The most difficult section of the Tokaido was the pass at Hakone, which was about nine miles from Odawara, and which was approachable only by a steep mountain path. The road itself was dangerous, and travelers ran the added risk of falling victim to bandits who chronically harassed the area.
As a compensensation, however, there were scenic splendors on a dazzling scale, as well as a large number of magnificent hot springs, warmed by the subterranean fires of the dormant Mt. Fuji. When one had finally climbed to Hakone proper, one could look out over the clear waters of Lake Ashi (often called Lake Hakone) toward Fuji's awe-inspiring peak or rest under the huge trees of the forest that surrounded Hakone Shrine.
The Tokugawa government made use of the topography in this area in its system of travel control. Near the shores of Lake Ashi there was a government barrier where all travelers were examined. The government was particularly concerned with preventing firearms from being brought into the Edo region and women of the samurai class from going out.
was to prevent revolt-firearms might be used against the government in Edo, and the womenfolk of provincial feudatories made excellent hostages so long as they were in the capital. Ordinary commoners could apparently pass the government barrier with little difficulty, but the officials were much stricter with members of the warrior class. Barriers of the same sort were The purpose maintained all over Japan, but the one at Hakone was the most famous. Its remains are still to be seen today.
Experts and amateurs alike have searched in vain for the exact spot from which Hiroshige saw the scene shown in this print. Most likely it does not exist, for it was the mark of Hiroshige's genius that he altered natural scenery to suit his compositional needs. Though in reality one would expect the high mountains in the foreground to be on the left side of Fuji, he apparently decided that the effect would be more dramatic if they were on the right.
That notwithstanding the picture seems startlingly real to anyone who has visited Hakone.