Minami Ashigara (南足柄) (Engl.)

And yet another day of adventure and experience in Kanagawa

Daiyūzan Saijōji (大雄山最乗寺)

Daiyūzan Saijōji (大雄山最乗寺)

Eine deutsche Version dieses Artikels finden Sie hier.
A German version of this posting you can find here.

If you are one of those attentive readers of this website, words like “Kanagawa”, “Ashigara” and last but not least “Alice Gordenker” may do more than just ring a bell. Excursions off the beaten tracks of average tourists in Tōkyō’s neighbouring prefecture Kanagawa (神奈川 / かながわ) are inevitably turned into highlights, if and when they are being organised by the thoughtful people of Kanagawa’s tourism office and the incomparable Alice Gordenker. And here is yet another example proving this statement!

Previously, in spring this year, a trip had introduced to us the splendour of the more eastern and northern parts of Ashigara (足柄 / あしがら). Perhaps, you would like to refresh your memory? The scales will fall from your eyes, if you click here:

Ashigara (足柄)
– Kanagawa does it again: A day of culture and nature at the foot of Mt. Fuji

This time it’s more about the southern part of Ashigara (hence the title of this posting: “Minami Ashigara”, that is: South Ashigara), which is located in direct vicinity of the northern edge of Hakone (箱根 / はこね) and its giant vulcanic crater in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park (富士箱根伊豆国立公園 / ふじはこねいずこくりつこうえん).

The map above doesn’t quite match the route of the tour in question, but it’ll give you an idea of where it all took place.

Starting point of the excursion was the railway station of Odawara (小田原駅 / おだわらえき)…

Odawara Station (小田原駅)

Odawara Station (小田原駅)

… and from there the following three locations were approached by bus:

  1. Yagurasawa (矢倉沢 / やぐらさわ) in the northern part of the Hakone Geo Park.
  2. Daiyūzan Saijōji (大雄山最乗寺 / だいゆうざんさいじょうじ), the mystic temple, right in the centre of Minami Ashigara.
  3. Only Yuu (おんりーゆー) the spa place with hot mineral springs in the mids of a particularly unspoilt forest (this omious “Yuu” is, by the way, a malapropism of the Japanese word for warm water, “yu” (湯 / ゆ).

Each of those destination would have been worth an individual trip – but on that very special day we had the opportunity to enjoy all three of them in just one set.

The main theme or motto of the excursion was – and now, hold your breath: “Me Byo“. Well, I know, you probably don’t have the faintest idea of what this may mean. It is (yet another) strange transcription of a Japanese word: “未病 / みびょう”, which some of you may already know from the area of “kanpō medicine” (the Japanese herb medicine, based on Chinese medicine). Literally speaking, the word “未病” means something like “not/not yet being sick” and describes the condition of the human body and/or psyche between perfect health and sickness. Simply speaking, “Me Byo” aims at the avoidance of sickness, by exercising a “healthy lifestyle”: fresh air, exercise, healthy food, relaxation. Exactly what we were going to practise during the course of this excursion.

And there was a good reason for chosing this motto: The Kanagawa prefecture has committed itself to “Me Byo” and is aiming at more than just prophylaxis.

1. Yagurasawa (矢倉沢 )

The village of Yagurasawa (矢倉沢 / やぐらさわ), calmly nestled in a romantic landscape, may – at a first glance – look like one of those settlements that have been forgotten during the course of our modern times (after all, in Japan “rural depopulation” and “urbanisation” are two words that have found their most impressive manifestation in the ever-growing metropolis of Tōkyō – whilst the number of total population of Japan is on a remarkable decline). In fact the “great times” of Yagurasawa may be over – those times when important roads were named after it: The  Yagurasawa Ōkan (矢倉沢往還 / やぐらさわおうかん) (country roud of Yagurasawa) was one of the important routes between the capital city of Edo and the emperor’s residence city of Kyōto. As the story goes, the country road of Yagurasawa was mainly used by those who wanted to avoid the trouble of permenant ceremonial greeting of travelling dignitaries that used another main route between the two cities, the Tōkaidō (東海道 / とうかいどう).

