This post continues the hike along the Hakone Old Road, along the former routes of the Yusaka-michi and Tokaidō (two of the old travel routes through the mountains near Hakone, south of Tokyo) from Otama-ga-ike to Amazake Chaya, and then on to Hatajuku.
After leaving Otama-ga-Ike, the trail rejoined the former route of the Tōkaidō, and I continued toward Hatajuku. The route is heavily forested, as it has been for centuries.
This portion of the route is not very steep, and feels quite isolated despite the fact that, in reality, it isn’t far from the modern road.
A few minutes later, I arrived at one of the high points of this hike: Amazake-chaya, one of the oldest continuously-operating teahouses in Japan. The current owners are part of the same family that has operated this teahouse since the 1600s, when it first opened to serve travelers on the road that later became the Tōkaidō.
The teahouse still serves amazake, the fermented rice beverage from which the teahouse gets its name, and the ancient drink is still prepared and served in precisely the same way Amazake Chaya has done for centuries. Although made from fermented rice, amazake is non-alcoholic and contains no added sugar. It has a sweet taste and feels substantial in your mouth. It’s also surprisingly filling.
Amazake chaya was an eagerly-anticipated rest stop for travelers on the Tōkaidō, who knew they could get not only a refreshing drink in the summer (when you can get your amazake cold) or a burst of welcome warmth in the winter (when warm amazake was always ready and waiting)–in either case, accompanied by a burst of energy to fortify them for the trail. That’s still the case, and I happily stopped for a cold glass of amazake and a set of mochi (chewy cakes made of pounded rice) — another teahouse specialty.
The teahouse serves several kinds of freshly-grilled mochi, but I opted for the mixed set (shown below): the one on the bottom is brushed with soy sauce and wrapped in a sheet of nori (dried seaweed), while the upper mochi is dusted generously with kinako (roasted, powdered soybeans–which taste a lot like powdered peanuts). The cakes come with a serving of refreshing house-made pickles (tsukemono) on the side.
While I was eating, I talked with one of the teahouse owners, who was happy to share the history of the teahouse and delighted to hear that I’d visited before. Amazake-chaya is one of my favorite places in Hakone, and I love visiting when I hike the Tōkaidō.
Fortified by my snacks, I hit the road and continued down the trail toward Hatajuku. This section of the Old Road crosses the modern road in several places–which makes sense, because the Tōkaidō followed the most convenient route through the mountains between Lake Ashi and Odawara, and when the modern road was built, it made sense to use that path. Fortunately, the builders of the modern road didn’t destroy the older route entirely in the process.
About five minutes past Amazake-chaya, there’s a great caution sign beside the road. Wild monkeys live in the mountains across Japan (Japanese macaques, sometimes called “snow monkeys”) and they’re not an uncommon sight on hiking trails, although I hear them far more often than I see them. That’s not a bad thing, either, because monkeys can be aggressive, especially in troops, so while I do enjoy seeing them, it’s better for everyone when both monkeys and humans keep one another at a distance.
From Amazake-chaya to Hatajuku, the trail slopes gently downward through mixed forest and bamboo groves. It’s a great hike in any weather.
Periodically, the trees open up and offer a view. Mostly, you see the surrounding mountains (or the road), but in a couple of places you can see all the way to the Pacific Ocean, beyond Odawara. (It’s a little hard to see in the picture above, because of the haze, but I promise there’s an ocean out there.)
In a couple of places, the hiking trail runs literally beside (and in one case, along the shoulder of) the modern road.
As the trail approaches Hatajuku, the forest changes yet again–to towering pines, with smaller deciduous trees and ferns beneath. The trail emerges from the forest directly across the street from the Hatajuku bus stop, and while it’s possible to hike the old Tōkaidō all the way to Hakone-Yumoto (I did it once, in 2016), a large portion of the trail beyond Hatajuku is immediately beside or actually on the shoulder of the modern road, and there isn’t much shoulder room for walking, so it can be dangerous (and it’s not a very pretty hike). You’ll probably enjoy the time much more if you hop a bus to Hakone-Yumoto and have lunch at 808 Monsmare instead. (They have the best pizza in Japan, bar none, and some of the best pizza I’ve eaten anywhere in the world. If the apple dessert pizza is on the menu when you visit, be sure to splurge. It’s amazing.)
Access/Trailhead: Bus from Hakone-Yumoto Station to Moto-Hakone-ko; trailhead is across the street from the bus stop and about three minutes’ walk up the road away from the lake.
Total distance: 4.7 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: 117m ascent / 455m descent (i.e., “mostly down”)
Time Spent: 3 hours, 25 minutes (Not counting the stop at Amazake-chaya. YMMV)