Days 4&5: Hakone!!!

By Jessica and Blaise

Day 4: Hakone
City of hot springs and hills
Time to go explore!

By bullet train and bus we traveled to Hakone, a mountain city west of Tokyo. Upon arrival we checked in to the Fuji-Hakone Guest House.

Something we noticed as we walked around was the difference in demographics between Hakone and Tokyo. The population here is much older and the general atmosphere is more relaxed. Actually, the overall population of Japan is older than that of most other countries, and has been an increasing cause for concern.

After checking in, we were ready to explore! The first thing we did was ride the Hakone cable cars up the mountainside. The view was spectacular – we could see for miles in every direction over the tree-covered landscape. Our first destination was the hot springs. According to local lore, if you eat an egg that has been hard-boiled in the sulfur water it will add three years to your life (or seven, depending on who you ask). Most of us tried an egg when we got to the springs. Interestingly enough, the sulfur turns the egg shell black.

Hakone is an important town historically due to its location: it is where the Tokaido checkpoint is. This was where people going between Kyoto and Edo (modern-day Tokyo) were searched. The checkpoint was settled in 1619 and was one of 52 other checkpoints. These were all settled by the Tokugawa Shogunate, but the one in Hakone is considered to be the biggest and most important of all.

People going through the checkpoint were searched for weapons and women. Weapons were restricted in Edo and the women were not allowed to leave Edo.

After visiting the restored Tokaido checkpoint and museum, we walked down Cedar Avenue. This historic road is part of Old Tokaido Road and is where the officials passed by. The cedar trees that line the way were planted over 400 years ago by Matsudaira Masatsun, and is now registered as a national historic site.

After walking through Cedar Avenue, we arrived at the Hakone Shinto Shrine.  This shrine is located right along the Ashi Lake.  The shrine has Torii gates located on all sides, including the traditional entrance which is located on the lake.  This shrine had a water dragon theme.  Water dragons could be seen at the purifying stations, among many areas.  Legend tells us the a dragon lives at the bottom of lake, but we did not get a chance to see it.

Throughout the second day we were treated to the magnificent view of Mt. Fuji.  This was especially exciting as it was covered by clouds for the entire first day.  We were all amazed by how we could not see Mt. Fuji at all the first day, but be able to see it so easily the very next day. It was truly an amazing view!

(The whole group minus Dr. Boss with Mt. Fuji in the background)

After long days, we would eat dinner at a traditional Japanese restaurant.  The second night we were able to eat a meal while sitting on mats on the ground.  Despite my lack of flexibility, I (Blaise) quite enjoyed this experience.  The favorite meals included curry and ramen, and many of us were introduced to green tea soda for the first time.

The perfect way to end the night was relaxing in the outdoor Onsen (hot spring).  After properly cleansing ourselves in the showers, we found the warm water very relaxing and therapeutic.

Tomorrow we will be traveling by bus and bullet train to Kyoto.

First you are hidden,
Then you come out of nowhere,
Must be Mt. Fuji.

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