There wasn't much to see at Hakone Checkpoint. It was a museum, with all the exhibits in Japanese. The tour guide explained that it used to be the place where Edo, which is what Tokyo used to be called, was protected from possible invaders. You needed a permit to cross the Haokone area and there were certain conditions you had to meet to cross the area. One of them was that you couldn't be female. And how they, reportedly, checked was by examining each strand of hair.
At Odawara castle they had a couple of animal exhibits, and the elephant didn't have enough space. It made me sad.
Inside the castle was a museum. The insides weren't old and cool, they were wooden but not original.
This would be the garden where they would dress you in a kimono and take your photo.... if it wasn't raining.
In the museum you weren't allowed to take photos, I found out later, but I really wanted to have a picture of a samurai sword.
After the Odawara Castle we went to Saijo Temple, which is a large Buddhist temple complex outside of Hakone. There were lots of stairs leading to the temple itself, and the staircase was lined with these stones.
The water and the ladles you use to purify your hands before you enter the temple grounds.
It was so foggy that day, you could barely see a few feet in front of your face. The fog lent an air of mystery around the place.
There were lots of cool places to take pictures, bridges, water, trees, stones, buildings. Very cool.
The temple was very unique, and I would like to go to another one. While we were at the temple we were invited in to observe a prayer ceremony. Pictures were strictly not allowed, so I'm going to describe it the best I can. I apologize for the length of it.
The best part of the day, and possibly of my trip to Japan so far, was when a Buddhist monk invited some of us into the temple itself to observe a prayer ceremony. I don't know what it was really called, but the tour guide explained that it was a ceremony that they conduct infrequently and that it was a prayer to the "god" of the temple similar to the way that they pray when someone has died, but I don't think it was actually a funeral prayer ceremony.
I was simply excited just to see the interior of the temple and the monks. It was a unique experience I hear, apparently it doesn't happen very often, and if it weren't for our very nice bus driver we wouldn't have gotten in because almost none of us speak more than survival Japanese.
It was just as cold inside as it was outside, except it wasn't raining inside, and it wasn't windy either. We walked up the stairs to the temple, turned right, then shortly turned left, and entered the prayer room and sat facing the way we entered. The room we entered was very large; it was about 40 or 50' on each side of the room. There was a small room at the head of the room (directly to our right) with many golden statues inside it and curtains on the outside.
The building itself, on the interior was a nice dark hardwood, the ceiling was graduated, it wasn't flat, and at the edge of a part where it would get lower, they had a ridge with a carved design in it. There was a simple block pattern and a more ornate curled flower pattern in the wood as well. The underside of all the designs was painted white.
Overall, however, the interior of the building was very ornate, even opulent. It was adorned with 4 gold bell looking decorations hanging from the ceiling, each probably 8 feet long and 1-2 feet in diameter. At the center there was another golden bell-sort of decoration, only wider in diameter and shorter in length. It had lots of decorations hanging from the edges of it and at the top were several golden squirrel sort of decorations with green ears and a red body. They might have been birds with open mouths, however. I couldn't tell. There were hundreds of bell decorations hanging off the giant bells.
The floor was a plain tatami mat floor (straw-like reed mat). Beyond the prayer area was a room with lots of ornate golden decorations. There were two very large ceramic urns colored black at the two edges of the room, in the center was a weird lotus/lilly pad flower sculpture made out of what seemed to be gold, it was enormous, probably 10-12 feet wide on its own with several flowers on it. I couldn't count because I couldn't mov to check it out. There was also a small golden incense pot in the front and I'm sure there were other decorations, but the curtains, reddish in color, and very thick, hid my view of the room. The main room, where I sat, also had a giant barrel in the corner, it looked like it contained some kind of liquid inside because there was a tap on the side. The barrel was across from me and to my left as I sat. There was a large drum and two men, one who would later beat on it, and the other who remained seated.
There were 9 monks who prayed in the center, and I know there were at least two behind me and the two at the drum across from me. One monk wore a red outer robe over his black robe, two monks wore a mustard colored robe over their black robe. The ceremony began when they entered the prayer room, we had arrived and were seated before they came in. They filed in, the monk in the red in the lead with a spade-shaped decorated wooden thing between his hands which were held in the Christian prayer way, palms together, fingers pointing up. Behind him were the 6 black-clad monks and the 2 mustard-and-black-clad monks. Three of them wore modern eyeglasses with thin gold-colored frames. Except for the lead monk and his spade, none of them seemed to be carrying anything.
When they filed in the red monk stood before the cushion in the center of the room, under the largest hanging golden decoration. The cushion was red and had a thin sort of lectern (the stand on which the speaker's notes are placed) that was only a curved pole and a small platform with a lipped bottom edge in front of it, facing the large room with the golden flower sculptures inside. It was more similar to a simple wooden music stand (except with a smaller top part) than to a lectern.
The monks filed in. There was two rows of three monks on either side of the cushion. There was one monk on each side of the rows in the place where a second row might begin. The red clad monk was in the center near the cushion, and the mustard-clad monks were one in the rear right location and one in the front leftmost row. They first stood and bowed then they withdrew a piece of fabric with a white Buddhist cross (looks like the plus sign) in white on it. The majority of the fabric was the same color as their outer robes, so six were black, two were mustard, and one was reddish.
They folded the fabric and knelt on it and began to kowtow toward the room with the golden flower statue. They would kowtow, then stand, then kowtow again, and stand. I didn't count how many times. When they finished kowtowing they knelt, facing the pillow (with the red-clad monk facing the room to my right with the golden statues) and withdrew a folded sheet covered in wood with, what I'm presuming to be their chants, inscribed on it, they held it like a thin book right in front of their face and chanted for what must have been at least 15, probably 20 minutes. It was cold enough that you could see their breath puffing out as they chanted. It was like a little bit of the mist, fog, and mystery of the outside had come inside. I didn't know what they were saying, but the chants sounded repetitive, I knew they said “Japan” a few times, and that they were counting for a while, but other than that I’m not sure. The man in the mustard robe that was closest to the man in the red robe was a special chanter, he had a different line than the other ones, and at the end of the chanting, after the red-clad man stood and light the incense in the room with the golden flower, he was the only one who chanted.
During the chanting every once in a while a bell was rang. Probably at the end of a sentence or a paragraph, I don't know though, and incense was lit throughout the ceremony making the air smell sweet and floral. I wish I could've identified it. I'm bad at identifying strange things as it were. After the changing was concluded, and when they were all standing while the red monk was lighting the incense the two men across from me by the drum beat it slowly.
Then they filed out in the same order that they filed in and we were told to stand and were led out of the building. There was no exploring, and no asking questions of the monks. I think we were lucky just to be in there. I didn't understand anything that was going on, and it may only be in part to the language barrier. I'm not sure that they were even speaking Japanese, they might have been chanting something else. We had to kneel through the whole half hour ceremony, and I couldn't even feel my legs when I stood up. It was pretty painful, actually, but worth the experience.