• L: Lake Ashi and Mount Fuji, Hakone (©Town of Hakone) / R: Silvaplana Castle, St. Moritz
  • Stand Up Padding in St. Moritz (©St. Moritz Tourism/F. Zuan)
  • View from the Taikanzen Observatory (©Town of Hakone)

Hakone ― St. Moritz (2014)

Kanto | Hakone Town

After 35 years of sister railway alliance, the relationship between Hakone and Graubünden was taken to the next level as Switzerland’s most famous ski resort got involved.

A bit of Heidi in Hakone

View on Mount Fuji and Hakone Town from the Taikanzan Observatory (©Town of Hakone)

Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, which quietly sits at about a hundred kilometers southwest from the Japanese capital. Renowned for its hot springs, its natural environment and its breathtaking view of nearby Mount Fuji across Lake Ashi, the mountainous town is one of the most popular destinations among Japanese and international tourists looking for a break from Tokyo. The company operating the train that transports many of them every year is precisely Hakone Tozan Railway, which has been in close contact with Switzerland for the past few decades.

Fukuzumi-ro Ryokan (©Town of Hakone)

Hakone Shrine (©Town of Hakone)

The Hakone Tozan Line during cherry blossom (©Town of Hakone)

Founded in 1888, Hakone Tozan Railway is the proud owner and manager of Japan’s oldest mountain train line. In the land of the Shinkansen, the Hakone Tozan Train offers a different approach to travelling by prioritizing visual experience and comfort over speed and convenience. This philosophy is what led the company to get in touch with a notable similar Swiss counterpart, the Rhaetian Railway, which operates in Graubünden - the “land of Heidi”.

Hakone Tozan Railway and Rhaetian Railway have had a sister railway partnership since 1979 (©FDFA)

In 1979, in a move to promote their respective businesses and benefit from each other’s experience, the two railway companies signed a sister-rail agreement. And as time went by, strong ties were created between the community of Hakone and the one of a small town beyond the Bernina pass: St. Moritz.

Switzerland’s most fruitful wager

Badrutt's Palace Hotel (©St. Moritz Tourism/G. Giovanoli)

Hidden between peaks at an altitude of 1,856 meters in eastern Switzerland, St. Moritz is a small and charming town that enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year. Once a popular destination for pilgrims seeking for therapeutic springs and mild climate, its rise to international fame as a premiere ski resort occurred thanks to a simple wager made by hotelier Johannes Badrutt and a few wealthy British summer tourists.

Skeleton Race in St. Moritz, 1914 (©St. Moritz Tourism/M. Weintraub)

In September 1864, Badrutt promised four of his guests that if they came back in the winter, they would still be able to enjoy the mild Engadin sunshine on his terrace in their shirtsleeves. If not, he would pay their travel costs. Surely enough, the Britons came back at Christmas – and returned home only at Easter, tanned, relaxed, and happy. Thanks to word of mouth, the station gained a great popularity and practically launched European Alpine winter tourism. St. Moritz soon became a favorite excursion destination for celebrated and cultivated guests, including Charlie Chaplin, Brigitte Bardot, and even the Kennedy family!

The "Schlitteda" festival in St. Moritz (©St. Moritz Tourism/F. Zuan)

Free riding in St. Moritz (©St. Moritz Tourism/G. Giovanoli)

Moreover, St. Moritz developed a remarkable pioneering spirit, being at the forefront of winter sports trends and establishing facilities and competitions (such as the "White Turf" international horse races in February) that today are considered a matter of course. Unsurprisingly, St. Moritz was chosen twice to host the Winter Olympic Games (in 1928 and 1948), and is nowadays almost synonym of winter sports in the collective imagination.

A timely alliance

November 2, 2014: the two towns sign a friendship alliance (©Town of Hakone)

On November 2, 2014, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between Switzerland and Japan, as well as the 35th anniversary of the sister-railway agreement between the two train companies, Hakone and St. Moritz signed a friendship city alliance at the Yumoto Fujiya Hotel. Twinning was not considered, but only due to the fact that St. Moritz is already officially partnered with the town of Kutchan.

Valuable gifts were exchanged during the ceremony (©Town of Hakone)

The Tamagawa Alphorn Club entertained the guests with Swiss music (©Town of Hakone)

Nonetheless, the agreement gives the two new partners more freedom to promote mutual exchanges between private companies and tourism organizations in both cities. Having respectively exchanged a lacquered wooden box and a wooden shield, Mayor Nobuo Yamaguchi, Vice Bürgermeisterin Susi Wiprächtiger, and both officials ensured that the agreement would be only the first step of many upcoming exchanges, and that the new partnership would soon contribute to the charm and attractiveness of the two regions.

St. Moritz officials also took part to local celebrations (©Town of Hakone)