【Hakone】Fujiya Hotel Sengokuhara Golf Course – One of Japan’s most historic public courses

【Hakone】Fujiya Hotel Sengokuhara Golf Course – One of Japan’s most historic public courses

The number of foreign visitors to Japan in March of this year exceeded 3 million, a record high, and the inbound boom is at its peak.

The background to this is the recent depreciation of the yen and the promotion of the attractiveness of Japan’s tourism resources, but the government’s efforts include the “Basic Plan for Promotion of Tourism-Oriented Nation” (Inbound Recovery Strategy) based on the “Basic Act on Promotion of Tourism-Oriented Nation” enacted in 2007. This is likely due in large part to the policies these governments have pursued to date.

In fact, promoting policies aimed at becoming a tourism-oriented nation is by no means a new story; it has been around since before the war and even before that. In 1930, the International Tourism Bureau was established under the Ministry of Railways and worked to attract foreign visitors to Japan as a way to eliminate the country’s balance of payments deficit. As a promotion measure, the government has created a scheme in which the Ministry of Finance provides low-interest loans through local governments to promote the construction of international hotels in tourist spots across the country.

As a result, there was a boom in the construction of tourist hotels throughout Japan, with Kamikochi Hotel (1933), Yokohama Grand Hotel (1934), Unzen Kanko Hotel (1935), and Kawana Hotel (1935) opening one after another. Incidentally, in 1934, Unzen and Setouchi were designated as Japan’s first national parks, leading to a tourism boom, but it was also a time when a military conflict broke out in mainland China, and it began to feel like Japan was withdrawing from the League of Nations.

©Kamikochi Imperial Hotel

Going back even further from the hotel construction boom of the 1930s, there was also a hotel construction boom shortly after the Meiji Restoration, with the aim of attracting foreign tourists. This was a period that could be called the dawn of hotels for foreigners, with the “Oriental Hotel” built in the foreign settlement of Kobe in 1870 and the “Nikko Kanaya Hotel” in 1873. Furthermore, there is the “Grand Hotel” located in a foreign settlement in Yokohama (it was damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake and went out of business, then “Hotel New Grand” opened in 1927 as part of the earthquake reconstruction project).

©Kobe Oriental Hotel
©Hotel New Grand

Fujiya Hotel opened in Hakone, one of Japan’s leading hot spring resorts, near Tokyo. It opened in 1878 as Japan’s first full-fledged resort hotel with the goal of attracting foreign tourists, and is now one of the prestigious classic resort hotels, along with Karuizawa Mampei Hotel, Nikko Kanaya Hotel, and Kawana Hotel.

©Fujiya Hotel

Sennosuke Yamaguchi, the founder of Fujiya Hotel, was born into a family of Chinese herbalists and moved to the United States after being adopted by the Yamaguchi family, which ran a red light district for foreigners. Initially, he aspired to become a livestock farmer, but after returning to Japan, he enrolled at Keio University, where he learned from Yukichi Fukuzawa the importance of international tourism in building a modern nation.

©Fujiya Hotel

After that, he realized that there were no resort hotels in Japan for foreigners, so he changed his mind and decided to open a long-established inn, Fujiya, located in Hakone Miyanoshita, a scenic spot popular among foreigners and close to Tokyo and Yokohama. The Fujiya Hotel was opened in 1887 after renovating the former Japanese style inn. After opening the hotel, he worked on public works projects, such as improving the surrounding roads and constructing the Miyanoshita Hydroelectric Power Plant, which utilizes the nearby mountain stream.

On the other hand, there are courageous anecdotes such as when a Japanese celebrity visited the hotel and asked to stay at the hotel, but he declined the request, saying the hotel was meant to earn foreign currency.

The hotel opened for foreign visitors to Japan from the beginning, and was a forerunner of today’s in-band boom, but because the hotel had various ideas for foreigners, it became a house under house arrest for Allied diplomats just before the Pacific War. The Hakone Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was also established within the hotel.

