Hakone Shrine is a popular day trip for Tokyoites, and it’s easy to see why. Just a couple of hours from Japan’s capital, Hakone has a lot to offer… a natural setting and national parks, lakes, museums, hot springs, hiking, views of Mt Fuji and historic shrines…
In this article:
The number 1 reason why I visited the Hakone area was to see Hakone Shrine 「Hakone-jinja 箱根神社」 and its famous torii-gate-on-the-water.
There’s a lot of great photography of the shrine to be found on the net, which was a huge inspiration for me to travel to the area. Hopefully one of the photos below will inspire you to spend a day or two in this peaceful escape from Japan’s busier tourist hot spots.
For a while now I’ve been very excited to share this article with the world, as this is the first time I’ve photographed a site entirely using the High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging technique. The result is some of my best photos from Japan…
Explore Hakone Shrine (photos and info)
The photo that spawned my inspiration to visit Hakone Shrine was The Gentle Path To The Beyond by Trey Ratcliffe. Trey is an amazing HDR photographer, and if I had never seen his photo of the path leading the shrine, I would never have even thought about going to Hakone.
After talking to locals to find this path, I spent 30 minutes at mid-morning shooting this path, but the light wasn’t right. This path leads from the main transit area (which is a few short minutes walk) of Moto-Hakone toward the shrine. So upon leaving the shrine in the late afternoon, with a cloudy sky and more dispersed light, I finally got a decent shot…
Third Shrine Gate 「Dai-san-torii, 第三鳥居」
This path runs from east to west. After walking a few minutes along the path, lined with traditional lamps and a mini-shrine, passing through a forest of tall cedar trees, the path opens to the main entry area to the shrine. To the right is a set of stairs leading up the mountain to Hakone Shrine. To the left is the famous torii gate which appears to be floating on water.
This is the heiwa-no-torii 「The Torii of Peace, 平和の鳥居」 which is an icon of the shrine. The torii lines up exactly with the stairs, and two torii gates (one at the bottom of the stairs and one at the top), leading to the main hall of Hakone Shrine in a north-south orientation.
Personally, this is the best HDR photo I have ever taken in Japan. I don’t usually say things like this, but I feel it’s important to reflect positively on accomplishments you’re proud of…
Torii of Peace (Hakone Shrine’s “floating” red gate)
Learn why this is called the The Torii of Peace.
I must have taken about 100 photos of this torii, at different exposures and apertures (technical photography talk). The photo above is a combination of 13 photos merged together, to see the full dynamic range of light and shadow in the scene.
Turning away from the water and walking back up the stairs, we reach the chōzuya (water purification basin) and the torii at the base of the main stairs. This point is also where the path from the town (where the first picture in this article was taken) intersects with the path leading from The Torii of Peace to the main hall of the shrine.
A few meters west of this area is a carpark and also a restaurant. I stopped at the restaurant for udon after visiting the shrine.
Water purification pavilion 「Chōzuya, 手水舎」
After performing the temizu ritual, we turn to face the stairs leading up to the main buildings of the shrine. You can just see the torii at the very top of the stairs.
Read more detail about Hakone Shrine’s water purification pavilion and fourth shrine gate.
Fourth Shrine Gate 「Dai-yon-torii, 第四鳥居」 and the 90 Steps 「Kyū-jū-dan, 九十段」
The stair case isn’t too large, but for the elderly or less mobile people, there’s plenty to see en route to the top. About halfway up the stairs on the right is a Japanese archery range, where traditional Japanese archery 「kyūdō, 弓道」 was taking place.
The archery range is part of the 「budō-ba, 武道場」 which is a general Japanese martial art 「budō, 武道」 field 「ba, 場」.
Kyudo: traditional Japanese archery
On the left, directly opposite the archery range above is this small sub-shrine dedicated to the Soga Brothers. The Soga Brothers story comes from the late 1100s and is dramatised in nō and kabuki plays.
