Friday, 17 June I woke up into a sunny and warm morning. Perfect conditions to see the top of Mt. Fuji (Japanese highest and most iconic mountain). Or so I thought… What I didn’t encounter with is the fast changing weather. By the time I reached Moto-Hakone and Lake Ashinoko (from where there is apparently beautiful view of the mountain), it was cloudy, windy, rainy and miserable. “Ah well, if iI waited long enough the weather might change again…”.
I visited Hakone Jinja, a shrine, hidden in a dense forrest right by the lake. At the bottom of the shrine, there was a little dragon-shaped fountain (a little dragon spitting out water) and heaps of ladels. “Hm, what exactly are these for?” As I learnt later on, before entering a shrine, you need to clean yourself. Mainly, you can enter a shrine with a clean soul only and water (and ladels) are supposed to help you with this. At the shrine, I observed people when praying. I thought it was quite an unusual procedure – heaps of bowing, a little bit of clapping, bowing again, some threw a coin into a big bowl, the others didn’t, some rang a bell (which, to my surprise, didn’t sound anything like beautiful cow bells in Swiss mountains).
I caught a bus to a nearby tea house. Somehow, the bus driver and I managed to agree that he will stop the bus where I wanted to go and I won*t have to press the stop button myself. This shouldn*t be a problem since I was the only passenger on the bus. As we left, he started his usual speech, explaining about the area where we were and what the following stops are (well, I can’t actually tell for sure, but it sounded something like this). Mister, in case you haven’t noticed… I don’t understand a word in Japanese… :). I wandered if he does all this also when there is no one on the bus?
The tea house is 400 years old and it has served all these years as a rest area for tired travellers who were passing by on a journey from south to north and vice versa. In the old times the travellers were mainly walking, today I arrived by a bus, but hey, I still felt tired and was perfectly entitled to a cuppa. I got amazake, a drink made of fermented rice. The procedure is very similar to fermenting rice for sake. Amazake is sweeter and non-alcoholic. And it has a funny texture.
I took an old-school cobbled path back to the lake (now that I was well rested and refreshed). The weather got a bit better so I took a boat to the other side of the lake. “Hm, the Mt. Fuji still hasn’t come out. Maybe I should just cruise on the boat for the rest of the day? Or I could maybe walk along the lake back to the first station and take another boat ride from there? How hard it can be, I walked around Lake Bled hundreds of times, this one is just a bit bigger…”
A bit bigger?? After 8 kms I was still quite a bit away from the ferry station. And I needed to catch the last ferry and the last bus back to my hostel. “I better run!”
“Uuuu, shortcut! Or is it?” I came across a map and it seemed that there is some sort of a shortcut, the only issue was that there were heaps of different trails going in all directions and no English signs, just Hiragana, Katakana or Kanji. Ah well, I’m gonna be late anyway, why not getting lost in the middle of Japanese mountains at the same time?? Somehow I made it back to the ferry. I was exhausted and fell asleep on the boat. However, the sun was finally out, clouds were high up and for a split second (or two) I could see a trace of Mt. Fuji. That’ll do, mission accomplished :).