Hakone is a popular spot for a day-trip if you are visiting Tokyo - in fact, I would recommended staying the night if you do not wish to rush through the whole thing. During my latest visit to Tokyo, I stayed at the Hilton Tokyo for the first half of the trip and getting from the hotel to Hakone was relatively easy. With that being said, there were things that I wish I knew before heading to Hakone from Tokyo so I hope this guide will benefit someone out there who is looking for a Hakone itinerary (or simply a quick guide).
PART I: GETTING FROM TOKYO TO HAKONE
Getting to Hakone is simple but yet at the same time, there is a whole level of complexity too if you are particular about the type of train and cabin that will take you there. There are two main ways to get from Tokyo to Hakone on train:
- Local Train - Cheaper and Slower
- Limited Express Train ("Romancecar") - Faster and More Expensive
PART IA: LOCAL TRAIN - ¥1,190
Both types of train will take you from Tokyo to Hakone and since I was staying at the Hilton Tokyo (I redeemed 5 nights for 200,000 Hilton HHonors Points), the nearest place to board the Odakyu Line to Hakone was Shinjuku station. The lines are excessively complicated but if you do want to head down to Hakone from Shinjuku, just look for the Odakyu Line which is blue in colour. If you decide to take the local train to save some money, traveling from Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto Station will cost you ¥1,190 (S$15) and you have to change trains at Odawara Station - the whole journey should take approximately 110 minutes.
The preferred option has got to be the limited express trains which will take you there faster. Here's where it gets a little complicated as there are different kinds of limited express trains and different cabins (some seats are a lot better) and the most confusing part? It all costs the same and therefore the special seats are on a first come first served basis.
PART IB: LIMITED EXPRESS ("ROMANCECAR") - ¥1,190 + ¥890 = ¥2,080
Firstly, Romancecar is not associated to anything romantic at all - it is simply a limited express train which means that the train stops at a lot less stops and it is therefore quicker and more convenient - in this case, the train also goes directly to Hakone-Yumoto Station so there is no need for you change trains at Odawara Station (something you have to do on the cheaper and local trains). In order to ride the Limited Express Romancecars, you will need to buy two tickets - the Standard Ticket (Normal Fare) which costs ¥1,190 (S$15) AND the Limited Express Surcharge at ¥890 (SGD 11). Think of the Limited Express Surcharge as an add-on cost on the regular cost (kind of like up-sizing your Big Mac Extra Value Meal!). If you hold a Hakone Freepass (this will be covered below!), you will only need to pay the Limited Express Surcharge at ¥890 (SGD 11) as the Normal Fare is already included.
PART IC: TYPES OF SEATS ON THE LIMITED EXPRESS ("ROMANCECAR")
Let's start with the Otaku-part of it all - the different kinds of Romancecars. Why exactly do you bother you say? Well, different kinds of romancecars will have different seats (in the order of popularity and rarity):
- Saloon Seat
- Observation Deck Seat (Front and Rear)
- Basic Romancecar Seat (Reserved)
Most tourists will probably end up with a Basic Romancecar Seat and there is nothing wrong with that - these seats are reserved and they are quite comfortable. However, if you do want a better view or more privacy, I will definitely recommend trying to get an Observation Deck Seat (located on top of the train for better view) or a Saloon Seat (private booth that seats up to 4 passengers). The reason is simple - the Observation Deck Seats are on a higher level and it offers better view of the surroundings (you may even be lucky enough to see Mt. Fuji!) and the Saloon Seat offers more privacy. Make sure you choose the right train if you want the right seats (refer to the chart above!). As I have mentioned earlier, the special seats on-board the Romancecar are available at no additional charge.
The only caveat with the Saloon Seat is that you actually have to reserve the whole Saloon - if you are traveling with three other passengers, the four of you can enjoy the Saloon by paying the regular Limited Express Surcharge at ¥890 each (total of ¥3,560). However, if you are traveling alone and you wish to take the Saloon Seat, you will have to pay the Limited Express Surcharge (¥890 x 4 = ¥3,560) for four passengers but the whole Saloon consisting for four seats will belong to you for the trip.
PART ID: HOW TO RESERVE SPECIAL SEATS ON THE LIMITED EXPRESS ("ROMANCECAR")
Special seats on the Romancecar are extremely popular and therefore, since certain seats are only available on some trains (e.g. Saloon on VSE), they are high in demand - you will probably not be able to get any one of them if you purchase your Romancecar tickets on the day of travel itself. Therefore, it is highly recommended for you to book your Romancecar seats online - they can be done up to one month in advance.
Special Seats on-board the Romancecar are high in demand and therefore, I would actually recommend for you to try reserving these seats exactly one month before your intended date of travel.