[Previous entry: "JGTC Finals at Fuji Speedway"] [Next entry: "Trip to Hakone Pt.2"]
09/26/2008: "Trip to Hakone Pt.1"
After my trip to Fuji Speedway I began to gain a level of confidence in my ability to navigate the unecessarily complex road system in Japan. See, roads don't have names in Japan like they do in the rest of the world. Rather, only main roads are assigned numbers which may or may not bisect other roads with the same number. For smaller roads, there is no hope for directions and often the roads become so narrow that in order to pass in a car, you must fold in your mirrors (for those of you who imported super JDM electronic folding mirrors yet didn't understand the need, now you do).
Alas, I'm getting off on a tangent here. The point is, most everyone has navigation in their cars and if you don't, you are reserved to use a map book where you must match the shape of the roads in comparison to main roads with numbers to the roads on your map. Getting used to moving about can be quite a tiresome task, only made worse by the horridly unregulated illegal parking and the high, seemingly suicidal, scooter population shooting in and around traffic (I shit you not, every 500 meters a car or truck will literally just stop in the middle of the lane with their emergencies on, forcing everyone to dart to the opposite lane).
Well fiddlesticks I continued my tangent. Anyway, after the trip I decided to be more adventurous and decided to spread outside of Tokyo and Yokohama. Asking around to my various Japanese friends, I found out that a must-see spot was Hakone.
Hakone is a famous resort town tucked around a lake with a mountain range on the west side. Rich with onsens (hot springs), historical points of interests, and of course some of the most beautiful drives in Japan, Hakone is a popular choice with practically everyone. To make it even better, it's rather close to Tokyo by car, bus, and train. If you look on the map above, you can see Tokyo in regards to Hakone. Hakone is just a stones throw south-east of Mt.Fuji. Between Hakone and Yokohama lies the historically famous town of Odawara (my first stop of this trip).
Click on the above picture to get a super blown up view of the same map (Do it, I'll be refering to it a lot). One of the downsides to driving to Hakone is there is so many things to see and do. I spent two days in Hakone on this trip and barely scratched the surface. Of course I plan to return many times to see all that Hakone has to offer.
Anyway, on to the drive. Much of this area southwest of Yokohama is very lush and pretty. The drive took about 3 hours, much of which was a delight to cruise.
I'm not sure about you, but myself, I'm a big fan of Japanese history. A cool thing about Japan is there is so many historical places to check out packed close together (Japan is about the same size of California).
And among the many historical things I like to visit, castles rank at the top. When I was a kid I always wanted to visit castles in Europe and even collected books about castles (hey I was a nerd, shutup). This was my 2nd visit to a castle in Japan (my first being in Kofu west of Tokyo) and this one had a pretty interesting museum inside. Unfortunately they restricted my Americaness and didn't let me snap shots of all the real samurai armor suits, swords, and various historical gears. One really cool thing inside was a katana sword that was in such perfect condition, considering it was over 200 years old, that it was given the prestigious title of an official Japanese kokuhou (historical country treasure).
On the top of the castle they have a souvenir shop (go figure) with a balcony you can walk out onto. From the balcony you can view the city of Odawara all the way out to the Pacific Ocean.
After finishing a quick tour of Odawara castle, we continued on route 1 west towards Hakone through misty woods. I was half expecting a Ninja battle to break out before me because it was so movie-style picturesque.
We approached Hakone from the northeast entering a famous nature viewing spot (view 1 on the above map). It was very beautiful and very wide-open, much different from the feeling of being closed-in in Tokyo. Also, Miki is sporting a fantastic DRFT hoodie she picked up from Fuji Speedway.
Most of the things to do and see in Hakone line the east side of Ashinoko lake (see map above). Along the east side of the lake there is one main road which leads north to south. Entering the main part of town you are welcomed by this large Tori (what they call that red gate thing). Feels super asian when you see these sorts of landmarks.
Apparently haircuts in Japan are unusually expensive, oh wait they are. I'd apologize for my being lazy and having hippy locks of hair but for me to visit a hair salon and get a men's haircut in Tokyo can run between $50-$100. Don't worry though, shortly after this picture I located a poor person $10 haircut establishment that butchers my hair on a monthly basis.
