The kids were very excited about another opportunity to ride on all the different modes of transport, but their particular favourite was the Hakone Ropeway.
Additionally, by this time, they had seen many images of the ubiquitous so they really did want to see the Real Thing as well. J and I even started a game called ‘Mt Fuji-Go!’ to see who would be the first to spot Mt Fuji.
Unfortunately, even though it was a bright, sunny day, there were still a few wisps of cloud enshrouding the shy and retiring Mt Fuji. In any case, we decided to walk down the Old Tokaido Highway (an ancient road from the Edo period which linked Tokyo and Kyoto) from Hakone-Machi to Moto-Hakone.
We started out our walk from the bus stop front of the Hakone Detached Palace Garden (where we stopped on our previous foray into Hakone-Machi), where the Old Tokaido Highway takes the form of an ancient but well-preserved cedar avenue running parallel to the main road.
The children found the walk very easy as the road was wide and flat, they enjoyed looking for insects in the undergrowth and following the flight of little birds flitting from tree to tree.
The Cedar Avenue section of the Tokaido, known as the Hakone Suginamiki Road, was planted around the early 1600s, at the beginning of the Edo period when the post-station of Hakone was built. The Hakone-juku post-station was at the highest altitude out of all the 53 stations on the Tokaido, and these trees were intended to provide shade as well as keep snow off the road in the wintertime.
It is amazing to think that these great trees are nearly 400 years old. The trees provide such a cool shade, and it was a real pleasure, walking through the avenue, with the soft moss underfoot surrounded by the fresh smell of cedar. Even though it was close to the main road, we hardly noticed any traffic noises, so it was a very lovely and quiet stroll.
From the Cedar Avenue, we could still look across the road and see the waters of Lake Ashinoko as well as the bright red torii gate which marks the location of the Hakone-Jinja shrine, a Japanese shinto shrine that has been in existence since 757.
This particular lakeside torii gate was built in 1951 in order to commemorate the Peace Treaty that Japan made to formally conclude the end of World War II.
I thought that it looked very beautiful, with its bright red pillars stark against the blue waters and the green forest consisting purely of camellia trees that produce white summer blossoms.
Apparently, on a cloudless day, you can even see Mt Fuji across the Lake Ashi.
When we arrived at Moto-Hakone, the children were starting to get a little tired, so we decided to take a bus instead of continuing on the stone-paved portion of the Tokaido.
The bus station is right in front of another torii gate, and behind the bus station is the pier for the Hakone Sightseeing Boat (the pirate ship), so it is possible to access the stone-paved Old Tokaido Highway as well as the Cedar Avenue from here if one is pressed for time and wants to skip visiting Hakone-Machi altogether. Moto-Hakone is also five minutes walk to the Hakone-Jinja shrine, if you are interested in looking at some awesome architecture.
We took the bus to the end of the stone-paved section of the Old Tokaido Highway as we were not planning to walk the entire road. However, this is actually a pleasant walk from Moto-Hakone as it is downhill all the way, so it’s worth attempting if you have older kids.
This cobblestone path was laid down for the benefit of travellers on the Tokaido, to make it much easier and safer for people on foot. The path was even built with a drainage ditch on one side, so that it would not flood over during heavy rainfall. Large trees planted by the sides of the path held the earth together to prevent landslides.
There are even little places along the way where travellers would place stones, flowers or coins to bribe the forest guardians and buy their protection.
The children were beginning to resemble little limp rags so we decided not to explore the rest of the stone-paved Tokaido. Instead, we followed the path downhill towards the Amazake-Chaya, (literally ‘sweet wine teahouse’), run by Satoshi Yamamoto and his family who have served weary wayfarers on the Tokaido for over 350 years. The teahouse has huge pots of steaming tea of roasted rice grain which is available free to all visitors and is suitable for children! I even witnessed some locals feeding their infants this rice-tea.
Although the teahouse has burned down and been rebuilt many times, the Yamamoto family continue to rebuild the same building on that site and maintain it in its original condition, with packed earth floors, thatched roof and furniture made from highly polished cedar stumps.
The teahouse specialty is a malted rice drink called amazake, which is served hot with ginger or icy cold (depending on the season), and comes with a tiny bowl of pickles on the side. This is a drink that was particularly favoured by samurai travelling on the Tokaido as it was considered an energising drink for sportsmen. Amazake tastes sweet, milky with a slightly grainy texture and it was very refreshing after a long walk in the afternoon heat. It has no added sugar and is non-alcoholic, and the waitress told us that it makes great baby food!
The limp rags enjoyed a glass of cold shisho-juice (also known by the very unappealing name of ‘beefsteak plant’) which is a sweet, bright red drink very similar to Ribena blackcurrant cordial, but with a cool, minty aftertaste. They also shared a shaved ice dessert with redbeans and shisho syrup (like our local ice kachang) which seemed to revive them both.
After this, we decided to take a bus back to Hakone-machi and the Hakone Detached Palace Garden, and have one last go at finding Mt Fuji.
This time, our patience was rewarded and Mt Fuji suddenly and mysteriously appeared, faintly in the distance, like a ghost. J and Little E danced and cheered when they finally spotted her.
Fuji-san stayed for all of five minutes and disappeared again behind her wispy curtain. But seeing her was absolutely magical and a perfect end to the day.
1. Yes, the pun is intentional.