To get to the sanctuary there are many hiking trails that meander through the untouched nature of the Hakone forest. The most popular one starts near the Moto-Hakone stop, the entrance is marked by a torii gate and a series of traditional red lamps placed on the sides. After a few minutes of walking, you will enter the forest of gigantic cedars and then find yourself in front of the access to the sacred area, marked by the majestic red torii gate that seems to float on the water of the lake. It is called "Peace Torii" and is considered the symbol of the sanctuary. Before proceeding with the journey, stop and take some photos in this breathtaking panoramic spot that gets an even more mystical appearance in the days when the mist envelops the lake.
Turning towards the mountain you will see another torii gate that precedes the staircase to reach the sanctuary of Hakone, perched up on the slope; next to it is the chozuya, a fountain used for purification rites.
During the climb, take the time to look around and observe the small buildings and monuments that find space in the middle of the forest; among these there is a structure for archery practice where you will probably see some people engage in this sport. At the end of the staircase you will pass through another red torii door, arriving in a large open space framed by a low fence of rocks and imposing cedar trees that stand out towards the sky. Here I suggest you to sit down and take some time to immerse yourself in the quiet of this place and admire the surrounding panorama: the enchanted landscape dominated by trees and mountains and wrapped in a surreal silence will make you feel one with nature, favoring a contact with your deepest emotions and feelings. From this point you can see in the distance the walls that surround the main building, the haiden, or the prayer hall of the Hakone sanctuary.
This building needs no introduction: its deep red, decorated with gold ornaments and covered with a roof of green tiles that immediately catches the eye.
Lake Ashinoko is a volcanic lake that formed along the caldera of Mount Hakone, a volcano whose last eruption 3,000 years ago originated Owakudani, nicknamed the "Great Boiling Valley". Today Lake Ashinoko is certainly one of the most loved and photographed in Japan, thanks above all to the snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji. The immobility of its calm waters is interrupted only by boats similar to those of pirates that evoke ancient times, made of fights between samurai and legends, like that of the nine-headed dragon that inhabited the deep waters of the lake scaring the inhabitants, before a monk would transform him into a protecting spirit
Seen from above, Owakudani recalls one of those post-apocalyptic scenarios: a dry gorge with clouds of steam leaking from the ground, springs of boiling water that appear here and there in the ground, the smell of sulfur pervades every inch of this place, while in the background the horizon is dominated by Mount Fuji. The valley of Owakudani was formed about 3000 years ago following a violent eruption of Mount Fuji and what remains today are the sulphurous vapors and hot springs, which however are too hot to be used as a spa. All around the valley is framed by lush forests that with their intense green color create a strong but particularly striking contrast with the arid valley. To get to the Owakunani valley you can use the cable car (Hakone Ropeway) which leaves from Togendai and makes several stops along the way. The view along the way is really exciting: under your feet you will see the volcanic earth that "boils" emitting an acrid smell of sulfur in the air, while the gaze is lost among the colors of the landscape that vary from the darker ones of the " hell valley ”to the green of the forests up to the snow-white blanket that covers the top of Mount Fuji, the immortal symbol of Japan. Owakudani also reserves some culinary surprises: the kuro-tamago, or black eggs. To see them, it looks like dinosaur eggs seen in so many films, but in reality the kuro-tamago is nothing but a hard hen's egg, which is boiled in the warm waters of the thermal springs. The high concentration of sulfur in volcanic water is the reason for the coloring of the shell.
Black eggs have become one of the main attractions of Owakudani, so near the main entrance you will find the kuro-tamago monument, which consists of a giant black egg. here you can take some souvenir photos with the beautiful Mount Fuji in the background.
Attention: the visit to Owakudani is very linked to the seismic activity of the mountain. Site closures are possible.
HAKONE OPEN AIR MUSEUM:
This museum, the first of its kind in Japan, was opened in 1969, exploiting the nature of Hakone. Around 120 masterpieces of modern and contemporary sculptors are exhibited in a lush garden of 70,000m2, from which you can admire the Hakone mountains. You can get in touch with art by walking calmly or by observing freely the works that interest you most. There are also 5 indoor exhibitions, the first is the Picasso room which exhibits in turn a collection of 300 works; works in the square and a natural thermal bath for feet. It is especially pleasant to visit when the weather is nice..
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