet-smelling mountain air. In summer it makes an ideally cool resort, as the mercury seldom rises beyond 80 degrees F., and it is free from mosquitoes and other pests which infest some places. Autumn brings a brilliant crimson tint all over the mountains, and winter a whole range of sporting possibilities which depend upon ice and snow. Moreover, the luxurious accommodation of modern hotels in Japanese and European style, together with the perpetual flow of hot springs, have robbed Hakone's winter of all its former stings, making it as popular a resort at Christmas and winter time as at any other time of the year.
What makes Hakone the premier hot-spring resort in Kwantō is its accessibility. The splendid motor-roads leading to the top of the high peak, together with the railway, bus and electric tram cars constantly moving from its chief resort points to Tokyo, Yokohama and adjacent cities, make it a very comfortable journey of a few hours from the busiest commercial and industrial centers to the depths of mountain, away from the din and dust of workaday life. Modern facilities of communication and transportation, along with the latest improvements in hotel accommodation, have breathed an entirely new meaning into the word Hakone, which once was a word symbol of fear and misgiving to many a traveler to or from Edo.
Of course, the scenic beauties were admitted, as well as the medicinal virtues of its hot springs, but Hakone was more notorious for its barrier than renowned for its scenic attractions. Lying upon the highway of Tōkaidō, between Edo and Kyoto, travelers to and from had to pass this most difficult of the barriers before they could heave a sign of relief. The stiff walk of 8 ri (20 miles) over the jagged mountain paths was as nothing compared with the rigorous examination at the barrier, whose officials, representing the Tokugawa régime, kept both their eyes wide open, as there was always a possibility of the wives of daimyō, kept as hostages at Edo, trying to smuggle themselves out in disguise, or of the spies of powerful southern feudatories smuggling themselves in. The vicinity of the Hakone Barrier is still redolent of bloody romance. Every conductor on a charabanc going up and down Hakone will point out the spot where a certain daring woman who "broke" the Barrier was summarily hanged. There are other places charged with gruesome memories. The site of the old Barrier is marked by a signpost, lying midway between Hakone-machi and Moto-Hakone on the eastern shore of Lake Ashinoko. Both were thriving towns in olden days, of which the little cluster of huts and shops now seen only faintly reflect the glories of the days gone by. Only the classic name, Hakone, now remains to cover the whole of this mountainous district, not of the mere little town on the Ashinoko lake that it once designated. The prosperity of this town was due to the fact that many travelers had to pass the night on one or other side of the Barrier, to await their turn for examination at the hands of the august officials, whose conduct must of course be dignified by unnecessary delay and formality.
Lake Ashinoko, that forms the highest point of Hakone district, is 13 miles in circumference, 2385 feet above sea level, and 500 feet deep at the deepest place. It forms one of the great attractions of Hakone. In fine weather it carries on its serene, deepblue bosom the graceful figure of Mount Fuji, as do all the five major lakes around Fuji. Indeed, the Fuji-bearing lakes in the mountains are among the grandest and most exquisite pictures Japan can show to the world.
The individual features of different places in Hakone district have become so well known that it is becoming a fashion to speak of different resorts by their own names, instead of using the generic term Hakone. Thus we speak of Yumoto, Tōnosawa, Gōra, Kowakudani, Miyanoshita, etc., of which the last-named is most famous among the foreigners because of the well-appointed foreign-style hotel, the Fujiya, situated there; but space prohibits all we would like to say of this beautiful district. We dwell awhile on the beauties of other National Parks.