Our last full day in Hakone was spent along the Old Tokaido Road and the south end of Lake Ashi. Rain from the previous day was nowhere to be seen, so we held out hope that we would see Mt. Fuji. Spoiler: we got a great view.
Old Tokaido Road
The morning's plan was to bus part of the way to Lake Ashi at Hatajuku and walk a few miles along the Old Tokaido Road the rest of the way. We got off at the stop we were supposed to, then we looked around for signs of the trail, but weren't sure where it was. Melody saw a couple men and tried to ask them, but they looked pretty confused. I showed them the name on my phone, but the one man needed to pull out his reading glasses. Recognizing what we were looking for, he pointed one direction, which did look like it could have been a trailhead, but it was good to get confirmation. We thanked the men and started our way.
Within a few dozen meters we hit our first snag. There was a fork in the path, so Melody took her book out and we tried to compare the characters in it to what was on the sign. One of the labels was a close match, but by that time the men had caught up to us. I pointed the direction we thought it would be, and they nodded before going that direction themselves. We put away our things and started following them. They worked their way to the road, and seeing no better direction, we followed.
Following the pair of men, we started walking on a road paved with huge stones, which made the going slow. We followed them up steep stairs. We followed them through the forest. We followed them along the roadway. We followed them up more steps. At this point, they stopped to take a break, so we went on ahead, bidding them goodbye, as one would to adoptive guardians.
The path wasn't marked on our maps, but we did seem to be going the right direction, so onward we went. The road did several switchbacks to get up the hill, but the path had us going up many sets of steep stairs. By this point, we were starting to see signs and other markers, so that was reassuring.
We knew that at about the halfway point we would want to stop at Amazake Chaya, a tea house. We knew we were close when we started hearing lots of voices, which ended up being several groups of kids on day hikes. These were the first people we saw on the trail since leaving our guardians.
Going into the teahouse, we had trouble seeing what was going on at first, since it was so dark. We did manage to place our order and then find some seats. The server quickly placed our two cups of amazake and some pickles in front of us. It was sweet and thick, a nice way to recover after all the uphill walking. A few minutes later, our fried manju showed up. Normally manju isn't something that interests Melody, but she tried a little bite of one and kept on going; we ended up splitting the order.
Back on the trail. We started running into several people, greeting each with, “Konnichiwa!” As we got to the last leg before the lake, suddenly the two men who helped us at the beginning of the trail walked up, glad to see that we had made it. One of them wondered where we were from, and I said we're from the U.S., but that I was yonsei (fourth generation) and then his eyes lit up in understanding. He said that explained why I looked Japanese but didn't speak. Mind you, we're doing all of this with only knowing a few words of each other's language; I pointed to the map of the sights we were going to see, and they nodded in understanding. We bid each other fond goodbyes.
Along Lake Ashi
Our first stop was the Hakone Shrine. The current location of the shrine dates back to the mid-17th century, and its most prominent feature is the large, orange torii which is just off the shore in the waters of Lake Ashi; it's obviously a very popular selfie site.
Walking back down the hill, we decided it was time for lunch. We spotted a small restaurant on our way to the shrine, so we stopped inside; Melody had soba with some vegetable tempura, and I had udon with a couple pieces of mochi in it.
Next up was the Hakone Checkpoint, via a walk along the Lake Ashi shore. As we got past where we had gotten off the boat a couple days before, Mt. Fuji became visible, and quite clearly. Our pace slowed way down as I took several photos and we just looked at the mountain. What's amazing to think is we were only seeing the top part, so while it had a beautiful look, we weren't seeing how it slopes into the land. We started debating whether to try to do the Hakone Round Course again to try to get a better view from the boat and gondola, deciding to assess the situation after going through the checkpoint.
We purchased our admission tickets for Hakone Checkpoint (got another ¥100 discount each for our Hakone passes). We first walked into the museum, looking at some of the work which went into restoring the checkpoint as well as life in the checkpoint. They also had a long display with figurines representing a daimyo's procession to visit the shogun, which was made quite elaborate to preserve his popularity with the people. Since he was required to periodically visit the shogun and ended up spending a lot of money on the procession, he couldn't amass enough money to overthrow the shogun.
Another display showed how women went under extreme scrutiny while going to the checkpoint. They had to get permission to leave Edo, and the papers would have detailed descriptions of the women which were verified scrupulously at the checkpoints along the way.
After the museum, we went to the replica checkpoint, which looked like a small town complete with a jail. We walked up to the lookout hill, which gave a commanding view of the checkpoint and the lake. We also saw a room representing women getting checked on their way out of Edo.
As we were touring the checkpoint, we saw some clouds start to roll in. Walking back towards the boat dock, the views completely went away, a mere hour after we had gotten great views. It was an easy decision to just catch the bus back to the hostel.
We went to the downtown area for dinner at a Chinese restaurant where they hand-roll and cut their own noodles. We also an assortment of dim sum to go with ramen with wonton on it. One more trip to a store to pick up some breakfast things, and then the usual walk back to the hostel, soaking in the onsen, and sleeping in Hakone for our last night.