My feet led me to a dead end. I followed a trail at the back of Hakone’s famous Fujiya Hotel and it let me to a winding set of stone stairs that descended into nothingness. I looked around, trying to see my way out of this place, looking for shortcut, a hidden pathway; anything but to double back from the way I came. My eyes saw a silhouette of a structure against the bush on my right; brushed it aside and found a temple. A secret temple, unbeknownst to my fellow travelers.
Fujiya Hotel’s massive back garden had given me something special. Finding an old shrine right at the tail end of the garden trail was a total surprise. I’ve seen it’s graceful buildings, koi ponds, waterfalls, water mills and cherry trees but this is totally unexpected.
I’m pretty sure this is no longer part of the hotel, being divided by uneven rows of pines and thick bushes. But part of me wanted to make it part of the trip. I didn’t see any trespassing signs (or they may be in Japanese), so I moved forward, carefully slipping through the thicket and into the hallowed ground of an unknown Hakone temple.
Furtively, I walked through the shrine’s silent grounds. It seemed disrespectful to make any kind of noise here; a simple rustle or a crunch of a dried twig cracks as loud as a gun shot. The air was so still, the pines overhead were not even whispering. Mists floated overhead, blanketing everything in a somber atmosphere.
The temple is not very large but looks very graceful. Most of it is made of wood; its pillars, floors, railings, its geometric inner walls and complex ceilings. Intricate carvings of what seemed like dragons and strange creatures floating on wooden clouds decorate its gate. They’re hauntingly beautiful.
I spent some minutes enjoying the silence of the shrine. I didn’t even take as many photos as I usually do. It was enough that I found this place. It was enough that I was here. It was enough that it was there.
After some minutes, I finally turned my back and said farewell to my silent temple. I started down its stone stairs, passed through some fog-ridden alleys and found my way back to Japanese civilization. In Hakone, I found my secret place.