Hakone: Centuries of Hospitality
Hakone is on a major route between Tokyo and Kyoto Prefecture. For centuries, the town was known for its high mountain pass. Hakone has long been popular for its hot springs. Today it is also famous as a tourist resort, attracting around 20 million people a year. However, the coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on the area. Even in difficult times, locals do all they can to keep on welcoming guests. This is the story of how Hakone is keeping up its long-standing traditions of hospitality.

The Mountain Railway Brings the Tourists Back

The Hakone Tozan Railway takes passengers up the steep slopes linking Hakone's various hot springs and tourist spots. However, a typhoon in October 2019 caused major landslides in several places, completely knocking out portions of the line. Then the pandemic hit - visitors to Hakone fell by half. After 9 months without service due to the typhoon damage, the railway line reopened in July 2020. Tourists and locals alike were waiting for the line to restart.

Torches to Guide Ancestral Spirits - Hakone Daimonji-yaki

During the Japanese summer festival of o-bon, ancestors' spirits are said to return home. On the final day of the o-bon festival, to help guide the departing spirits back to the other world, locals light many bamboo torches. The torches are lit on a hillside in Miyagino, a district within Hakone, shining over the neighboring district of Gora. The event was first held in 1921 for the benefit of tourists. The Great Kanto Earthquake 2 years later encouraged the continuation of the event in prayer for the departed, which at the time included the victims of that disaster.

Always Open for Travelers

Hakone sits on the old Tokaido, a major route from Tokyo to Kyoto. The mountain passes of Hakone were the most treacherous parts of the journey. Exhausted travelers on the road reached a resting place that is still in business today. This mountain teahouse has been running for 400 years. The motto of the teahouse is "always open for travelers" as not a day goes by without a traveler stopping in. Even during the coronavirus pandemic the owner was at his teahouse every day as he knew travelers would still be passing through.