©Fujiya Hotel
©Fujiya Hotel

It also has a troubled history, as it was quickly requisitioned by the Allied Forces after the war and turned into a recreation facility for their soldiers and families, and even after the requisition was lifted, the facility continued to be leased to the U.S. military under contract.

Since then, many signatories have visited, including Emperor and Empress Showa, members of the imperial family, cultural and business figures, as well as Helen Keller and Charlie Chaplin from overseas, and the hotel continues to maintain its status as one of Japan’s most prestigious classic resort hotels.

©Fujiya Hotel

Shozo Yamaguchi, the third-generation president of Fujiya Hotel, was born in 1882 as the second son of Kanaya Hotel founder Zenichiro Kanaya, and after living in England for seven years, he was adopted by the Yamaguchi family in 1906.

He was an architect and built the iconic buildings of the Fujiya Hotel, including the Hanagoten and the dining hall. In 1997, these buildings, along with the main building and the former imperial residence, Kikukaso, were designated as registered tangible cultural properties of the country.

©Fujiya Hotel

Another project he has undertaken as a lover of new things is the construction of golf courses.

He learned that many luxury resort hotels in the UK had golf courses attached to them, so he decided to incorporate that into the Fujiya Hotel as well.

However, due to the enormous costs involved in building a golf course, it was determined that it would be difficult for a hotel to manage it directly, so in 1915, the “Hakone Golf and Gun Hunting Club” was established and members were recruited, as well as in Kanagawa Prefecture and the local village of Sengokuhara asked for cooperation. As a result, he was able to obtain land leases and subsidies from the local village.

©Erde Travel Support

At the right time, Tadakazu Ariyoshi, who was appointed as governor of Kanagawa prefecture in 1916 after serving as a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Home Affairs and governor of Chiba and Miyazaki prefectures, had started playing golf in England, and had an extremely high understanding of golf. From 1917 to 1918, he was able to receive a large amount of subsidies from Kanagawa Prefecture in the name of “improving scenic spots.”

This person designed the Japan Race Club & Golf Association (opened in 1906) in Negishi, Yokohama, which is the second oldest club after Kobe Golf Club (opened in 1903), and the Komazawa course of Tokyo Golf Club, which was the first club to be built in Tokyo (opened in 1913).

©Kobe Golf Club

At the beginning stage, 9 holes were completed in 1917, and the clubhouse was completed in 1918. It is the oldest public course in the Kanto region, the second oldest in Japan (the first being Unzen Golf Course, which opened in 1913), and is the seventh oldest golf course in Japan.

At the time of its opening, His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince (later Emperor Showa), who was staying at the Miyanoshita Imperial Villa (currently Fujiya Hotel Kikukaso) to escape the heat, often visited.

However, at that time, golf was only played by a few noblemen and was far away from the general public, so the management of golf courses continued to be difficult. In 1920, the club organization was disbanded and all rights were transferred to Fujiya Hotel, making it a public golf course directly managed by the hotel.

After that, it was damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, but this was an opportunity for us to work on modifying the course. After the reconstruction, in 1935, additional village land was leased and 9 holes were added to the course, designed by the famous Japanese architect Shiro Akahoshi, creating an 18-hole, 6,320-yard course.

During wartime, part of the course was cultivated to increase food production, and was also used as a military training range. After the war ended in 1945, the golf course was taken over by the Allied forces along with the Fujiya Hotel. It also served as an evacuation facility for Americans living in Korea during the Korean War, but the requisition was lifted in 1952, and the holes of the golf course that had been cultivated were returned to their original state and restarted as a public course.

In 1956, with the merger of towns and villages in the Hakone area, Fujiya Hotel acquired much of the land that had been leased from Sengokuhara Village. Furthermore, in 1966, Fujiya Hotel was acquired by the Kokusai Kogyo Group, led by Kenji Osano, a renowned political businessman, and since then, the hotel, along with the golf course, has left the hands of the founding Yamaguchi family.

A new clubhouse was completed in 1979, and in 2017 the clubhouse was renovated to commemorate the 100th anniversary of its opening, including the introduction of passenger golf carts. However, the traditional and tasteful atmosphere of the resort course remains the same.

