[Visited on September 26th, 2020]
Since I recently moved to Kanagawa (again), it makes sense to focus more on visiting mountains inside the prefecture. It is not easy to wake up and head all the way to Saitama after all. Well, considering that I had already been to Mt. Oyama, Mt. Jimba and Mt. Byobo, a change of scenery was much needed. We decided on avoiding civilization this time and instead go to as quiet a place as it could be. Myojingatake in Hakone proved to be a perfect fit.
It was a rainy day, with a constant amount of rain that was thankfully reduced to drizzle. Not the best omens for a day up on the mountains. Regardless, we prepared our raincoats and hiking poles and decided to go for it. We were greeted by a thick white mist and a spooky lack of visibility.
A lot of times, the landscape seemed abnormally white and abnormally quiet. There were certain locations along the path that only the flora reminded to the hikers that we are on Japan.
Unfortunately, it seems that due to the hills and mountains consisting mainly of volcanic dirt instead of rocks, the whole area is prone to erosion. For this reason, a project of intensive bamboo planting was introduced, in order to assign the role of keeping dirt in place to fast multiplying bamboo trunks.
The appeal of this hiking course lies on the fact that is goes along the outer rim of the caldera of Hakone volcano (Hakone Gairinzan). On the border of Kanagawa and Shizuoka prefectures, the Hakone volcano has a couple of peaks around 1000m, among which Myojogatake and Myojingatake. The outer rim of the caldera was created some 200.000 years ago.
The hike to the first top, that of Myojogake (明星ヶ岳) is fast, but unsurprising, to the point that when reaching the top, there was no peak, just a wide flat area with a sign indicating its name. The actually interesting peak is that of Myojingatake (明神ヶ岳) at 1169m. On a clear day, this peak offers unobstructed view of Mt. Fuji with Mt. Kintoki (previously called Mt. Ashigara) and the rest of the outer rim peaks of the caldera in the front of it.
The interior slope of the caldera looked steep and slippery, as expected due to the violent phenomena that created it. The flat ridge hovering above it, had some more bamboos and small benches to rest. No mountain hut or restaurant was available on the top. A truly solitary peak.
From here, there is a path leading to Yagurasawa. Instead, we continued our hike downwards towards Hyochiishidake (火打石岳). This peak at 988 m got its name from a type of black basalt used to make stoneware, that were discovered in the area dating back to the Jomon period.
Finally, we reached the town of Sengokuhara. If you happen to be in the area during the red foliage period (koyo 紅葉) I would suggest visiting the Choanji temple (長安寺). During the end of September, the leaves were just starting to turn yellow, but I imagine that the large cemetery-garden should be amazing in November. There are a lot of unusual statues scattered around, adding to the landscape.
Additionally, Choanji had one of the weirdest hanging structures for bad fortunes I have ever seen. Instead of the usual square board with ropes or a tree branch, this one consisted of a black cube containing a red cube and some rows of threads connecting the cube edges. Last but not least, both the monk and the cat of the temple were heartwarmingly friendly. I chuckled when the monk, obviously surprised to hear me speaking Japanese, asked whether I “arrived to Japan by airplane [as a tourist] or if I was born here”. In the end, he gifted me a set of postcards depicting photos of the temple during different seasons, and he went out of his way to write the date on the goshuin both in Japanese and English, in order to help read it more easily.
After a long bus ride back to Odawara, I was home at last. If you are interested in the 13 km hiking route, you can find the details here. Whether on a rainy day or on a sunny day, this hike is refreshing for sure.