Soga Brothers Shrine「Soga-jinja, 曽我神社」 a sub-shrine at Hakone Shrine
After ascending the 90 step staircase, and passing through the torii at the top of the stairs, the narrow pathway opens to an expansive courtyard surrounded by a low rock wall.
Fifth Torii 「Dai-go-torii, 第五鳥居」
For a while I sat on the low wall and just absorbed the surroundings. Hakone Shrine is set among huge cedar trees, part of the way up a mountain. At times there was no-one in the courtyard, and I imagined I was back in Edo period Japan.
From the courtyard you can see the outer walls of the shrine, the entrance to Hakone Shrine’s worship hall「haiden, 拝殿」 and the chōzuya and entrance to another sub-shrine.
Outer walls of the inner shrine
The most important buildings of the shrine are a deep red colour, very different from the typical vermilion colour (used for the torii and chōzuya). Gold trimmings and green tiles make for a unique colour scheme.
If the torii on the water is Hakone Shrine’s most famous icon, the shrine gate 「jin-mon, 神門」 to the main worship hall is the second most famous icon.
Passing through the entrance gate takes you to the main worship hall. In this area is a small shop selling amulets and souvenirs.
Shrine Gate 「Jin-mon, 神門」
On the west side of the courtyard is a building with a very special use. Called the “sacred dance hall”, this hall is used for special performances throughout the year, including nō and kabuki plays. The courtyard of the shrine is usually totally packed for these events.
Hakone Shrine’s Sacred Dance Hall 「Kagura-den, 神楽殿 」
On the east side of the courtyard is a very unique, and very cool, chōzuya. This is the water purification basin for the sub-shrine of Kuzuryū-jinja 「9-Headed-Dragon Shrine 九頭龍神社」 and appropriately has 9 dragon heads with funnels coming out of the their mouths.
As well as performing the normal purification ritual of hand washing, many people were filling up small water bottles (bought from the souvenir shop mentioned above). This usually means that the water is blessed or has some religious significance.
The 9-Headed-Dragon Shrine is quite small and has an interesting story. For more information see Shrine of the 9-Headed-Dragon, a Sub-Shrine at Hakone-jinja.
Shrine of the 9-Headed-Dragon
After seeing the shrine and spending hours taking photos, I took a walk along the lake back toward the bus stop. When you visit I suggest you walk through the town, following the torii gates when going to the shrine, and walking along the lake when returning (or vica-versa).
The view from the Moto-Hakone bus stop and pier is spectacular. On a clear day, Mt Fuji can easily be seen beyond the mountains.
A sightseeing cruise regularly leaves for a tour of the lake. Around the pier are boats for hire, including pedal powered boats.
Lake Ashi and the torii on the water (Torii of Peace)
This visit was about 4 hours, taking in to consideration the fact that I was stationary while taking photos for at least 2 hours.
Hakone Shrine map and buildings
The numbers above correspond to the photos in this article. Clicking a link below will take you to the corresponding photo:
- Third Shrine Gate 「Dai-san-torii, 第三鳥居」
- Torii of Peace 「Heiwa-no-torii, 平和の鳥居」
- Chōzuya (water purification basin)
- Fourth Shrine Gate 「Dai-yon-torii, 第四鳥居」
- Kyudo: traditional Japanese archery
- Soga Brothers Shrine「Soga-jinja, 曽我神社」
- Fifth Torii 「Dai-go-torii, 第五鳥居」
- Outer walls of the inner shrine
- Shrine Gate 「Jin-mon, 神門」
- Sacred Dance Hall 「Kagura-den, 神楽殿 」
- 9-Headed-Dragon Chōzuya (closeup)
- 9-Headed-Dragon Chōzuya
- Shrine of the 9-Headed-Dragon
- Lake Ashi and The Torii of Peace
How to get to Hakone Shrine
Traveling by shinkansen on the JR Pass, get off at Odawara Station. Odawara Station is serviced by JR East and JR Central.
