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From Odawara to Moto-Hakone
(Fri., Sep. 14, 2001)

Friday, September 14th, 2001 (click to see all posts from this day)
 The Old Tokaido


Returning to Hakoneguchi [on the south side of Odawara Castle], I set out for what I had long anticipated to be the worst day of the trip: the uphill portion of the Hakone Hachi Ri, or Eight Ri (32 kilometers) of Hakone, from Odawara to Mishima.

The climb up to Hakone is certainly the most strenuous section of the road. Starting near the sea, one ends up (usually the second day) at Hakone Pass: 846 meters--over 2,700 feet--above sea level. It is unrelenting, part of it including stairs.

But even worse than that was the ishidatami. Read on.

I stopped at the tourist information center at Odawara station and picked up an excellent, large-scale map--in Japanese, of course. But the 1:10,000 scale was really useful. (My usual map is 1:50,000.) It also showed topo lines, so I had a good sense of what was coming. At first, the road is just a long, steady, upward slope through the city of Odawara. Along the way are a few sites, such as the home of the Itabashi Jizo, shown here.

But mostly it's just slope. Slope and tourist buses. When the way veers off of the main highway, it's nicer, but still, it's slope. There was supposed to be an ichirizuka ato on one side road, but it was the first of many I couldn't find today.

As a nearby clock struck out noon, I struck out on my path in earnest. The route leaves Highway 1 at Sanmaibashi Bridge, not to rejoin it again until the shores of Ashinoko Lake. By the way, this sign at the turning struck me as funny. Why a catfish? In popular belief, catfish can predict earthquakes. They rise to the surface of the water just before one strikes. (Japan, like my home state of California, has a lot of earthquakes--and a lot of earthquake lore.)

The Hakone Hachi Ri

All morning it had been hazy, and I couldn't really see the mountains I was entering. Perhaps the gods were protecting me. But as I made the turn onto the side road, I caught this glimpse. (And this wasn't the half of it!)

The road here ran through a developed area: shops and houses, interspersed with temples and shrines. There were steep portions, then relatively level, then steep again, etc. Somewhere in here, I missed another ichirizuka. But I did notice this lovely little dosojin. (See yesterday for details.)

Soon I encountered my first ishidatami. Ishi means "stone" and tatami are the straw mats that are used as flooring in traditional rooms. So ishidatami is something like a stone-floored road. This paving was done during the Edo period, largely to keep the road from washing out.

But NOT necessarily for comfort. Although there were a few places where a skateboarder might have been happy, most of the road was too rough for a bicycle. Imagine picking your way among the large rocks next to a river--but uphill. Imagine further that the rocks are slippery. Now you start to get the picture. As I write this two days later, my feet still feel as though the bottoms have been pounded by hammers. Uphill was tough; ishidatami was really tough.

In respect for my enemy, I've added a Words and Pictures page about the dreaded ishidatami.

In one of the day's rare descents, this first stretch of ishidatami goes down to Monkey Bridge, with a beautiful view of a very man-made waterfall. The road I was on is right above the falls which means--I have to climb back up!

And at the top of the ishidatami is the pretty little Hakone Kannon Temple. At least, I think it was pretty. Notice the camera angle is from above? There was no way I was climbing down there to have a look!

Like the bridges of Japan, many of the slopes are named. In fact, Japan's second largest city is named "Big Slope" (Osaka). So all the steepest parts of this road are named, and marked by the wayside with stones like the one shown. According to the JR "Past and Present" site [2019: now defunct], the names include Falling Woman, Broken Rock, Western Sea Child, Oak, and Monkey Slide. [2019: This one says "Big Swamp Slope." Maybe.]

At one point--in fact, at the top of a nasty slope--the road brushes up against the toll road going up to Hakone. At the interchange is a hotel and a temple. Sort of. If a Las Vegas developer wanted to built a "Japanese Temple theme hotel," it would look like this: gaudy, tacky, overdone. I couldn't find an open gate, so I took a shot over the wall. I read the characters for this place as "Tenshoji."

After passing through Sukumogawa village, I came to Saunji. Next to the modest temple is a waterfall, which made me think about how many sacred sites are built next to waterfalls, or on mountains, or near some other natural phenomenon. Even the old churches in Europe are built near sacred wells, on old Celtic sites, etc. (Let's not get into ley lines and vortices here.)

