You may have thought you got the best possible view of Mt. Fuji from the famous Arakura Sengen shrine in Yamanashi or from the tallest observation decks of Tokyo. But unless you've enjoyed a vista of the snowcapped mountain from the poop deck of a pirate ship, you're probably wrong. Crowds of tourists from Tokyo board vessels on the Kanagawa prefecture's Lake Ashi daily to take in the romantic scenery of the surrounding Hakone region, and to hopefully catch a glimpse of Fuji itself through the often pervading fog. But not before first boarding a train in Hakone, followed by a quick cable car ride and finally an aerial gondola that soars through the region's mountains before landing at the lakeshore.
The circuit's not finished after that pirate ship joyride, though. Visitors are met by busses at the lake's far shore for transfer back to Hakone via multiple routes that offer chances to stop off at some of the region's other attractions, which include a spa resort where you can bathe in giant vats of red wine, sake, green tea and more. The full circuit includes five modes of transportation (not counting the train from Tokyo to Hakone)—in the case of this unusual day trip, the destination is the journey itself.
The Hakone-Tozan Train and Cable Car
From Tokyo's Shinjuku Station, the circuit's starting point in Hakone is just 85 minutes away via express train. The train from Tokyo arrives directly into Hakone-Yumoto Station, where the Hakone-Tozan train line awaits daily crowds of visitors making the roundtrip trek. The train's destination is about 40 minutes away at Gora, but it makes six stops along the way, where travelers can visit conveniently located attractions like the Hakone Open-Air Museum and Hakone Gora Park. The scenic train route is lined by blooming hydrangeas, vibrant fall colors and bright white snow banks depending on the time of year, so selfie sticks are pretty much mandatory.
At Gora, passengers transfer to the Hakone-Tozan Cable Car (pretty similar to a train or tram), which climbs up the mountainside for 10 minutes to the beginning of the Hakone Ropeway at Sounzan Station.
The Hakone Ropeway
At Sounzan, the soon-to-be-sailors board gondolas on the Hakone Ropeway to take in mountainous, and volcanic, panoramas. Approximately 8 minutes into the 30-minute aerial ride, passengers disembark at the ropeway's highest point, Owakudani, where the unmistakable smell of sulfur fails to deter any prospects of romance—the volcanic terrain's visible steam only adds mystique and ambiance to the journey. Trekkers continue on the Ropeway to Togendai Station, where—ahoy!—pirate-themed sightseeing cruises await.
Hakone Sightseeing Cruises
Lake Ashi's resident pirate ships run along hop-on, hop-off routes with stops at scenic lakeside shrines, like the beautiful red-gated Hakone Shrine, along the way. The straight route across the lake gives tourists approximately 30 minutes of pirate role-play time—high rollers can even opt hit the high seas amongst the luxuries of the ship's deluxe suites.
The Hakone-Tozan Bus
Back on dry land, weary once-pirates board buses back towards Hakone-Yumoto station, but not before having the opportunity to stop off at a couple more roadside attractions. The most ridiculous of the options is perhaps the Hakone Kowakien Yunessun Inn, where guests can change into swimsuits and bathe in themed hot springs. On the same property, the hungry can enjoy a fancy meal of handmade soba noodles and fresh, grate-your-own wasabi root in a restaurant housed in a traditional home. Or, take the bus towards the POLA Museum of Art, home to a businessman's private collection of mostly Western Impressionist masterpieces. The museum is set amongst an eerie, forested national park — sculpture-dotted walking trails surround the modern building. Back at Hakone-Yumoto station, don't miss an opportunity to hit the surrounding tourist shops, where Kamaboko fish cakes—a local delicacy—are on offer.
The entire circuitous route from Hakone Yumoto can be enjoyed via the purchase of just one ticket, the Hakone Free Pass, which includes unlimited rides on the train, cable car, ropeway, sightseeing cruise, busses and the round-trip train ride from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station. The pass is valid for two or three days and starts at just over USD $50 for adults. The entire circuit can be done in a day, with minimal stops at sake baths and shrines, but an overnight at a traditional Hakone ryokan—or the nearby, amenity-laden Hilton Odawara—turns this into the weekend getaway of a public transportation enthusiast's dreams.