|Returning to Hakoneguchi, 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
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
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
In respect for my enemy, I've added a Words
and Pictures page.
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
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, the names include Falling Woman, Broken
Rock, Western Sea Child, Oak, and Monkey Slide.
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
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?
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--"
exactly. What I mean is powerful, a place where people have
a natural feeling for the awesomeness of nature, the sanctity of the
universe...you know, that sort of thing.
Agent: Well, let
me just type that into the Multiple Listing Service computer.
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
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
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
The Amazakejaya, or Sweet Rice Wine Teahouse (above). This
place was open; the beautiful Old Road Museum next door
(below) was just
Old Road Museum
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 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; the shrine's pretty lakeside torii can be seen
from the shore near where my road rejoined Highway 1.
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
Later, I learned more about the meaning of this place; you can read
about it on the Words and Pictures
(The shot of the lakeside torii above was taken between some
of the stones at Sai-no-kawara.)
As a final
Words and Pictures
for today, I
have collected several shots of--what's today's new word?--ishidatami
and tried to contextualize them by location.