Travel times to Odawara Station using a JR Pass:
- From Tokyo Station: 35 minutes, Kodama Shinkansen
- From Kyoto Station: 125 minutes, Hikari Shinkansen
- From Shin-Osaka Station: 140 minutes, Hikari Shinkansen
Important: Be sure to read the traveler’s tip below for discounted transport to and in Hakone. You must buy the discounted ticket before leaving Odawara Station.
At Odawara Station, change to the Hakone Tozan Railway line. Take a train to Hakone-Yumoto Station. Trains leave about every 15 minutes, the trip is about 15 minutes long and costs ¥310 (which you only pay for if you don’t buy the discounted pass).
Exiting Hakone-Yumoto Station, follow the signs in the station to the buses. Get on the Hakone Tozan Bus (H Route – the bus stops are marked with letters indicating the route) bound for Moto-Hakone-ko. The trip is 35 minutes and costs ¥960. The buses depart every 15 minutes, and run insync with the train timetable, so make your way promptly to the bus.
When you get off the bus, remember where this bus terminal is, as you’ll catch the return bus from the same place. There is a printed timetable at the terminal if you’d like to schedule your return.
From Moto-Hakone-ko the shrine is a 10 minute walk. Look out for the torii leading toward the shrine.
Express train from Shinjuku (Tokyo):
An express train with only 1 stop departs to Hakone-Yumoto Station and with a connecting bus to the shrine, travel time is only about 2 hours each way.
From Shinjuku the train goes to Hakone-Yumoto Station. The trip is 1 hour and 27 minutes and costs ¥2,080. Reservations are essential and can be made online at Odakyu Limited Express “Romancecar”. The romance car is a special type of train made specifically for sightseeing, with large windows.
At Hakone-Yumoto Station, change to the bus as mentioned above.
1. Discounted and easy transport
Save on transport costs and purchase a Hakone Freepass. The easiest place to buy this is from Odawara Station. Look for the information center at the station, I was very surprised to find (while traveling in off-peak season), that the center had a couple of staff members who spoke excellent English.
Passes can be valid for 2 or 3 days and covers all your transport for a return trip to the shrine from Odawara Station. The pass also includes discounted entry to many other sites around Hakone.
For more information about the pass, visit Hakone Navi Hakone Freepass page, where you’ll find other types of passes.
You can also buy the pass from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo.
2. Visitor information in English
As mentioned above, visitor information in English is available from the information center at Odawara Station. I highly recommend visit here and picking up a map. If you don’t speak Japanese then chances are high an English speaking staff member will be there to help. Tell them where you’re going and they’ll point out exactly how to get to Hakone Shrine.
3. Language tip
If you find yourself in Hakone, after getting off the bus at Moto-Hakone-ko, and can’t find the shrine, use this simple phrase:
hakone jinja wa, doko desu ka?「箱根神社はどこですか」
Opening hours and admission costs
The shrine is always open and there is no admission fee.
Other things to do in Hakone
There is a lot to do and see around Hakone, including:
- Experiencing the multiple forms of transport, like the cable car, rope way and scenic train through the national park.
- See Mt Fuji (depending on the weather).
- Visit the many museums, shrines and other historical sites.
- Relax in a Japanese hot spring (onsen) or staying in traditional Japanese inn (ryokan).
For detailed information on everything you can do in and around Hakone, visit the Hakone Navi Tourist Attractions page.
When to visit Hakone Shrine
Personally I think the area would be nicest to visit in late autumn, around November. The huge forests around the shrine will be turning that brilliant orange-red colour, making for a beautiful scene. The photos in this article are from early October, just a little too early to catch the autumn colours.
On July 31 every year is the Ashino-ko Kosui Matsuri (Festival) and the area will be very busy. This marks the beginning of the Lake Ashinoko Summer Festival Week, which runs from July 31 to August 7. For more information see the Kanagawa Prefectural Tourist Association’s Festivals and Events page.