Japan 2017 – Hakone

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Hakone and Mt. Fuji

Hakone is the name that refers to the whole area, surrounding Mt. Hakone (a double caldera) – and which is part of the Fuji Hakone Izu National Park.  Hakone is an internationally known holiday resort that includes many renowned spas and Lake Ashino-ko.  There are also many museums in the area, plus other interesting sites in the surrounding area including Hakone Sengokubara Shissei Kaen gardens, and numerous Buddha temples and Shinto shrines.  As I mention in other blogs, not all spas will accept people who have tattoos, nor are all temples/shrines open to the public (some Buddhist sects do not practice goshuin like (浄土真宗) Jodo Shinshu and (日蓮正宗) Nichiren Shoshu.)  We could have easily spent 2 weeks or more exploring this area.

Getting There

You can take the trains from Zushi to Hakone, but there are a number of transfers which take about 3 to 3 1/2 hours one-way.  If you are planning on spending the night along lake Lake Ashi, this is a good method.  The route from Zushi is:  Yokosuka Line west to Ofuna; transfer at Ofuna to the Tokaido Main Line west to Odawara; then transfer from Odawara to the Hakone-Tozan Railway, which is the only mountain railway in Japan.  The Hakone-Tozan Railway is a beautiful trip, but has many switchbacks where the driver and the conductor change shifts and the trains switch to reverse travel direction.  At the end of the Hakone-Tozan railway in Gora there is the Hakone Tozan Cableway, which then leads to Zounsan Station and the Hakone Tozan Ropeway/Tramway, ending at Lake Ashi and a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji.

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Another route is via automobile, which is what we did.  This was mostly done by following the coastal route along Seisho By-Pass (a toll road) to Highway 1 (Tokai-do Highway) to Highway 138 (Hakoneura Highway) and the winding road to Gora then local road 723.  We returned to Ikego/Zushi along the Tomei Expressway, then through Yokohama and south toward Yokosuka.  It cost us about $100 to rent a 6-seat van for the day, plus the gas and tolls, and it was 2 hours or so one way (versus the 3 1/2 by train).

Open-Air Outdoor Museum

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We were unable to see Mt. Fuji on our day trip because it was overcast.  However, we did see a Mt. Hakone vent which was still steaming from the 2015 eruption.  We then visited the Hakone Open-Air Museum which has an entire building that focuses on Piccaso and his life’s work.

Entry, Shop and Restaurant

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Buffet lunch. So many selections.

Like everything else, this was quite a walk, and most areas aren’t easily wheelchair accessible, but there are elevators in most buildings.  There were a number of exhibits that were kid friendly, like the see through climbing geodome, underground and above ground mazes, movement study (in the Piccaso building), and koi feeding station.

The Picasso building was off limits as far as picture taking, except the lobby and movement-study areas.   Most of the exhibits were about Picasso’s early life and finding his “voice”.

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Other Interesting Works

Foot Bath

The foot bath was at about the 1/2-way mark.  The water is heated naturally via the volcanic activity of Mt. Hakone, then pumped into the rock ponds at about 105ºF.  You can purchase a towel for ¥100 (US$1) (the vending machine is shown here on the left).  There are obligatory scrub brushes and shoehorns hung on the walls.  The rocks are smooth and make a great massage medium.

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Gardens and Grounds

Japanese gardens are just awesome with respect to space use, light vs. dark, water vs. earth, and the types of plants.  Here are just some of the more interesting pictures at the museum (there were literally thousands but I ran out of space and camera battery):

Shrines

Kintoki Shrine

This is one of the smaller shrines in the area that does not accept goshuin except on larger holidays.   It enshrines Sakata Kintoki who is a motif of Kintaro, a boy raised in the mountains with animals as friends (similar to the Tarzan legend).  There are tales of him wrestling bears, running with deer, and chopping trees with his ever present ax.  Kintaro was raised in the area and as hikers ascend the mountain, they pass the shrine dedicated to his spirit.  The shrine is easily accessible from the main road with ample parking and a hiking trail to Mt. Ashigara (a low to intermediate hike which takes about 2 hours and gives you a great view of Mt. Fuji on a clear day).  There are public restrooms available at the trail head, but these are “pit” or “hole” toilets that are not necessarily stocked with supplies on a regular basis.  Since we were short on time, we did not do the hike.

Hakone-Sokokura Shrine

This is also a smaller Shinto shrine that does not accept goshuin, and little is known of when it was established.  It is dedicated to three gods …  Amatsuhiko-Hononinigi-no-Mikoto (Hononinigi),  Hikohohodemi-no-Mikoto (Hoori), and Konohanasakuya-hime-no-Mikoto (Sakuya-bime).

Like all shrines, the gods worshiped there have a story.  Sakuya-bime is the cherry blossom-princess and symbol of delicate earthly life. She is the daughter of the mountain god Ohoyamatsumi, and the goddess of Mount Fuji and all volcanoes.  Sakuya-bime met the god Hononinigi at the seashore and they fell in love.  Hononinigi asked Oho-Yama, the father of Sakuya-bime, for her hand in marriage. Oho-Yama proposed his older daughter, Iwanaga-hime (the rock princess), instead, but Hononinigi had his heart set on Sakuya-bime.  Oho-Yama reluctantly agreed, and Hohoninigi and Sakyua-bime married.  Because Hohoninigi refused Iwanaga, human lives are said to be short and fleeting, like the sakura cherry blossoms, instead of enduring and long lasting, like stones.

Sakuya-bime became pregnant in just one night, causing suspicion in Hononinigi.  He wondered if this was actually his child.  Sakuya-bime was enraged at the accusation and entered a doorless hut, which she then set fire to, declaring that the child would not be hurt if it were truly the offspring of Hononinigi.  Inside the hut, Sakuya-bime had three sons, Hoderi, Hosuseri and Hoori.  Hoori would later lose a fishing hook borrowed from one of this brothers, which led him on a quest to recover the hook, and during which he would meet and marry the daughter of the sea god Ryujin.  

The shrine has numerous steep steps and there is very little parking along the Sokokura main road.

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