The next stop on the Hakone tour is a place called Sekisho. Back in the Edo period when samurais and the like were still all the rage and people still traveled by horse and by foot, places like Sekisho were very important. Japan has two main city centers, Osaka/Kyoto, and Edo(Tokyo). In the Edo period there were 5 main routes that connected Kyoto and Edo. One of the most used was the Tokaido route(Learn about the 5 routes here). On that road, there were 53 checkpoints travels had to go through to be able to move from Kyoto to Edo. At that time, travel between Edo and Kyoto was very tightly regulated and travelers had to hold passes and special papers to move through each checkpoint (excluding of course the samurai class who could move freely between checkpoints). People who tried to circumvent the checkpoints were often caught and the punishment was death. Sekisho, was the last checkpoint on the Tokaido road between Kyoto and Edo and therefore was very important/famous. in 2007 the Japanese Gov't finished restoring Sekisho and opened it to the public for historical education...
Wow, that's a lot of history right there.
This is approaching Sekisho checkpoint from the Edo(Tokyo) side.
This is a small map depicting the layout of the checkpoint.
Some interior shots of the checkpoint.
In the main hall of the checkpoint, they setup statues of the people who used to work and live in Sekisho. These men were officials responsible for reading the names of travelers passing through and checking the authenticity of the passing papers before allowing them to continue onto Edo. All the statues are a flat grey throughout Sekisho because the historians didn't have exact data on the color of clothing back then and didn't want to misrespresent what they looked like.
In the adjoined room, officials and military presented racks of rifles, naginatas (Japanese lance), and katanas to impress upon would-be criminals and smugglers the military might they had at their disposal. It was kind of a measure for putting fear into peoples hearts to stop them from trying to illegally pass the checkpoint. While that might not be that scary/impressive to you and me, you gotta understand rifles back then were the hottest new thing on the block.
Also, it was common people would try to smuggle things in womens' hair so they had old ladies at the ready to search young ladies and put a stop to it. The statue looks so sad and the old lady looks so mean, haha.
Here is a bathroom used back in the day. They'd heat up water in pots over the fire then fill the tub with the hot water for people to then bathe in.
I think this guy is cooking.
While checkpoints served a purpose of discouraging illegal passage, their main reason for existing was to offer a place for travelers to rest along the road. The road is somewhere like 350 miles long and wasn't exactly well paved and had to be traveled by foot/horse. It took a long time to travel and was very tiring. In the above picture you can see some samurai relaxing and eating.
Sekisho is placed right next to Ashinoko lake with a tall hill on the opposite side. On the top of that hill Sekisho had a watchtower where soldiers painstakingly watched for people trying to illegally pass the checkpoint over the lake or over the mountains.
Here's that watchtower...
Sneaky looking soldiers.
What the heck!?? There's a pirate ship on Ashinoko lake! Yup, one of the attractions at Hakone is a real-life copy of a pirate ship you can ride on for a fee. Needless to say, if these watchtower soldiers saw this they're probably soil themselves with surprise.
This is looking down on Sekisho from the watchtower.
It was fun, but it's time to move to something else. We exited the Kyoto-side gate of Sekisho in search of some food (History makes me famished).
Closeby there was a small shop specializing in dango. Dango is a Japanese treat made from rice (what isn't made from rice here?) that's like mochi made into balls and put onto a stick then dipped into a kind of sweet sauce. It looked pretty gross but I was feeling the need for adventure so I gave it a try. Now, today, I love dango and eat it whenever I get a chance (Learn about DANGO!).
Farther down the road a bit they had another small museum talking about the role of samurai and the ruling class in the Edo period. At the front door they had a guard in full Edo era garb. He was kind of a racist dick though, as you can see him completely ignoring me.
Next up, we moved a slight bit north (look at emperor's house on the MAP above). Above Sekisho there is a massive traditional Japanese garden with a mansion at the center of it. This mansion was once the former summer home of emperor Showa (not 100% sure) the emperor prior to the current (Heisei). Now, the mansion is a tourist spot and people are free to look through the mansion.
It's pretty big and has a nice view of Fuji and Ashinoko lake.
Here's how it looked a long time ago, I'm guessing early 1900s.
Earthquakes hit japan weekly, sometimes hard. Sucks for this guy.
After viewing the mansion I went to the main center of town where the port is for the pirate ship. Inside the town center there are many souvenir shops, restaurants, and small attractions. I wanted to get a closer look at the pirate ship so I walked to the docks. Unfortunately, what I found was the only other foreigners in Hakone acting a fool riding some panda devices and taking pictures. What the hell. To make it even worse, they placed those tires there so dumb people won't ride the panda cars into the lake.
Anyway, after finishing up some souvenir shopping, it was time to move onto what I really wanted to do in Hakone, drive. Hakone has a couple of the most famous touges (winding mountain roads) in all of Japan. The touges in Hakone can be found in countless video games, animes, etc.
So, stay tuned for part 2 of the Hakone trip to check it out!