Located in Kanagawa Prefecture, the city of Hakone is a popular weekend travel destination for people living in the Tokyo area. The town’s numerous open-air hot springs and traditional inns, several with spectacular views of Mt Fuji, attract visitors both young and old.
Most people headed to Hakone take the train, although the mountain passes that wind through and around the town make it a popular destination for drifters, too (the kind with cars, not the kind with bindles). One group of recent Kanagawa junior high graduates thought it would be more fun to bypass motorized transportation and headed out for Hakone by skateboard, taking their video camera with them.
There are some adventures only teens would think up. Hormones and growth spurts combine to give them more energy than they know what to do with and the confidence that their bodies can bounce back from anything. A lack of familial and economic responsibilities means that between school years, time isn’t a limiting factor. And last but not least, just the right balance of arrogance and indifference means any and all entertainment options are always on the table.
All of this must have been at work when this group of friends came up with the idea of going from the town of Zushi to Hakone by skateboard. Two geographical points to consider: first Hakone is about 80 kilometers from Zushi. Second, Zushi, like all coastal towns, has an elevation of zero. The skaters’ destination in Hakone - 874 meters above sea level.
“We came up with the idea when we were going crazy studying for high school entrance exams,” explains one of the skaters. “We all said we’d do it, but I didn’t really think anyone would go through with it. But after graduation, we all decided we had to, since we’d made a promise to each other.”
The group’s video starts with three of its members assembling at Ofuna Station at the agreed-upon time of 7:30 a.m., with a fourth showing up at 7:32. He’s promptly hit on the head with a board as punishment, as laid out in the written rules for the trip which also include “no crying” and “no using soft wheels.” A fifth skater, running even later, calls to say he’s almost at the meeting place, before his friends tell him they can see the number he’s calling from is his house phone. Not willing to wait any longer, they write him off and pile into the train for Zushi, where their skateboarding journey begins.
Travelling by skateboard means the group has to pack light for their trip. Aside from their cell phones, each of them carries a couple of t-shirts, two towels, a sleeping bag, 5,000 yen, and one change of socks and underwear.
At the four-minute mark, midway through the first day, the twin problems of leg cramps and hunger set in, both of which are remedied with a quick stop at a roadside McDonald’s. Two minutes further into the video the group stops again, this time proving that adolescent boys the world over are basically the same as they recharge their stamina by checking out a group of local girls, before scoffing that they weren’t so hot anyway when none of them manage to catch any of the girls’ eyes.
At just under seven minutes into the video, the skaters have their spirits lifted by reaching Odawara, the last major city on their route before Hakone itself. The mood is quickly dampened when rain starts falling, making it impossible for them to continue skateboarding while keeping the gear they’re carrying dry.
One member makes a quick phone call to his house, and at the 7:45 mark the world’s most lenient dad appears in his car, not to tell the kids to come home, but to pick up their packs and boards while they continue their journey on foot.
Nine minutes in, the group stops to ask a taxi driver for directions to the top of the mountain. When he reminds them that they’re in the middle of a mountain chain and going to have to be more specific, they tell him they haven’t really though about which mountain they want to go to. Faced with a group of minors without a map or clear destination in the middle of the mountains, in the middle of a rain shower, and in the middle of the night, the taxi driver decides to throw common sense a curve ball and direct the group to the highest mountain he can, Ashinoyu. Maybe, as a taxi driver, he just can’t stand the sight of seeing people using any other sort of transportation, and on a lark decided to try to send the young skateboarders to their deaths.
The group parts ways with the world’s most child-endangering cabbie, and as the rain stops at the 10:30 mark, they are reunited with the still incredibly patient dad. Perhaps trying to one up the taxi driver, however, he’s not here to pick the kids up and take them home or to a hotel, but just to give them their boards and sleeping bags back so they can crash in a parking lot.
The skaters rise early the next morning as to get on the road before many cars do. Finally reaching the downhill portion of their journey, they weave around Hakone’s winding roads before stopping o admire Mt. Fuji. They stop for a while to hang out and skate in an empty parking lot, before its owner comes out and runs them off with a shout of “This isn’t a playground,” proving that not only adolescent boys, but middle-aged men are also more or less the same in all countries. The group next stops at a Laundromat, displaying the odd logic that wearing the same pair of unwashed pants for two days in a row is embarrassing, yet sitting around in your underwear in public as you wait for them to dry is not, before finally heading home.
The video wraps with the skaters commenting on their experience. One of them seems to have matured over the course of the trip. “I feel like if I try, I can get by in life,” he admirably states, before cramming his foot in his mouth by adding, “Like, I realized I don’t really need a house to survive.” Oh well, just completing an 80-kilometer skateboard trip is bound to make you a little weird in the head. Another member of the group keeps his remarks shorter and simpler. “Would you do this again?” the video asks.
“Yeah, definitely,” he responds.
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