Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Day 21: Mishima - Hakone-Yumoto (23.7km)

I'd originally planned to end this leg in Hakone, just 14.7km from Mishima, but I had trouble finding suitable accommodation there so I extended it a few kilometers to the hot-spring town of Hakone-Yumoto. There I managed to get a reasonable deal, including breakfast but no dinner, at a nice hotel with an outdoor hot spring. I figured that 23.7km wasn't all that far, even considering there was an 846m pass along the way. After all, Erik and I had walked far greater distances and conquered far higher passes along the Nakasendo. I now realize it was a mistake to attempt that additional nine kilometers. If you're reading this because you're planning to walk the Tokaido, mark my words: Hakone Pass will take its toll.

I woke up at 5am and dozed until 6am when I got up and had breakfast. Mrs Fool's parents are early risers and had been up and about since 5.30am. For breakfast I had a couple of slices of raisin toast, some fruit yoghurt, and a bit of salad. Overnight I'd hung up my damp washing from the previous day and it had dried completely. My sore calf had also come right.

I left the house at 7.45am and arrived at Mishima Taisha at 8am. I looked around the old shrine for a bit then rejoined the Tokaido. It was flat for the first kilometer. I then started climbing, and apart from a short stretch by Lake Ashi in Hakone, I wouldn't see another bit of flat road all day.

My brother-in-law had warned me of some major roadworks on the hill just above Mishima and I soon saw what he meant. Thankfully the works didn’t hold me up, although I did have to skirt around a short stretch of the original Tokaido at one point. At 9.20am I took my first break of the morning. Soon after this the Tokaido left the main road and headed through a bit of forest. While walking through this shaded section I got a couple of mosquito bites, so a little further on I stopped again to apply insect repellent. I was walking on ishidatami for much of the time. I passed the Nishikida Ichirizuka, one of only a handful of ichirizuka where the mounds on both sides of the road are intact.

Further on I saw quite a long snake on the path beside me. It was perfectly still, but I'm pretty sure it was still alive. I think it was probably more scared of me than I was of it. Anyway, I nervously approached it and took this photo. It's a bit hard to tell, but it must have been well over a metre long.

I took my second break of the morning at about 10.50am. It was tough going, uphill all the way with the occasional really steep section. Soon after I got going again I came across a couple of women picking berries. The said they were wild strawberries, or were they wild raspberries? They gave me one to taste but I couldn’t really work out what they were. Whatever they were, apparently they make really good jam! I met a few other walkers coming the opposite way, including an older couple from Fujisawa who spoke to me in English.

The nature of the Tokaido was changing continually as I made my way up the pass. At times I was walking on the footpath alongside the main road, at others on ishidatami under the shade of old pine trees, and at yet others on a barely distinguishable dirt track through somebody's farm. Near the top I passed through what was in effect a tunnel formed by bamboo plants on either side of the path.

I eventually made it to the top of the pass at 12.30pm. It had taken me four and a half hours to walk just over 10km. I spotted a restaurant on the other side of the road, but it was so cold (the hills around me were obscured by mist) I decided to head straight down to the town of Hakone, which I figured was less than 3km away. But before that, according to my map I had to go up again for a short distance through what is now a golf course. Unfortunately I misread the map and ended up going up further than I had to. It took me quite a while to work out my mistake and get back onto the correct path. I was cold, tired, and hungry, and angry with myself for making such a mistake. On the positive side, climbing higher than necessary did give me a better view out across Lake Ashi.

After descending along the road for a while I came to the top an incredibly steep set of steps. I paused and studied my map to make sure I was actually in the right place. While doing so a runner went passed me and down the steps without the slightest hesitation. The steps were difficult to negotiate with my heavy pack on, and I almost lost my footing several times. The steps eventually gave way to ishidatami, which were almost as difficult to walk on. In fact, because the stones tend to become quite slippery when wet, it can be just as slow descending a section of ishidatami as ascending. I actually found it easiest to walk on the often muddy strip of earth on either side. Even so, I slipped three or four times, once ending up on all fours, before making it to the bottom.

I arrived in Hakone-machi at just after 1pm. I left the Tokaido and had lunch at one of the restaurants down by the main wharf which cater for the tourists that flock to the area. I had the nakasagi teishoku, a set featuring deep-fried nakasagi, small fish which are caught in the lake. I figured I should be able to find somewhere nicer for coffee, so I continued on for a bit and found another restaurant opposite the old check point. There were no other customers, and the proprietor greeted me warmly (a bit too warmly, I thought, especially when he complimented me on my musclely arms). I sat down on the balcony outside and had a coffee and a slice of tiramisu. Before heading off again I took up the proprietor's invitation to refill my water bottle from the carafe on the table.

The check point at Hakone has recently been restored, so I spent a bit of time looking around. I even climbed all the way up to the lookout tower on the hill behind it and was rewarded with a nice view of the check point and the lake beyond. From there it wasn't far to the check point museum, which didn’t appear to have changed at all since the last time I visited it some 15 years ago. There was nowhere to leave my pack, so I walked inside with it on. I did a quick circuit of the museum without stopping, glancing at the tired-looking exhibits as I went, before walking straight out. It was already 2.30pm, and I still had another 9 kilometres to walk.

From the museum I walked along the famous avenue of cedar trees to the neighbouring town of Moto-Hakone. There I stopped briefly to take a couple of photos of the famous vermillion torii gate.

From there it was uphill again for a bit, including yet more ishidatami. It wasn't long, however, before I reached the top, after which it was downhill all the way to Hakone-Yumoto. Along the way I passed signs warning me to look out for wild boars and monkeys, but I saw no sign of either.

At one point during the descent I followed the main road as it went through a series of impressive switchbacks.

I arrived in Hakone-Yumoto shortly after 5pm and soon found my hotel. I received a very warm welcome, including a tiny glass of a delicious non-alcoholic cocktail. I think the idea was to sit down and slowly sip it while taking in the refined atmosphere of the hotel lobby, but I couldn’t be bothered taking my pack off so I just gulped it down on the spot. The staff probably thought I was some kind of barbarian.

Dinner at the hotel would have set me back at least 6000 yen, so after settling in to my room I went out and bought some things (onigiri, hot chips, cheese cake, and apple juice) at a convenience store by the railway station and ate them back in my room. At seven I went to check out the hotel's communal bathing facilities. There were only a couple of other people there, and I had the outdoor bath all to myself. It was heavenly, and I could hardly think of a more satisfying end to such a physically demanding day. But there was more. As I was coming out of the changing room I heard the strains of a familiar tune coming from the restaurant, where a pianist was playing. It was "My Foolish Heart", the title song on a recent Keith Jarrett CD. There was a small lounge area near the entrance to the restaurant, so I stood there in my yukata and listened to the end before going back to my room.

Speaking of my yukata, I laughed earlier in the evening when I opened the wardrobe in my room and discovered they'd given me a size LL. This is quite a common occurrence in Japan (the same thing had happened at the old inn at Akasaka), where they presume all foreigners are going to be large. Anyway, I called reception and got them to bring me an S, which fitted just fine.

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