Yagurasawa (矢倉沢)

Yagurasawa (矢倉沢)

Yagurasawa’s population is less than 300 people in our days – but these people have decided to develop a positive attitude towards rural life and to show that it can be quite an alternative to the temptations of the big cities. In this area, where tangerines are growing in lush plantations, where a particularly aromatic green tea is picked and where quite a variety of agricultural products are being offered, also new ways of making village life popular are being tried.

One of the examples are the chrysanthemum fields that can be seen everywhere. Eight years ago the residents started to plant whole “seas of chrystenthemums” on fields that are – temporarily or indefinitely – not tilled any longer. That does not only look rather pretty, but it also keeps away the wild boars (they obviously don’t really appreciate to smell of chrysenthemums). Wild boars have become quite some problem in these parts, since they are not hunted any longer (there is nobody left hunting them) and enjoy a lively reproduction, causing trouble for the vegetation and agriculture especially.

However, there is good reason for the beauty of the landscape around Yagurasawa, as the village is located in an area of geological peculiarity. It is part of the Hakone Geo Park – and this is where three of the tectonic plates of our planet hit each other (the Eurasian Plate, the North American Plate and the Filipino Plate), ensuring an “eventful life” (if one looks at it from an geological point of few). Mount Fuji is towering in the neighbourhood, and the gigantic crater of the Hakone National Park next door are the witnesses of grand vulcanic activity. And the countless earthquakes that shake this region of Japan impressively document that our maps are still in a state of permanent change.

However, the mountains around Ashigara represent a geological particularity that produces the most surprising discoveries (well, surprising for those who haven’t had a look into those peculiarites).
About one to two million years ago, this was still the ground of an ocean (back then I was too young – and digital cameras were yet to be developed; hence, I don’t have “real” pictures of that…). So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one can still find fossilised sea shells in the mountains.

Under the pressure coming from the Filipino Plate, an island (which we know as “Izu Peninsula” in our days) was pushed agains the Japanese mainland. The ocean’s waters disappeared about 700,000 to one million years ago.

During the course of further movements in the tectonic plates a large pocket of magma was encapsulated and during the last 400,000 years moved to upper rock formations. After forceful eruptions 200,000 years, 80,000 years and 60,000 years ago this rather unusual magma formation has been brought to the day’s light.

2. Daiyūzan Saijōji (大雄山最乗寺)

The Daiyūzan Saijōji (大雄山最乗寺 / だいゆうざんさいじょうじ) has a very special place among the Buddhist temples of Japan, as it is one of the most important of the Sōtō sect (曹洞宗 / そうとうしゅう) of Japanese Zen Buddhism. Already the myth of the temple’s foundation is so adventurous that I don’t want to keep it a secret:

One of the most influencial Zen masters of the Sōtō sect, Emyō Ryōan (了庵慧明 / りょうあんえみょう) (1337 to 1411), who was born in Isehara (just around the corner), was educated in various notable temples and by just as notable masters in various regions of Japan. He was already in his 50s, when he returned to his hometown. As it happened, one day a giant eagle grabbed his “kesa” (the stole of a priest’s robe) which he had put out for drying. The eagle flew into the near mountains of Ashigara – and Emyō Ryōan followed him. Eventually, he found the stole hanging on a branch of a large pine tree. He sat down under his pine tree and started to meditate. Suddenly, the stole was gripped by a gust and blown off the tree, landing directly on his left shoulder (just were the stole belonged). Emyō Ryōan took this occurrence as a sign, as a command to erect a temple for mediation on that very spot.

Also closely connected with this temple and Emyō Ryōan is Dōryō Daisatta (道了大薩埵 / どうりょうだいさった), previously a disciple of Emyō Ryōan, and also the one who played a leading role in the erection of the temple. He was said to possess superhuman powers.

