If the weather is good and the waters not choppy, recommend a leisure cruise on Lake Ashi is a pleasant activity.
Lake Ashi is also one of Hakone’s key tourist attractions, framed by the nearby mountain range that includes the famous Mt. Fuji.
Situated some 720 m above sea level, Lake Ashi is the largest lake in Kanagawa prefecture, with an area of seven square kilometers and a circumference of 19 km.
Leisure cruises ply the route between Kojiri on the north shore and the township of Hakone to the south. At Lake Ashi, Hakone Sightseeing Cruises operates ships that connect the three ports on the lake. Enjoy a leisurely tour of the lake on these vessels which link Togendai Port, Moto-Hakone Port and Hakone-machi Port. Read more: http://planetyze.com/en/place/japan-hakone-lake-ashi-591.
Visible from the lake is the Hakone Jinja Shrine — a very ancient Shinto shrine constructed in 757 during the reign of Emperor Kōshō (dedicated to the kami Ninigi-no-mikoto, Hiko Hohodemi-no-mikoto and flower princess, Konohana-sakuya-hime: Japan Encyclopedia). The much photographed torii-gate-on-the-water adds a bright focal point to the lake. The original shrine was at the summit of Mount Komagatake, but was later relocated to Lake Ashi’s shores. Its current form dates to 1667.
Lake Ashi is home to a mythical nine-headed dragon that was originally an evil spirit. An ascetic monk who had practised at the shrine on top of Mt. Komagatake had exorcized and pacified the dragon, turning it into a protective being instead. Mangan had received an oracle from the Hakone-Okami (Chief god of Hakone) through a dream while had training on the mountain, and in the year of 757, the shrine held a Chinsai ceremony (religious ceremony to appease the gods) at the current location of the lakeside of Ashinoko. The monk Mangan then enshrined the dragon here, along with the three kami deities that were already venerated here. Hakone Shrine celebrates shrine’s founder Priest Mangan and the legendary dragon on July 31st in the Ashinoko Kosui-Sai (Lakefront festival). One day before the festival, a precedence festival takes place one day before Hakone Shrine Festival is held. Shuji Ozawa, the chief priest of Hakone Shrine, gets on a boat on Lake Ashi and offers traditional red rice to the legendary nine-headed dragon believed as the protective god of the lake.
Apart from the dragon, other mythical beasts may be found. The “Kirin”(giraffe), an animal who has the face of a dragon, the tail of a bull, and hooves of a horse…is seen under the roof of the main hall. It is a sacred animal that lives 1000 years, its voice precisely replicates the musical scale, its footprints form perfect circles, and when it turns it always does so at a right angle. A pair of koma-inu (koma-dogs) or lions sit in front of the main shrine building.
Approximately 3,000 lanterns are lit and float on the water. More details on shrine rituals at Green Shinto’s page. The Shrine was popular with shogun and samurai from the Kamakura era. Hakone Shrine is a five minute walk from the Moto-Hakone boat pier. Fireworks displays take place on July 31st over the water.
You can take a pleasure boat across Lake Ashi (also referred to as “Lake Hakone” in some English-language brochures). Believe it or not, a couple of the boats plying the waters are replicas of a man-of-war pirate ship. It takes about half an hour to cross the lake to Hakone-machi (also called simply Hakone; machi means “city”) and Moto-Hakone, two resort towns right next to each other on the southern edge of the lake. This end of the lake affords the best view of Mount Fuji, one often depicted in tourist publications. Boats are in operation year-round (though they run less frequently in winter and not at all in stormy weather); the last boat departs around 5 pm from the end of March to the end of November.
You can take a boat from Moto-Hakone to Hakone-machi where you visit the other sights – the Sekisho Checkpoint and the Old Cedar Avenue (see this link):
The Hakone Checkpoint. Of historical interest if you want to get a sense of how the Castle Town of Edo (Old Tokyo) developed and functioned strategically, see http://www.hakonesekisyo.jp/english/data/returns/returns.html for more
Tokugawa shogun placed 53 sekisho (facility for inspection) on major roads across the nation to defend Edo (current Tokyo).
Hakone Sekisho was one of the largest and was thought to be important among them.
Hakone Sekisho was placed on the current location in 1619, during an early period of Edo Era.
One of the main roles of sekisho was to control ‘incoming guns and outgoing women’, which means to prevent weapons from being brought into Edo and wives and children of feudal lords from fleeing from Edo.
However, Hakone Sekisho did not inspect ‘incoming guns’, and severely inspected ‘outgoing women’.
Sekisho, which operated for about 260 years during Edo Era, was dissolved in the next year of 1868, when the government changed.
Cryptomeria or Cedar Avenue
A section of path alongside Lake Ashi featuring over 400 cedar trees of more than 350 years old, provides us with an insight into the experience of what it would have been like during olden days traveling along the Tokaido highway during the Edo period. Nearby, cedar trees also survive in Mukaisaka area, where is close to the Hakone Pass and boasts stone paving; in Shinya-machi, adjacent to the Hakone Sekisho; and Azumadake area, where is a network of walking trails. The trees reach up to 30 meters high, and some have a girth of over four meters.
The Best Views are from:
Mt. Komagatake is a 1357-meter high lava dome, created by a Hakone volcanic eruption 40,000 years ago. Reach the top of Mt. Komagatake in only 7 minutes using the ropeway (lakeside station is at Hakone-en). The total length of the ropeway is 1800 meters. Going up the mountain,Mt. Fuji and a chain of Hakone mountains are on the left; Odawara, Yokohama, Ohshima Island, and Sagami Bay on the right; and Ashinoko Lake and Suruga Bay behind you.
Almost 2400 years ago, the top of this mountain became a holy precinct for mountain ascetics. People never climbed Mt. Komagatake except on special, rare occasions because they were afraid. They held ceremonies and festivals at the lakeside Hakone Shrine to appease angry gods and evil spirits. At the peak of Mt. Komagatake however, is the Hakone Shrine Mototsumiya. Just before the red shrine gate, there is a rock with a sacred straw rope. It is called “Bakou-seki” meaning that God came down on the rock with his white horse. They say there are some holes in it from where the horse stepped. At the back of the shrine, some cube-shaped rocks that are scattered around. Those rocks had been used for various rituals in the old days.
Hakone Detached Palace Garden
The Hakone Imperial Villa was built here in 1886 as a summer retreat for the Imperial family and also to accommodate their foreign dignitary guests. Onshi Hakone Park is situated on a peninsula that juts into Lake Ashi.
The site of the former Hakone Imperial villa, is now a park that has been selected as one of Kanagawa’s best 50 scenic sights, one of the best 100 views of Mt. Fuji in the Kanto area, and one of Japan’s best 100 historical parks.