|Entrance gate of Hakone Jinja|
(photos courtesy of the shrine)
Address: 80-1 Moto-hakone, Hakone-machi, Ashigara-Shimo-gun, Kanagawa-ken 250-0522
How to get there: JR Tokaido Line or Shinkansen, or Odaku Line to Odawara station. Take the bus from the east exit to Moto-hakone or Hakone-machi bus stop (about 60 minutes), then 10 minutes by foot.
Enshrined kami: Hakone Okami (said to be Ninigi no mikoto, Konohanasakuya hime, and Hikohohodemi no mikoto).
Prayers offered: Safety on the road.
Best time to go: The natural environment of the area and of nearby Lake Ashi is enjoyable all year.
Important physical features: Hakone Jinja is located by the shores of Lake Ashi (Ashinoko), a lake with a circumference of approximately 12 miles that formed in the caldera of Mt. Hakone about 3000 years ago. It is also over 2,300 feet above sea level and the blue waters of the lake are said to be very pure. Seen from above, the area around Lake Ashi looks like the collapsed twin of Mt. Fuji, directly to its west. to put it in the context of Chinese divination (Onmyodo), some consider that this area has Yin energies that balance the Yang energy of Mt. Fuji. The yotsuashi torii of Hakone Jinja stands in the lake, a few meters from the shore. Though constructed as recently as 1952 in commemoration of the peace treaty that ended World War II, it lends a magnificent effect to the feeling of the shrine and to the lake itself. On a good day, the combination of Mt. Fuji makes a beautiful sight as it looms up clearly behind the lake and torii. That shore and the entire area is heavily forested with old cedars and the area behind the shrine contains a very special forest composed entirely of Stewartia monadelpha (himeshara), the only such forest in the country. At one end of this forest lies the tomb of the monk called Mangan (circa 720-816) who founded the shrine. The shrine itself is built in the gogan-zukuri style that combines the honden, heiden, and haidan, under one roof. It is also a style that often contains elaborate carvings and polychrome finishes.
Important spiritual features: Mangan was an ascetic monk named for the 10,000 volumes (man-gan) of the Hokokyo sutra that, as legend has it, he read. He was well known as one of the early monks who “converted” Shinto gods into Buddhist avatars. Perhaps the most famous of these was the kami of Tado Taisha in Ise. It is recorded in the engi of Tado jinguji of 788 that Mangan Zenji (Mangan Shonin) built a small temple near the shrine and prayed to Amida Buddha there. In 763 he received an oracle that the kami Tado wanted to renounce his position as a Shinto kami and help mankind rather than cause pestilence and death (as it was believed the kami was responsible for at the time). Mangan built a hall to worship him as Tado Daibosatsu near the shrine. The Shoku Nihongi records 763 as a year of plagues and food shortages. This was one way in which Buddhism made inroads into the lives of the people, by converting malevolent kami and turning them into the protectors of the Buddhist law. Perhaps the more significance part of this story comes in the year 780 when the imperial court acknowledged the jinguji officially recognizing its four privately-ordained monks, whose purpose was the reading of Buddhist sutras for the redemption of the kami. It is related that he lived in the Hakone area for three years and encountered the yamabushi who worshipped on the mountains there. Although at an earlier date (757) than the jinguji of Tado, it is said that he either built Hakone Jinja (called Kanto Sochinju Hakone Daigongen or Hakone Sanjo at that time and Hakone Gongen in later ages) after an oracle in a dream, or that he combined three existing shrines on the surrounding high peaks (Mt. Hakone, Mt. Kami and Mt. Komagadake) into one. Worship of "three-peaks" is a particular characteristic of shugendo religious practices. In either case, this shrine has deep roots in mountain asceticism and the rise of shinbutsu shugyo—the synthesis of both religions.
|The torii of Hakone Jinja on Lake Ashi|
Legend has it that Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (758-811), who was the first to be given the title seitai shogun (barbarian subduing generalissimo), was sent by Emperor Kanmu to bring the eastern districts of Mutsu and Dewa (present day Aomori, Yamagata and Akita prefectures) under control. On his way, it is said that he stopped to pray at Hakone Jinja for divine protection. So too the azuma kagami (a record of the Kamakura shogunate) records that Minamoto no Yoritomo, the leader of the Genji clan, found refuge at the shrine after retreating from his loosing battle with the Taira clan at Mt. Ishibashi. Having thus prayed for the protection of the kami, he went on to defeat the Taira and take control of the country. In the modern period a number of prime ministers and politicians have frequented this shrine to ask for divine intercession with the heady problems of state and—one would assume—help with reelection.
The shrine was once destroyed in Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s siege of Odawara. It was rebuilt by Tokugawa Ieyasu and patronized by later Tokugawa shoguns. But due to repeated fires and the destruction of the separation of Shinto and Buddhism durine the Meiji Era, there is not much left of the physical history of this shrine, other than an early Heian period sculpture of Mangan and some other artifacts, which are on view at the Treasure House (admission 300 yen). But Hakone has always been about the beautiful and refreshing environment. Jagged mountains such as Mt. Komagatake (4,450 feet-where the motomiya of the shrine is located), Mt. Kintoki (3,980 feet), and Mt. Kami (4,717 feet), a crystal blue lake, and dense forests, and some excellent views of Mt Fuji, have made Hakone not only a sacred space, but also given it the stamp of a leisure and vacation spot. As such, there are many attractions in the area, not to mention many old shrines such as Miyagino Suwa Jinja, and temples such as Saijouji and Sounji. There is also a “seven lucky gods” pilgrimage beginning with Shugenji (Daitokuten), then Hakone Jinja (Ebisu), Kofukuin (Hotei), Hongenji (Jurojin), Komagata Jinja (Bishamonten), Lake Ajigaike Benten Jinja (Benzaiten), and Sanno Jinja (Fukurokuju). Despite all this, the mention of the name "Hakone" in Japan probably brings to mind—first and foremost—its famous hot springs, many of which are in the immediate area of Hakone Jinja. Also within the immediate area lie an old stone-paved section of the Tokaido Highway called the Hakone Hachi Ri, and a famous row of over 400 cedars between Hakone-machi and Moto Hakone, planted in the early seventeenth century. There is also an area to the northeast of the shrine which is famous for its twenty-six old stone sculptures of the Buddha, and stone monuments (called “castles”), many containing ancient graves. Having been a vacation spot for so long, there are any number and type of transportation including two ropeways (Komegatake and Hakone), cable railway (Komagatake and Sounzan), and a number of cruise ships with various courses around Lake Ashi.
Festival: Lake Ashi Summer Festival Week, 31 July to 7 Aug. Taiko drumming and other events including floating lanterns on the lake and a display of fireworks on the thirty-first.