Hakone, Japan

Take A Pirate Ship To The Crimson Hakone Torii Gate, Then Relax In An Onsen.


When researching Japan, I came upon a photo of a magnificent torii gate that seemed to emerge from a lake. The sight of this incandescent crimson structure was illuminating in front of the backdrop of Mt Fuji. The cute and tiny town of Hakone (100km south of Tokyo), is where this stunning torii gate resides. As I delved further into my research, I learned that Hakone is also known for its Onsens (natural hot springs). Combining culture with relaxation is the perfect travel adventure, so I immediately booked my friend Steve and I for one night at Hakone Gora Kanon, a small Ryokan nestled in the hillside, a 5-minute walk from Naka-Gora Station.



One of the main attractions of Hakone is the pirate ship ride along Lake Ashinoko. Definitely weird and out-of-place, but great for photos! We sailed along the lake on a chilly September afternoon. I was hoping for a glimpse of Mt Fuji to peek through the clouds, but it stayed hidden. As we cruised to the end of the lake, what appeared before us? The torii gate. It was even more impressive than the photos. As the fog would come and go, it was slightly ominous seeing this red/orange gate peer through the mist. When we disembarked from the pirate ship and walked towards the gate, butterflies swirled in my stomach. When I stood under this grandiose structure and turned to face the Lake, I felt peaceful and calm. I stood there in solitude, enjoying a quiet moment to myself.


Up the hill behind the torii gate, is the Hakone Shrine (箱根神社, Hakone Jinja). This Shinto shrine is nestled peacefully in the cedar tree forest. Here I wrote a loving message to my little niece on an Ema, a wooden plaque that I hung among the other wishes and prayers. As there were very few people around, it was a quiet hour for us as we walked around the grounds. As we left we strolled along a lantern-lined pathway.


Later in the evening, after a warming bowl of Ramen, we dressed in the robes and slippers provided at the Ryokan and took an hour-long ‘bath’ at the private Onsen. Since its common practice to go nude (men and women bathe separately), it was liberating to let it all hang out! I alternated between soaking in the indoor hot springs and cooling down with a cold shower. It was invigorating but relaxing at the same time. I got a fantastic nights sleep!

It would have been nice to have stayed longer in Hakone and to have hiked in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. But our eleven day holiday didn’t allow for it. We decided to devote more time to our next stop, Kyoto, the place to see Shrines and Temples. Also, the place where I broke my camera and ‘lost’ my friend Steve. Both were bound to happen.


*Steve would like me to clarify that I did not lose him, but rather abandoned him. His memory is a little fuzzy :)*