The gateway to Mt Fuji

Once an important post town on the old Tokaido highway between Tokyo and Kyoto, and now a key stop on the eponymous bullet train route, this modest city on Sagami Bay is the jumping off point for Mt Fuji and the hot spring resort of Hakone.

One of the highlights for any art fan is the long-awaited complex by artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, which, when it opened in 2017, put this coastal city firmly on Japan’s cultural map.

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Top things to do in Odawara

Dominating the skyline is the gleaming white keep of Odawara Castle, a 1960s reconstruction built to a 15th-century blueprint with the exception of the observation deck on the top floor (the samurai wouldn’t have enjoyed quite the same spectacular views of Sagami Bay and the Boso Peninsula as there are today). The original castle was home to the Hojo clan, whose story is brought to life with an array of samurai armour, swords, firearms and models and old documents.

And in the historic Odawara Rest House, close to the castle, artisans hold regular workshops for visitors wanting to make traditional bamboo and paper chochin lanterns that were once used to aid travelers heading from Odawara into the mountains.

Odawara is a coastal city with a longstanding fishing tradition; the working port is surrounded by seafood restaurants (horse mackerel is a speciality), fishing boat rental shops and a lively Saturday morning market. One of the best places to try the ocean-fresh produce is at Uogashi Den restaurant near the station. Owned by a fish wholesaler, it serves rice bowls (donburi) with a choice of 20 fresh-seafood toppings, the most popular being three types of whitebait.

Odawara’s other signature foodstuff is kamaboko, a Japanese fishcake made with pureed white fish shaped into loaves that are grilled, roasted or steamed. You will see slices of it topping bowls of noodles all over Japan. Try it – and try making it – at the Suzuhiro Kamaboko Village, a factory and visitor experience created by a family who have been producing it since 1865.

The sea is the inspiration for Odawara’s newest attraction, the much-anticipated Enoura Observatory complex, created over ten years by artist Hiroshi Sugimoto on a wooden cliff top overlooking Sagami Bay. Part art installation, part cultural venue, it has a stage made from a large stone slab taken from the walls of Edo Castle and a tea room. The centrepiece is a 100m-long gallery that frames the sun at dawn.

Japan’s onsen, or hot springs, are an experience not to be missed and are within easy reach of Odawara in Hakone Yumoto. Hakone is also renowned for its eponymous Open-Air Museum that houses works by Picasso, Rodin, Miro and Henry Moore, and a host of other exceptional art galleries, including the Pola Museum of Art and the Narukawa Art Museum. This private museum houses a superlative collection of modern nihonga-style (classical Japanese) paintings, but the star is the 50-metre picture window in its panorama lounge which looks out over the floating torii gate of Hakone Shrine on Lake Ashi and Mt Fuji beyond.

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