But modern American churches tend to be built according to market considerations. So I imagined this conversation between a church's appointed buyer and a real estate agent:
Buyer: Do you have any property located on a natural power spot?
Agent: Pardon?
Buyer: A power spot, you know, like near a waterfall, or on a mountain peak, or even an old burial mound.
Agent: Sorry, I don't quite follow. Do you mean like a place that's picturesque? 'Cause we have several listings described as "picture--"
Buyer: Not exactly. What I mean is powerful, a place where people have a natural feeling for the awesomeness of nature, the sanctity of the know, that sort of thing.
Agent: Well, let me just type that into the Multiple Listing Service computer. Let's see..."power"..."sanctity"...
When I first saw these steps, I thought, "I'm glad I don't have to climb those." Then I realized that basically, I would have to achieve the same elevation, although not so obviously!

Whether you can read Japanese or not, this sign I saw along the way will give you a good idea of how the ishidatami road was made. The right side is one of the namiki trees (described on September 12th). This is on the "valley" side of the road. The road bed is then made between this and the mountainside on the left, and the stones are laid on the roadbed.

After toiling up another stretch of ishidatami, I came into Hatajuku. As nearly as I can figure, this was the "station" for Hakone--despite the fact that it's nowhere near what we call "Hakone" today, whether the town and train stations at the base of the mountain or the lakeside at the top. Nonetheless, this picture shows the site of the honjin or official inn. My "official" picture will be taken at the barrier tomorrow.

Also in the Hatajuku station was this sign in a restroom. The languages used--and the order in which they are placed--is interesting. Assignment: Which is first? Which is last? Why? Do you agree that English should be the second foreign language used? And Korean last? Give reasons to support your answer.

Ladies and gentlemen, 30 meters from the Hatajuku station I saw the best ichirizuka so far. So good, in fact, that I've given them a mini-Words and Pictures.

The ishidatami continue. Then come switchbacks and stairs. I haven't eaten since this morning. It's started to rain. And in the midst of all this, I encounter a bus stop.

Now, there have been bus stops all along. This isn't wilderness. But with all the conditions I've just described, I've never been so tempted to cheat.

But I didn't.

I climbed a few hundred stairs, then turned left along three kilometers of ishidatami. And OH the sights I saw.

Like this monument to Shinran Shonin, the guy I met in front of the temple in Chigasaki. (By the way, I realize this shot isn't clear--but it gives a good sense of the weather I was in.)

I stopped here for a break, on perfectly flat land--and slipped and almost fell! There was a patch of mud over some smooth stone, and as I stepped toward a little picnic table I went mud-skiing. I twisted my ankle a bit, but didn't fall (thankfully). Imagine my annoyance when I discovered that I was only a few steps from my next stop:

The Amazakejaya, or Sweet Rice Wine Teahouse (above). Notice the road in front of the teahouse. There is a paved road on the front side; the ishidatami I've been struggling with runs behind the building. This place was open; the beautiful Old Road Museum next door (below) was just closing.

The lady in the teahouse (food at last!) asked the usual, "What country are you from?" and, when she heard I was American, said, "It's tough for America now, isn't it?" This tragedy in America has increased my awareness of my American-ness, even in this ancient out-of-the-way place.


Finally, after more trudging, I reached the shores of Ashinoko Lake. (no is a possessive; ko means lake. So we might say "Ashi Lake." But a young man from Kashiwa I met on the way up kindly--and over-correctly--translated it as "Lake of Ashi.") Anyway, one is greeted by the GIANT torii leading to Hakone Shrine (above); the shrine's pretty lakeside torii can be seen from the shore near where my road rejoined Highway 1 (below).

Also near the junction is an odd little collection of statues, mostly Jizo-sama, whom we learned about yesterday. The area is called Sai-no-kawara. I decided it was a good place to say your prayers. Besides, I had over 20 minutes until my bus left! (The shot of the lakeside torii above was taken between some of the stones at Sai-no-kawara.)

Later, I learned more about the meaning of this place; you can read about it on the Words and Pictures page.

[2019: I took a bus back down the hill to Odawara Station; from there I returned to my hotel in Chigasaki. I think.]

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Posted September 28, 2019

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