After spending four nights in Tokyo we excitedly boarded our first Shinkansen (aka bullet train) to Hakone. We ensured we had enough time at Shinagawa station prior to boarding to pick up a bento box for our journey. I just need to sidestep here a second to let you know that convenience food in Japan is out of this world. Not only is it cheap, but the variety, freshness and attention to detail is amazing! Whether you’re at a 7-Eleven or at one of the major train stations it is easy to get caught in a dilemma of “I want to try it all”. We didn’t actually realise that our bullet train was only 30 minutes to the interchange station so we scoffed our bento and pints and ensured we were on the lookout for Mt Fuji as we zoomed by at 300km/h.
Hakone is well-known for its hot spring resorts and we decided to splurge on a nights stay in a traditional ryokan onsen. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese Inn which typically has tatami-matted rooms with futon bedding, public baths, and multi-course dinners. Fukuzumiro offered us a chance to relax from the crazy days spent in Tokyo in a beautiful setting by the Haya river.
Upon arriving we left our shoes at the door and received a pair of slippers to wear while in the ryokan. I was taken aback when we were shown our room – it was huge, consisting of three rooms plus a porch area which overlooked the river, a perfect spot to read and reflect. We donned our yukatas (a simple cotton belted robe) and settled into the evening.
Before dinner, we checked out the onsens and were lucky enough to nab the private one. Public bathing is an important part of the Japanese culture and something that both freaked me out and intrigued me when planning this trip. Starting with a private onsen was a great introduction to ensure we knew the correct procedure to follow. Before entering the baths you must fully undress in the changing room and then go in and wash yourself. There are usually several shower heads, buckets, stools and soap provided in the bathing room (depending on the size of the bath). It can be a bit daunting sitting there scrubbing yourself with other people in the room – however, most of the times I went into the female onsens I was the only one there. Once clean you can then enter the hot spring, which in Fukuzumiro is constantly pumped from 100 metres underground and has added spring water to cool it – so the water is a relaxing 40-43°.
The other drawcard to staying in a traditional ryokan is the food. We specifically looked at reviews on the food when selecting our accommodation and we were not disappointed. Fukuzumiro serves kaiseki – a traditional multi-course dinner, in your room. It is a type of art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colours of food. Local and seasonal ingredients are used and the dishes are beautifully presented. I was blown away with our 12 (or 13?!) courses, each unique and delicious, all washed down with some beer and smooth sake, kanpai!
After dinner, the staff come into the room to move the furniture and set up the futon mattresses. Many westerners complain about futons being uncomfortable but we had a lovely sleep, with the sound of the river providing some great white noise. We started our morning with one last onsen and then breakfast was set out for us – another multi-course event.
Hakone and the surrounding area is a busy spot for tourists wanting to enjoy the mountainous scenery, lakes and volcanic activity. While we didn’t want to cram too much into our stay here we did have some time to wander around the outskirts of the town visiting the cemetery and Shinto Shrine and also the Gyokuren Shrine and waterfalls. We could have easily stayed another night here to give us a chance to explore further.