Hakone-Jinja is a Shinto shrine on the shores of Lake Ashi. It is a site of special cultural, historical and, for many, spiritual importance. It can be seen as a balanced combination of a trinity of elements, melded together in a natural crucible; the earth of the mountain on whose slopes it rests, the embrace of the woods in whose arms it is cradled and the water of the lake on whose edge it is perched.
The present site can trace its history back to the 8th Century and, as such, has many remnants and hangovers from its rich past that should beckon to both erudite and more casual travellers alike.
The purpose of each and every shrine in Japan is to house one of the Kami or spirits that are revered by the traditional Shinto religion of the country. The Kami is usually embodied by a one or more sacred objects and it is actually these that the shrine itself enshrines. These form the heart of each shrine and Hakone-Jinja is no exception. However, the first thing that a visitor to a Japanese shrine will encounter is one of a number of Torii gates. These are large, often red, gateways with a pair of horizontal crosspieces at the top. In this department, Hakone has something special up its sleeve.
Long before you reach the threshold of Hakone-Jinja you can not help but notice the imposing, world famous “Floating” Heiwa-no-torii, or ‘Torii of Peace’, that lies out in the lake a short distance from the shoreline. This is a must-see once you get into the shrine itself but you will initially most likely enter from the east and thus walk up the gentle slope that ascends beneath the imposing Dai-san-torii gate. This path is flanked by beautiful natural flora, including long-lived cedar trees that stretch up high into the canopy, as well as traditional red lamps set on posts.
Next, you will find yourself at a junction: to your left the steep stone steps take you down to the Heiwa-no-torii whilst to your right the steps lead you up to the inner shrine. I would recommend descending to the watery Torii gate first. However, when you do so be careful as the old stone steps are a little challenging in places; so be sure of your feet as you progress. But, when you do reach your destination you will duly be rewarded with stunning views and excellent photo opportunities, especially at the stone jetty that leads to the famous Torii.
If you return to the junction, past the cedar trees that have rope encircling their trunks, you will find yourself in front of a dragon-guarded basin placed there for visitors to ritually cleanse their hands and mouth before going up the long stone staircase to the inner shrine. These water-basins are known as Chozuya or Temizuya in Japanese. The ascent is not too hard going and you’ll soon find yourself passing under yet more Torii gates and at the main entrance to the shrine itself. Here you will find finely decorated shrine buildings, sub-shrines, a small museum, a traditional archery range, souvenir shops and all the accoutrements common to the practice of Shinto. It is well worth slowly taking your time and exploring the whole site.
Something a little different that is definitely worth a little bit extra of your time is yet another water-filled Temizuya that is actually associated with one of the sub-shrines at the site. This one is known as the ‘Nine-headed Dragon’ or Kuzuya sub-shrine because it is associated with the story of the holy priest Mangan. It was he who pacified the nine-headed dragon that dwelt, and some say still dwells, at the bottom of Lake Ashi. You may well see people collecting the blessed water from this Temizuya in bottles that can be purchased on site. These would certainly make for an unusual memento if you are so inclined. But nonetheless, the Temizuya is well crafted and certain to be a highlight of your visit, so I would definitely recommend checking it out.
Hopefully this brief overview of Hakone-Jinja has whet your interest and you are eager to go. It is simple enough to make a day trip to the shrine if you are based in Tokyo. The easiest way to get to Hakone-Jinja is to travel from Shinjuku on the Odakyu “Romancecar”. This will take you directly and stylishly to Hakone-Yumoto train station in just over an hour and a half. From here it is a mere thirty minute bus ride through the gorgeous Hakone landscape. From the train station, get on Bus Line H. There are about 4 or 5 buses an hour so you will never need to wait for long.
For more information → http://www.odakyu.jp/english/destination/hakone/