Old Tokaido Highway
If you are tired of museums and other visitor attractions in Hakone and fancy a day in the outdoors, a walk along the old Tokaido highway won’t disappoint. The route is around eleven kilometres from Moto-Hakone to Hakone-Yumoto from where you can take a bus or train back to Gora or Odawara. Naturally the walk can be done in reverse but it is quite a slog up hill most of the way. Starting from Moto-Hakone there is only a short climb and thereafter most of the route is downhill.
To have a little background on the old Tokaido highway visit the Hakone checkpoint near Hakone-machi pier. The checkpoint was built on a narrow piece of land between Lake Ashinoko and the surrounding mountains to monitor travellers on the road between Tokyo and Kyoto. The officers were particularly looking for weapons and women leaving Tokyo because the shogunate had forced feudal lords to make their wives reside in the city as hostages for their lordships good behaviour.
The trail begins in Moto-Hakone. A brown sign on the road indicates a small lane beside a shop selling among other things life-sized china dogs. A few steps up take you to the cedar avenue, a beautiful stroll in itself. A board explains that the Tokugawa Shogunate planted the cedars along the highway in 1618 to give protection to people travelling on the road.
Most of the paved part of the route is through forest with tall trees looming above and undergrowth including bamboos to the sides. Another explanation board explains that originally the road was not paved with stone but laid with cut bamboo each year. To cut the cost and effort of renewal stones were put down. The last repair to the road was when the 14th Tokugawa shogun visited the Emperor in 1863.
Less than two kilometres along the trail you will arrive at the Amazake Chaya, a teahouse and rest house of the sort that would have served travellers on the old Tokaido Highway. The thatched building with its sunken fireplace is dark and smoky inside and is like stepping back in time four hundred years. Look up at the ceiling to the blackened beams and see the basket work sedan chairs and try the house speciality – amazake, a hot, sweet, thick rice wine, served with pickles.
Next door to the Amazake Chaya is a small museum to the Tokaido Highway. Most of the information is in Japanese but there are life-sized scenes showing life on the highway, and an old cart and a sedan chair are among the artefacts to view.
The path continues from the teahouse crossing a road several times. Here the stones have been re-laid after disturbance by earthquakes in 1923 and 1930. After several more kilometres the trail comes down into Hatajuku between two big piled up mounds of soil and you have to walk through the village on the road. There are many shops and workshops along the road demonstrating and selling the intricate mosaic woodcraft from the area.
From Hatajuku you can take a bus to Hakone-Yumoto or if you wish to continue walking take a small path marked by a red pillar to continue off the road. Soon, however, the trail again follows the road and is no longer attractive or particularly pleasant. The road will bring you in bustling Hakone-Yumoto with its souvenir shops and cafes and restaurants, and you can take either a bus or a train to your next destination.
Tip: walking the trail from Moto-Hakone to Hakone-Yumoto is not particularly strenuous, but it is on rough ground and the stones on the old highway can be very slippery as the path is in shade most of the time. Strong shoes or walking boots are recommended. However, according to the Hakone checkpoint exhibition hall, an elephant did walk this route in 1729, a gift from a Chinese merchant to the 8th Tokugawa shogun in Edo.
Open: 7 days a week, all year round
Time: 09:00 to 17:00 hrs (Winter – until 16.30 hrs)
Open: 7 days a week, 07.00 – 17.30 hrs.
Tokaido Musuem: 09.00 – 17.00 hrs (Winter – until 16.30 hrs)