This is part two of of the two part story on the sights of greater Numazu.
Moving north from central Hara, I make my way to the ruins of Kokokuji Castle. This castle was where Hojo Soun cut his teeth on politics and war during the Sengoku Period1(5th to 17 century). While this place would not doubt present a gold mine for amateur archeologists, there is nothing of the old castle to see but the grassed platforms where the old castle once stood. Regardless, it is well worth a few minutes of contemplation or even a picnic in the sun.
Now at the base of Mt Ashitaka it was time to head up the mountain to Akeno Kannondo. Akeno Kannondo is about 1/3 of the way up Mt Ashitaka. There are two roads that lead up to this temple. I decided to follow a road that runs up a draw in the mountain. This was a good choice. It was not long until I stumbles into a beautiful old wooded barn, it timbers almost black with age. This barn resting on the side of the road was a time capsule to another era. A little further up I found another temple and a small school, both covered with giant trees and skirted by a crystal clear stream. I had to remind myself that only 20 minutes earlier I was in a modern industrial suburb.
It was now time for the hard push up the mountain. I doggedly dropped down gears on my mountain bike and slowly made my way up. On the way up I had to stop for a rest….erh…photo opportunity or two. As I moved from the the draw and onto the spur the forest setting was replaced by a vast expanse of tea shrubs on the ocean facing side and one of a myriad of golf courses on the other.
At last, I made it to Akeno Kannondo and I wasn’t disappointed. According to the guide book, this oddly thatched roof temple was constructed in the Edo Period. This temple rests in a pocket of large trees surrounded by tea fields. It has a feeling of an oasis and was all the more tranquil for it.
This was the first time that I have seen a thatched roof temple in Japan. I was impressed with its simple beauty in contrast to the more elaborated designs and styles of its more solid siblings. There is a large bell on the grounds that stood tempting me to ring. However, I was bullied out of ringing the bell by the peacefulness of my surroundings. Behind the temple is a line of stone Buddha’s and a home to a very handsome spider.
After a decent rest and a spiritual moment, it was time for me to lower myself back down into the hedonistic pit from which I was spawned. I paralleled the mountain, taking a new road not on the map, until just past the Ashitaka sports fields and then took a hard right down the mountain towards the Gourmet Way.
Riding down a mountain is always my favourite part of a mountain ride. You know you are about to go home, and fast. It makes the journey up the mountain all worth while just for the exhilarating speed of the descent.
This time the Gourmet Way was not my destination. The Gourmet Way, as the name suggests, is one of Numazu’s main eating streets. This street stretches up Mt Ashitaka from near Ooka Station. On either side of this major road are numerous restaurants of varying style and quality. However, a little further up this road towards the north is another area famous in Numazu, Love Hotel Hill.
This was the purpose of my detour and the last part of my trip. Um, I mean…well… I wasn’t actually going to patronize one of these fine establishment. Well not without my wife. Love hotels are a necessary feature of the urban landscape of Japan. Due to the cramped living conditions of most families many couples don’t have the space at home to get up to any mischief, particular if they have children around. So they leave the kiddies with the grandparents and head of to the couples theme park, The Love Hotel. And theme parks they are.
These colourful Hotels are designed with particular themes in mind. Wandering by these hotels you could be mistaken for feeling like you have been transported to Tokyo Disney. Cartoon animals and images, and strange innuendo pop out at every turn. It is well worth a visit just to take a look.
Although I haven’t road tested these establishments…yet, I hear on good authority that rooms come in varying themes such as cowboy rooms, to puking pink princess paradises, to dungeons and dragons (well maybe not the dragons). Further there is more than just the obvious form of entertainment to keep you amused for the other 2hours and 55minutes of your 3hours stay. For example, there are spas, Play Stations and big screen TV’s to be enjoyed.
After, ending my tour on an amusing note it was time to go home and rest my weary legs. The Hara-Ashitaka, area features a reasonable amount of amusement for the traveler. If you have a car then you would have a better chance of seeing the sites of the mountain than I did on my mountain bike. Higher into the mountain, there is a maze of walking and mountain bike tracks for you to enjoy. Mt Ashitaka is a beautiful mountain and well worth the trip. Hara, while industrial in appearance does hold a few secrets spots to enjoy for the inquiring.