The day after Emyō Ryōan’s death (28.3.1411) the Zen monk Dōryō became the protector of the temple – in a transformation that sounds even more fantastic than the founding legend of the temple itself: His body was engulfed in flames, from which he emerged as a winged being, holding a rope in one of his hands and a twisted stick in the other, riding on a white fox.

He promised all those who prayed to him earnestly a life without sickness – promised it and disappeared in Eastern direction and was never seen again (at least not as a monk). Some belive that Dōryō had attained eternal life and that he still has his protective hands over the Saijōji and its worshippers. Furthermore, he is said to be a re-incarnation of the 11-faced cannon (十一面観音 / じゅういちめんかんのん) and is also being honoured as “Tengu” (天狗 / てんぐ) (a mythical creature with a peckered face whose name derives from the Chinese “dog of heaven” and is said to hatch from eggs). Hence, the eager worshipper has a multitude of appearances to direct his or her prayers to.

One of the particular identifying features of the Saijōji, however, is its surrounding nature. The temple is located in the centre of Japan’s largest forest of cedar trees – roughly 20,000 specimen that have been grown here over a period of time of more than 500 years. The extremely humid climate in this area catered for a lush moss vegetation – not only the trees are covered with moss, but also most of the buildings. This unusual “touch of green” lends a mystical atmosphere to the temple’s grounds.

Let’s have a closer look at some of the more than 30 halls and buildings of the temple (most of the buildings we can see today were built during the course of the last 60 years – after the last devastating fire at the Saijōji):

Hondō (本堂 / ほんどう), the main hall

Sōdō (僧堂 / そうどう), the meditation hall

Tahō pagoda (多宝塔 / たほうとう), is a pagoda with a square foundation and a round first story. It is one of the oldest buildings on the temple’s grounds, as it was built in 1863.

Gokū bridge (御供橋 / ごくうばし) belongs to the 100 most remarkable bridges in the Kanagawa prefecture.

Daiyūzan Saijōji (大雄山最乗寺), Gokūbashi (御供橋), Kekkaimon (結界門)

Daiyūzan Saijōji (大雄山最乗寺), Gokūbashi (御供橋), Kekkaimon (結界門)

Kekkai gate (結界門 / けっかいもん) protects the inner precinct of the temple towards its south side and is being guarded by two particularly impressive Tengu (天狗 / てんぐ).

After passing the Kekkai gate and climing the 77 stairs of a steep staircase, one reaches the Goshinden (御真殿 / ごしんでん), which one could translate with “hall of purity”, which is also called Myōgakuhōden (妙覚宝殿 / みょうがくほうでん).

Tall Geta ( 高下駄 / たかげた), which you will find directly next to the Goshinden/ Myōgakuhōden – offerings that seem to be especially popular with companies in the transport business, but also with couples that seek married life free of stress and quarrel.

And last but not least the Hokuunkaku (白雲閣 / はくうんかく), the “Hall of the White Cloud” on the northern edge of the temple’s grounds, where we had the chance to enjoy typical “temple food”, the so-called “shōjin ryōri” (精進料理 / しょうじんりょうり) – a feast for every vegetarian, as it does without any animal products, not fish, no meat. But it also impressively demonstrated that such food doesn’t have to be bland at all. Additionally, and guided by a monk, we were introduced to the mysteries of meditative ingestion and ritual cleaning of rice bowls.

One of the highlights of the visit to the Saijōji was practicing a Zen-Buddhist meditation exercise (zazen / 座禅 / ざぜん) – again guided by one of the temple’s monks. Even though it wasn’t much more than a taster session, it was able to provide at least a glimpse of what may be accomplished by means of meditation. Those participants whose bones were flexible enough were shown three seating positions on meditation cushions typical for zazen – for those with less resilient joints small stools were provided.

But there are more “active” and definitely more noisy ways of internalisation and meditation: We were able to watch a group of people, completely immersed in the creation of astonishingly accomplished works of woodcraft.

How to get there:

Take the Izu-Hakone Railway Daiyūzan line from Odawara to the Daiyūzan (大雄山 / だいゆうざん) terminal. The train runs five times every hour (21 minutes of travel time) and costs 270 Yen per person.