©Fujiya Hotel

Now let’s take a look at the course.

The clubhouse is on the highest point on the course, overlooking the starting and final holes.

However, the course is so flat that it’s hard to believe that it’s in the mountains of Hakone, and most of the holes have wide fairways that allow you to hit shots comfortably and stress-free.

The 1st hole (424 yards, par 4) is a hole that swings down towards the Sengokuhara cityscape and Lake Ashi. The fairway is wide, so you can get off to a good start without feeling stressed. However, caution is required on the left side as the OB continues all the way to the green.

The second hole (434 yards, par 5) is a relatively short par 5 hole, but there is a pond on the front left side, and beyond that the left curve continues toward the green, but the OB line also continues. It is safe to go from the right side without taking a shortcut.

The 4th hole (347 yards, par 4) is a straight par 4 hole towards the green, and the distance is relatively short, making it easy to aim for par.

The 5th hole (357 yards, par 4) is a spacious hole, but there is a large cross bunker waiting on the right side of the fairway, so be careful.

The 6th hole (383 yards, par 4) is a beautiful hole with a pond in front of the teeing area and a view of Hakone’s somma mountains beyond. After crossing the pond, the OB continues on the left side, and the fairway slopes slightly to the left, so it is safe to come from the right side.

The 8th hole (379 yards, par 4) is an uphill par 4 hole and the green feels farther away than the distance indicated. The green is large and the only single green, so we recommend choosing a larger club.

The 9th hole (105 yards, par 3) is a short par 3 hole, but it slopes steeply toward the clubhouse, making proper club selection and accurate tee shots important.

After the first half, you can enjoy a delicious lunch at a classic restaurant directly managed by Fujiya Hotel.

The 10th hole (363 yards, par 4) is a par 4 hole that slopes down gently from in front of the clubhouse. The trees separating the holes are beautiful when viewed from above, but the teeing area faces slightly to the right, making it difficult to hit the green if you hit the ball to the right.

The 11th hole (464 yards, par 5) is a par 5 hole that curves gently to the left. Although the distance is relatively short, but you need to be careful of the cross bunker near the corner.

The 12th hole (154 yards, par 3) is an impressive par 3 hole with two large ponds in front of the teeing area. The green is uphill, so you will need to choose a large club and make an accurate tee shot to avoid the pressure of the water.

The 13th hole (445 yards, par 4) is a long and difficult par 4 hole. It is a flat and straight hole, but there are private houses on the left side, making it OB, so you need to approach it from the right side.

The 14th hole (492 yards, par 5) is a downhill par 5 hole. The entire hole slopes to the right, so you’ll want to approach it from the left, but be careful as the left side continues to be OB.

The 15th hole (366 yards, par 4) is a hole with a teahouse with a nice view of Mt. Kintoki in front of the teeing area. There is an elegant hearth inside the teahouse, so you can relax, but this is a difficult hole with a steep downhill curve that curves to the left over a pond. Moreover, the left side continues to be OB, and the right side is also shallow and easy to penetrate, so you will feel a lot of pressure when hitting the tee shot.

The 17th hole (386 yards, par 4) is a par 4 hole that gently curves to the right, is relatively long, and is uphill towards the green, so it is not easy to get a par.

Like the 9th hole, the 18th hole (153 yards, par 3) is also a par 3 hole where you shoot up toward the clubhouse at the end, but it is longer than the 9th hole and is more difficult to get a par.

One of the best parts of this traditional course is that after you’ve finished playing, you can feel the history of the club by looking at the old photos displayed in the clubhouse.

Stay at Japan’s oldest classic resort hotel and enjoy playing elegantly on Japan’s second oldest public golf course, nestled in the natural beauty of Hakone.

If you are driving to the course from Tokyo, it is convenient to use the Tomei Expressway Gotemba exit.

Fujiya Hotel Sengokuhara Golf Course

Address1237 Sengokuhara, Hakone-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa