One of the most typical and lovely photos of Hakone depicts this scene: A deep blue sky, Ashinoko Lake, Mt. Fuji in the background, and a red shrine gate at the water’s edge. That red gate that you see is the entrance to Hakone Shrine. And from there, the rear approach to Hakone Shrine begins.
History of Hakone Shrine
Often, when we suffer terrible hardships beyond our endurance, the only thing we can do is to pray to God. The ancient people who lived here among Hakone’s volcanic mountains must have thought in the same way. The mountains had been experiencing “steam explosions” for hundreds of years and people took it as the expression of rage from something evil. The myth tells us that the evil spirit was a nine-headed dragon living in Ashinoko Lake. A monk who had practiced at Mt. Komagatake (a shrine at the top of a nearby mountain) exorcized the dragon, and it turned into a protective being instead. The monk enshrined the dragon here, where already three Gods existed.
Hakone Shrine as a Power Spot
Hakone Shrine is a famous power spot and people who visit the shrine say that they sense the presence of a divine being all over the area. Actually, I was very comfortable and relaxed at the shrine, although I was quite exhausted from a hectic schedule. Even more, I felt subtle excitement when I stepped in through the final gate in front of the main shrine building.
Magnificent, huge cedar trees
The approach to the shrine is lined with huge cedar trees. They are more than 800 years old and create an atmosphere of wonder and beauty. They purify the precincts and create a holy environment.
One of these special cedar trees (decorated with a sacred straw rope) is believed to be the symbol for an easy delivery when giving birth. Because the three Gods enshrined here are family (The ancient God of Ninigi-no-mikoto married Konohana-sakuya-hime-no-mikoto and a boy Hikohohodemi-no-mikoto was born) it is said that the tree reflects descended prosperity as well.
As I mentioned above, a dragon is the protector of the shrine. You will see his form adorning several places around the grounds, including the purification basin, the hanging scroll of the main hall, and more.
Other minor mythological creatures
You will also see an uncommon creature under the roof of the main hall. It is the “Kirin”, an animal who has the face of a dragon, the tail of a bull, and hooves of a horse. It is a sacred animal and lives 1000 years, its voice precisely replicates the musical scale, its footprints form perfect circles, and when it turns it always does so at a right angle.
A pair of dog-like animals sit in front of the main shrine building. These are not dogs, although we call them koma-inu (koma-dogs). The origin of the creature is thought to be a pair of lions. But after their figures were brought to ancient Japan (perhaps from Korea), the design has gradually changed into the figures we now have.
Take it slow
Hakone is a wonderful mountain resort area within a day’s distance of Tokyo. I hope you don’t make a busy plan and run around visiting too many places. People who really love Hakone, who know deeply about Hakone, and who come back to Hakone again and again, don’t move around much; they just stay at their favorite inn or hotel and enjoy some quiet time there. Hakone has the ability to heal and charm her visitors. Please soak yourself in this marvelous forest region and feel her profound beauty. Even if you don’t plan on coming back to Hakone again, please don’t rush.
If I had to choose only one place to visit during my stay in Hakone, I would go to Hakone Shrine in the early morning or just before dusk. It is that special.
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Japan is a small island nation, but we have a huge number of surprising things to discover here. Many of these delights can be found when you step off the main street onto small side paths. I really enjoy studying about and researching various aspects of traditional Japanese culture, and then sharing this information with visitors to Japan. I hope you will enjoy it, too! ARTICLE INDEX & PHOTOS: An index of most of my Japan Travel articles can be found at the entry page of my blog, and my photos are shown here. 日本はとても小さな国ですが、大通りから一本小道に入ればたくさんの発見があります。日本人が積み重ねてきた歴史を学びながら、古い建物や庭を訪ね、物語の舞台となった景色を眺めて、皆様といっしょに日本文化の奥深さを探求していきたいと思います。