From the Daiyūzan terminal take the bus of the Izu-Hakone line (nos. 31 or 33) from bus stop no 1. It takes about 10 minutes to the last stop at Dōryōson (道了尊 / どうりょうそん). Fare: 270 Yen.

(all details as per November 2016)

3. Only Yuu (おんりーゆー)

Only Yuu (おんりーゆー)

Only Yuu (おんりーゆー)

The motto of the public spa resort “Only Yuu” (おんりーゆー) is: “Modern “TOJI*” Style Healing Spa – Ashigara Hot Springs: Relax your mind, body and soul in a serene natural setting” – hence it aims at providing the stressed city slicker with everything he or she may need for that long overdue timeout. (*TOJI = 湯治 / とうじ = spa treatment)

It is really located in the middle of a remote forest – there couldn’t be a sharper contrast to the concrete jungle of the megalopolis. And there it was, where our day trip found its truly relaxing completion. As (almost) everywhere in Japan baths were to be taken divided by gender – but all the other activities could be carried out jointly.

„Only Yuu“ is offering to following ot its guests:

Tōji Furo (湯治風呂 / とうじふろ) healing baths in 38°C warm spring water (pH 9.5), that is supposed to be a special treat for a tender skin and natural beauty, but also promotes blood circulation and is said to help with various ailments (skin problems, chronic female disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, gout, constipation and, and, and…). Baths can be taken in large outside basins made of natural stone or basins provided inside.

Zanmai Koza (三昧講座 / ざんまいこうざ)-relaxation lessons with “zazen” (see above), calligraphy, loosing-up exercises and stretching exercises.

Kakure-za (隠れ座 / かくれざ), relaxation room with tatami mats.

Esute & Massaaji (エステ&マッサージ) Beauty & Massage – an experience of Japanese beauty care and massage before or after your bath.

Furthermore, there is also a restaurant and a coffee shop – we all know the appetite and thirst that come from extended baths.

And if you are in for an even longer bath experience, you might even consider staying overnight (details see below).

How to get there:

Take the Izu-Hakone Railway Daiyūzan line from Odawara to the Daiyūzan (大雄山 / だいゆうざん) terminal. The train runs five times every hour (21 minutes of travel time) and costs 270 Yen per person.

There are complimentary shuttle busses from Daiyūzan to the spa at 10:30 am, 11:30 am, 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm (there are also later shuttles each hour between 4:10 pm and 7:10 pm, which require prior registration). Also for the way back to Daiyūzan station there are complimentary shuttles at 9:50 am, 10:50 am, 11:50 am, 3:30 pm, 4:30 pm, 7:30 pm and 6.30 pm.
Similar services are also available at Kaisei station (開成 / かいせい) of the Odakyū line (小田急線 / おだきゅうせん).

(all details as per November 2016)


General entry fee for the spa:

Adults: 1,940 Yen
Children: 972 Yen
A “samue” (作務衣 / さむえ)-set (consisting of casual wear in the style of Buddhist monk’s working garment ), sandals, two towels are included for the use during the say at the “Only Yuu”.

Overnight stay:

12,960 Yen per person
Price includes the use of all spa facilities as well as two meals.

As a special highlight you can also indulge in a special “35.5 hours relaxation”-plan: If you arrive at the “Only Yuu” when it opens in the morning (10 am), combine your stay with an overnight stay and check out upon closure of the spa on the next day (9:30 pm), you’ll have a total of 35.5 hours of utter relaxation (however, the room you stay in overnight is only available from 7 pm on the arrival day to noon on the departure day).

Private Bath:

Private spa suites can be reserved for 3,240 Yen an hour.

(all details as per November 2016)


Also have a look at another special Kanagawa tour provided by Alice Gordenker:

Manazuru (真鶴)
– A day at the seaside – nature, art, palatal pleasures and more


One Response to Minami Ashigara (南足柄) (Engl.)

  1. […] englische Version dieses Artikels finden Sie hier. An English version of this posting you can find […]

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