The Hakone Kyukaido 箱根旧街道
The old Tokaido road: Historic hike, and window to feudal Japan
Discover the historical Tokaido road, used for centuries by the Japanese. You can still walk part of it today, so follow in the footsteps of past travelers through forests, beautiful landscapes and culinary specialties.
An historic path
For a very long time, the mountains of Hakone were a natural rampart separating eastern and western Honshu. During the Edo period (1603-1868), the Tokugawa shogun decided to build a road on an existing road. From Nihonbashi in the heart of Tokyo, all the way to Kyoto, this historic road passes through Hakone. More precisely between Odawara, in Kanagawa prefecture, up to Mishima in Shizuoka, passing by the Hakone Pass, culminating at 893 meters above sea level, for a 32-kilometer journey.
Later, the Tokaido became a road for motorized vehicles, as well as rail with JR lines and the Shinkansen, the Japanese high-speed train. However, there are still some old parts of the route that exist in the forest, used by Japanese hikers today just as they were by their ancestors.
The most popular route is the portion between Hakone-Yumoto Station, the final stop on the Odakyu Line and 15 minutes from Odawara, and Hakone Sekisho, a former checkpoint on the historic road. Along shores of Lake Ashi, the atmosphere of some parts of this hike transport you back to the distant era of feudal Japan.
Walking this 11.6 kilometer route takes about 4 hours.
Shrines, stones and local crafts
From Hakone-Yumoto station, head to the temple of Soun-ji, then Tenguyama shrine before starting the hike in earnest.
After passing the village of Sukumogawa, you'll see the ground become big paving stones covered with moss. They date back to the Edo period, from the earliest construction of the Tokaido road. Finding the ground too slippery and steep, Shogun Tokugawa initially laid out a path using bamboo, which was renewed each year.
Some parts of the route are along the road, like the one passing by Hata-Juku, where you can discover the art of marquetry (applying pieces of veneer to a structure to create decorative patterns), a specialty of the region, with local craftsmen.
Ancestral culinary specialties
The path then continues to reach Amazake-chaya, an ancient teahouse offering hikers the chance to taste the famous amazake, a drink made from fermented rice.
Very nourishing and without alcohol or added sugar, this drink gives you a healthy boost to fuel the rest of the hike.
Served warm in winter, or cold in hot weather, you can accompany it with matcha mochi if you are hungry. The teahouse has been serving its specialties for 400 years. At Amazake, you'll taste a piece of Tokaido history!
- Read more: Amazake Chaya
Arrive at Lake Ashi
Continue to Lake Ashi at Moto-Hakone. A diversion to Hakone shrine is recommended! This Shinto shrine was founded in 757 and is known for its large red torii gate that stands in the waters of the lake, often seen in souvenir photos of Hakone, along with Mount Fuji in the background.
- Read more: Hakone shrine
The path continues between the lake and the mountains, through the forest, bordered by 420 cypress trees from the Edo period (1603-1868) and then to Onshi Hakone Park and its imperial house. A boardwalk is laid out with a magnificent view of the Hakone calderas and Mount Fuji reflecting on the calm waters of Lake Ashi.
Then finally you arrive at the end of the hike, at Hakone Sekisho, the same checkpoint that all travelers on the Tokaido road have passed through for centuries.
Note that you can do only a small part of this ancestral road of Tokaido on foot, the rest has to be done by bus or taxi.