A Morning Walk at Lake Ashi: Hakone, Japan

Hakone is one of my “happy spots” – a place I’m always happy to go for an overnight or just a relaxing day away from Tokyo. Later this week, I’ll share a recent hike I took along a preserved section of the Tokaidō–one of the major travel roads of 17th century Japan–but the day began with a walk along a different, and more modern, path along the shore of Ashinoko (Lake Ashi), which I’m sharing here today:

Swan Boats on Lake Ashi

I arrived at Lake Ashi on a Sunday in early June, just after 9 a.m. I’d planned to have breakfast before the hike at Bakery & Table, a local bakery/restaurant with a lovely view of the lake (and, in non-pandemic times, an onsen foot bath–though sadly the foot bath has been closed for over a year).

Bakery & Table didn’t open for breakfast until 10, so I decided to walk around the lake to pass the time.

Lake Ashi on a clear, early summer morning

The lake was still except for a few fishing boats heading out for a morning on the water and a couple of motorboats towing lines of swan-shaped paddle boats to the rental docks. A few people stood fishing at the water’s edge, although I didn’t see anyone actually catch a fish that morning.

A little boy with a fishing net led his mother on a merry chase along the edge of the lake. Once in a while, he stopped to look for little fish in the water–but although he dipped his net in once or twice, he didn’t have any more success than the people using poles.

Motohakone from Hakone Shrine

I followed the path around the shore toward Hakone Jinja (shrine); near the entrance to the shrine, the wide cement pavement gave way to a narrow stone path that led into the forest between the water and the shrine. Periodic breaks in the trees offered lovely views of Motohakone. (Bakery & Table is the brown, three-story building roughly at the center of the image above.)

The path to Hakone Jinja

Hakone is temperate in June, and it was a beautiful morning for a hike. Given the date, I suspected (correctly, as it turned out) that this would be my final hike before the 2021 rainy season began in earnest.

Bridge Near Hakone Jinja

The forested path leads over a bridge and through the trees to the “Peace Gate” of Hakone Jinja–a massive torii (Shintō gate) that stands at the water’s edge. The gate is a popular spot for taking pictures, and even shortly after 9 a.m. there was a line of people waiting by the gate when I arrived. I didn’t feel like waiting, so although the picture below was taken at the Hakone Jinja gate, I took it on a different day. (Note the autumn foliage in the background…)

Hakone Jinja Peace Torii: same gate, different day

I followed the path a little way past the gate, until it was time to turn back and head to breakfast.

I took my time returning, too; between the water lapping on the steps at the edge of the lake, the refreshing breeze, and the gentle warmth of the morning sun, it was shaping up to be a perfect day for a hike–and the scenery was far too pretty to rush, even with breakfast waiting just ahead.

Swan boats and fishermen on Lake Ashi

After a delicious breakfast of soup, rolls, and strong, hot coffee (served with an unbeatable view of the lake) I shouldered my pack and headed off to the nearby start of the Hakone Old Road–so named because it was not only part of the 17th century Tokaidō (which connected Tokyo–then Edo–with Kyoto) but also portions of an older road called the Yusaka Michi, which predated the Tokaidō by several centuries.

Signpost on the Hakone Old Road

I hope you’ll join me later in the week for a virtual walk along the Old Road, with stops at a pond and one of the oldest functioning teahouses in Japan!