Its formal name is Fuji-Hakone-Izu, but American tourists refer to it simply as Hakone. One of the most beautiful national parks in Japan, Hakone is really huge—366 square miles—and it encompasses, along with famous Mt. Fuji (right), lakes, meadows, woodland glades, riding paths, hot spring baths and golf courses (six of them). The spectacular view of Fuji and the national love of the bath have made Hakone so popular with the Japanese that this summer 15 million people are expected to visit there. Located in the park are nine Western-style hotels, including the charming old Fujiya, built in 1878, the first Western hotel in Japan. There are also 244 Japanese inns at Hakone, all of them ordinarily booked solid to their 22,000-bed capacity. But, curiously, there are still plenty of rooms available for the Olympic Games this fall. Two years ago Japan's transportation ministry ordered Hakone hoteliers to reserve 590 rooms for overseas Olympic visitors. Because most foreigners evidently prefer Tokyo, many of Hakone's rooms are unspoken for. The park is only a little more than an hour from Tokyo by Japan's high-speed trains, and it thus offers the tourist a pleasant combination of city excitement and rural tranquillity.
The national park system of Japan was late getting started. Though the first park was established in 1934, most of the development has taken place since 1945. The result is that public and private lands are confusingly intermingled. There are 19 parks in the system—which ranges from the northern island of Hokkaido to Kyushu in the south—but Hakone itself draws one-third of all the country's park visitors. Besides play and stay facilities, Hakone has ancient shrines, villages unchanged for centuries, woodchoppers' huts hidden in the woods. Just over the hill and down by the sea are the honky-tonks of Atami, a sort of neon-lighted hot springs and hotspot. But there is little of the noisy, commercialized life in Hakone. Tourists prefer to climb Fuji, taking seven to nine hours to reach the 12,389-foot summit. For those who would rather ride than climb, there are railways and cable cars strung from hill to hill. One, the world's largest cable car, takes 101 passengers at once to a huge indoor-outdoor skating rink on top of Mt. Komagatake. Part national shrine and part Coney Island. Hakone's very diversity makes it a national treasure. In some respects, as in fishing (left), the park status is an unmixed blessing: the tumbling mountain streams are kept well stocked with small but scrappy rainbow trout. The chill waters of Lake Ashi, fed by Fuji's snows, are navigated by excursion steamers, by sailboats and speedboats, and by water skiers, who are kept warm by rubber wet suits. For the less athletic, a favorite Hakone pastime is walking. Inns and hotels post charts of trails and the time it is likely to take to hike them. A favorite trail (below) follows part of the ancient Tokaido road, beneath towering cedar trees that sheltered travelers, en route from Tokyo to the old capital of Kyoto, as long ago as the 17th century.
At night the inns and hotels of Hakone come alive. The guests move in from the lakes, the golf courses and the mountain paths and wander through the corridors in their yakata—the cotton kimonos supplied by the management and worn by all who stay there. They sit at the bars, visit, gossip, watch television or the shows in the nightclubs and play the penny-arcade machines that have become a national mania. But, most important, they soak for an hour in the steaming comfort of the ofuro, or honorable bath. At the huge new Kowakien, a hotel that resembles a Japanese Grossinger's in the extravagance of its facilities, the immense Polynesian bath (left) has orchids growing in its palm trees and bathing in nine different pools. After the bath, visitors can enjoy a simple meal of raw fish and sake at a sushi bar, or a feast of many courses (right), with geishas to fill the glass, dance and play the samisen.