The golden boy and the mountain

Maybe it’s time to unbury the hatchet. Or perhaps not, since it’s standing right there, as if looking at you from the rock’s edge. Who’s the one who used to carry that hatchet, who did he fight with, and which mountain are we going to hike today?

Διάβασε το άρθρο στα Ελληνικά εδώ:

Kintaro’s hatchet standing next to Kintoki shrine

In the south part of Kanagawa lies the active volcano of Hakone, one of the most popular tourist destinations. There’s a lake, refreshing hot springs, fancy restaurants, a large selection of museums, what more could you ask for? Together with Mt. Fuji and the Izu peninsula, they comprise a national park. Due to the increased volcanic activity, the morphology of the area is ever-changing across the millennia. Let’s observe the valley of Hakone from above.

Mt. Kintoki as seen from neighbouring Mt. Myojingatake

Close to Hakone to the west lies the town of Ashigara, known for the eponymous mountain and the folk hero Kintaro. His name literally means “the golden child” and indeed he was a marvellous child. He grew up similarly to Tarzan and Atalanta, as a baby on Mt. Ashigara, raised from a mountain-witch Yamauba, a friend of wild animals. There’s an extreme version of his origin myth, which references the mountain-witch as being Kintaro’s mom, after she got magically impregnated by a thunder that the red dragon sent.

Kintoki shrine and two chicken

Kintaro has superpowers since birth and raised to fame after killing many formidable monsters. Finally, his achievements earned him a place in the court of Minamoto no Yorimitsu. The Minamoto clan became one of the most powerful clans of the 10th century, choosing Kamakura in Kanagawa as their base. The Minamoto name became known from ballads and epic songs about their war with the Taira clan. Anyway, when Kintaro became a proper member of the court, he was given the name Sakata no Kintoki. A shrine was built at the foot of the mountain he grew up on and the mountain got a nickname, which eventually became its official name, Mt. Kintoki. It seems Kintaro was indeed a good friend of the animals, since a dozen of chicken were hanging freely around the shrine. The shrine’s goshuin stamp also shows Kintarocarrying his trademark hatchet and riding a bear.

In terms of art, Kintaro is usually depicted as a child that wears minimum clothing, carries a hatchet on his shoulder and bears the character 金 (which means gold) at his chest. He is simultaneously chubby and muscular, he would look like a sumo if it weren’t for his bob hairstyle. Other times, he is depicted hugging a giant fish, called Namazu, a harbinger of earthquakes in Japanese mythology. Kintaro fought with that monster as well, nothing was able to stand in his way. Not even that solitary rock on the path towards the mountain top, he slashed it in half. Because of his bravery and strength, Kintaro became a famous character in theatre plays, as well as a role model for young boys, who remembered him especially on Children’s day.

This is Kintoki Yadori Ishi, the rock that Kintoki slashed

The path that travels up to Mt. Kintoki is wonderful during autumn, but quite hard and rocky to trek. The route from the shrine to the top is 2 km long, with elevation gain of only 500 until the peak of 1212 m. A large part of the path has a view towards the valley of Hakone, with the steamy Owakudani capturing the attention. Owakudani is known for the volcanic activity that is responsible for the sulphuric vapours which come out from the ground. The black eggs that are boiling there will supposedly give extra years of life to the ones who taste them. Owakudani was created 3000 years ago, a remnant of the crater at that time’s eruption. The last eruption happened in 2015 and since then the rope way to Owakudani operates with some inconsistencies, for security reasons.

The Hakone volcano and Owakudani (left) and lake Ashi (right)

On the right side of the view, one can see lake Ashi, another product of the eruptions. There is a famous sightseeing spot at the lake, a red torii standing above the water. The land between Kintoki and Hakone is covered by small towns, Gora and Sengokuhara. Apart from the Hakone view, Mt. Kintoki is famous for another view, that of Mt. Fuji from the side of Gotemba. Unfortunately, on the day of my hike, the mountains were covering Mt. Fuji. Perhaps you think that the body of Mt. Fuji is blue, however that is due to light reflection and scattering phenomena. In reality, Mt. Fuji is covered by reddish brown dust, as you can see at the exposed area around its foot.

The base of Mt. Fuji, while the top is covered by clouds

On the top of Mt. Kintoki there are two small restaurants or chaya. The menu includes hot soups with fresh mountain vegetables, noodles and sweet soup with red beans (oshiruko). Kintaro’s hatchet is also there, at the top, standing tall to make the height of the mountain known. The small balls on the hatchet could be sakimitama (幸御魂), soul spheres of blessing in the tradition.

Kintaro chaya restaurant at the top of Mt. Kintoki
Kintaro’s hatchet on top of Mt. Kintoki

I decided to hike down from Otome toge, the “girl’s ridge”. It got its name from the story of a girl, who climbed up there every day to pray at the jizo statues for her father’s ill health. Her prayers were answered by the gods and here father recovered, but she got buried under snow while praying up there. Another chaya used to operate at that location, but the owner suddenly got sick and the building has since perished.

The old chaya at Otome toge

Before heading down to Sengokuhara, I climbed one last peak, called Marudake. From there, one can enjoy the best view to lake Ashi, since even the cruise ship is visible. This mountain is part of the caldera rim of an older eruption and next to it stands a 1000 m tall parasitic lave dome.

View towards lake Ashi from Marudake. The dot in the lake is the cruise ship.

Although Hakone is blessed with plentiful sightseeing spots, it found another way to brand itself. It was used in the storyline of a popular anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, as the location of Tokyo-III, the new capital in an apocalyptic future where Tokyo was destroyed. The NGE story got mixed with Kintaro’s story, which resulted in the public toilets at the start of the mountain path to be decorated with concepts from both worlds.

Public toilets at the base of Mt. Kintoki
A vending machine decorated with Kintaro and NERV

This was the story of the mighty Kintaro. Have you ever heard his name? Did you like his story?

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