Hakone is a famous hot spring site that has been around for a long time. Many of its attractions have been named based on the many legends. Starting from Hakone-yumoto, we’ll slowly climb up Mt. Hakone and look at the origins of the names of the various attractions today.
Hakone refers to a group of more than 15 mountains that are more than 400m in height. “Hako” means “Box” and “Ne” means “Mountain”. Mt Hakone consists of two types of mountains –
“Gairinzan”, mountains on the outside perimeter and “Chuo Kakokyu”, mountains on the inside area. As the Chuo Kakokyu are flatter than the Gairinzan, Mt Hakone looks like a flattened box, thus the name “Box Mountain”
Records from the 15th century mentione that it resembles the Bonkyo, the box used to keep Buddhist sutras in. It seems that Buddhism had a great influence in Japan even in the past.
If you visit Hakone by train, the first stop you will reach is “Hakone-yumoto station”. Hakone-yumoto means “the origin of Hakone’s water”. Situated at foot of Mt Hakone, it acts as an entrance for the whole of Hakone. According to findings, the first hot spring in Hakone was found here in the 8th century. Currently, there are hot springs everywhere in Hakone, but Hakone-yumoto is the origin of it all.
Tonosawa is the stop after Hakone-yumoto on the Hakone Tozan Train. It is located at the foot of a Gairinzan, Tonomine (566m) and the fragrance of the moist trees on the steep mountain, as well as the murmuring of the winding stream makes it truly suitable for the name “zawa (mountain stream)”. “Tonosawa” means “A tower with a mountain stream”, but what exactly does the tower refer to? Actually, there is a temple called Amidaji in the middle of Tonosawa, and a Buddhist monk in the 17th century attained enlightenment there and built a tower, thus the name “Tonosawa”. It is also said that the monk was the person who first discovered the hot spring here. We’re not only grateful for his Buddhist teachings, but also for the discovery of the hot spring here.
If you board the Hakone Tozan Railway along Hayakawa, you’ll find Miyanoshita slightly in front of the junction with Jakotsugawa. The “Miya” in “Miyanoshita” means “Shrine”, where the Shinto Gods are worshipped, while “Shita” means “downwards”. The shrine here refers to the Kumano Shrine located slightly further up from Miyanoshita Station, thus giving Miyanoshita its name – “Below the shrine”. It is unknown when Kumano Shrine was built, but it seems that it was worshipped as the guardian of baths. Currently in Japan, it is said thats there are “8,000,000 Gods”, a different God for every thing. Do try visiting the hot spring at Kumano Shrine if you drop by.
Kowakudani is located at the stop after Miyanoshita, in the valley between Kamiyama and Mt Asama. There are fumes of water vapour rising here due to volcanic activity, and it is called “Small hell” (In comparison to Big hell at Owakudani) due to the scenery here. When the Japanese emperor visited in 1873, the name “hell” was deemed to be too inappropriate, thus the name Kowakudani, meaning “Small gushing valley” was adopted.
After Kowakidani, we have Ninotaira which is located around the Chokoku no Mori station.
There is a legend of a local exterminating a giant serpent living on Mt Asama. The villager first shot an arrow into the tail of the giant serpent at Ohiradai, and shot the second time here at Ninotaira. Ninotaira means “The second flat place”, so it could mean that this place have become “flat” because the serpent was shot here.
Both Ohiradai and Ninotaira are located 1km away from Mt Asama, so you can imagine how large the serpent was, for its tail to be shot at these two places.
Sengokuhara is located in the Northern area of Gora which we will cover later. There are several theories of how its name came about. Firstly, it is said that this is where a warlord called “Sengoku” performed outstandingly, and where he is honoured. Another theory is that Minamoto no Yorimoto, a shogun from the 12th century looked at this huge wasteland and said “We can probably get 150 tonnes (Sengoku) of rice if we reclaim this land.”, and thus the name Sengokuhara. No one knows which theory is true, but Hakone is in a strategic location, and there are many interesting stories about samurai’s battles.
You’ve reached the last stop of the Hakone Toan Railway, Gora. We’ll switch to the Hakone Cable Car and climb up to Sounzan from here on. There are many theories regarding the origin of the name Gora. For example, Gora is located at the foot of Sounzan, and the rocks rolling down the mountain produce the sound “goro goro”, or because the wasteland full of rocks looks like a “Hell of Stone”, which sounds like Gora in Sanskrit, or that the ground looks like a turtle’s shell (Kora). Which theory do you think is true?
Sounzan (1244m above sea level) is a mountain near the center of Mt Hakone. There are theories of the origins of its name regarding a warlord in the 15th-16th century, Hojo Soun, as well as other completely unrelated theories.
Now that we’ve reached Sounzan, let’s switch to the Hakone Ropeway. On the way to Ashi-no-ko, we can enjoy a panoramic view of the sulphuric vents of Owakudani below us, the majestic Ashi-no-ko in font of us, and if the weather is good, even Mt Fuji! Maybe the warlords felt like naming mountains after themselves after being presented with such a grand view.
Owakudani is located on the way to Ashi-no-ko from Sounzan. A landslide occurred during a volcanic eruption around 3000 years ago, and the explosion site is where Owakudani is today. There are vapour fumes everywhere due to volcanic activity, and it’s resemblance to hell gave it the nickname “Hell Valley”. However, the name was deemed unsuitable when the Japanese emperor visited Hakone in 1873, thus it was named “Owakudani”, meaning “Large gushing valley”.
We’ve arrived at the final stop of the Hakone Ropeway, Togendai. We can get to Ashi-no-ko from here by boarding the sightseeing boat. This area has always been called “Kojiri”, as the source of water of Ashi-no-ko mostly comes from the spring water at the bottom of the lake, and that water is in turn the source of water of Hayakawa, located to the north of the lake. “Kojiri” means “Butt of the Lake”, and refers to where the water flows out from. Isn’t it a cute name?
12. Hakone Ashi-no-ko
Lake Ashi used to be the upper stream of Hayakawa, but sand and gravel from the landslide due to the volcanic eruption around 3000 years ago blocked the flow of the river, and the remaining water left in the upper stream formed a lake. The riverbank is covered in Ashi, a type of grass, and it is said that is how the name Ashi-no-ko came about.
“Moto-hakone” means “The original Hakone”, and there have been villages here since a long time ago. At the start of the 17th century, the Edo government wanted to build a barrier checkpoint here, but had to move it and build a posting station 1km away, nearer to Kyoto due to the villager’s objections. Afterwards, the new area became more well known as “Hakone”,and the old village is now called “Moto-hakone”
A place that has a name with an origin will definitely have a rich history. How about a stroll around Hakone where Japanese history and culture are alive, while thinking about the origins of the names of places? It’s also a good topic for conversation with the locals. You’ll definitely be able to have an especially memorable time here.
Sourced and special thanks to;
Google and Wikipedia