Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dragons, Samurai, & Onsens

Ashi Lake in Hakone, Kanagawa, Japan
Maybe every lake has a spirit. This one has a dragon spirit- legend has it that a nine headed dragon- Kuzuryū (九頭龍 nine-headed dragon)- lives here. Maybe it was the rain and mist, but it felt like a dragon could be lurking. Though we don't have dragons anymore, we still love stories about dragons. I wouldn't have been surprised if a dragon erupted from the water and gobbled up our toes. It also reminded me of Haku from Spirited Away. He is a river spirit that has forgotten his name- if you forget your real name, you are trapped forever.
Ancient Samurai painting on display
The Hakone area has been long visited for both onsens and it's proximity to Tokyo- originally the route connecting Edo with Kyoto. We went for the onsens.  The Moose asked about moving to Hakone to be nearer to the Hakone-jinja Shrine's Samurai Museum. Our friends told us that Hakone has many power spots and that the shrine is important for businesses; they will soon open a restaurant thus our pilgrimage. It also has a long history associated with the Samurai and the museum offers some cultural artifacts that fascinated one Moose, in particular the Shogun's swords, many drawings and books about the Samurai and the history of the area, as well as these original tubs for bathing. Note the Moose is on his father's shoulders- the tubs are large; they were used at the lakeside by travelers to bathe in the volcanically warmed hot springs. The majesty of the large trees and the fog surrounding the lake must have made for  a mystical traveling experience.
Original onsen tubs from Lake Ashi in Hakone, Samurai Museum
We opted for rest, time in hot water, and the Hakone Open Air Museum. The fall colors are barely beginning, but the break from the daily routine and the natural surroundings were pure pleasure.
Foot Bath at Hakone Open Air Museum
Snoozing on the tatami mats after our onsen baths
The great outdoors with sculpture