With a planned itinerary of Tokyo – Hakone – Kyoto, the only destination that would be new to me was the countryside of Hakone. We went in search of the traditional onsen experience, bathing in the hot springs created by Japan’s active volcanoes. A Japanese coworker helped me research and book our ryokan Gourakansuirou, an inn that catered to Japanese tourists so that we would get the full experience. However, when I told another Japanese coworker that I was going to Hakone, he said, “that’s where all the old people go”…and he was not wrong. Still, despite bringing the average age of people in Hakone down by at least 10 years, I thought it was a fun experience. And while our view from the Ritz Carlton in Tokyo was very nice, the view from our room in the ryokan wasn’t too shabby either.
Our ryokan was lovely and traditional with a public outdoor bath overlooking the perfectly manicured garden, a private indoor bath, tatami mats for sleeping, and a full kaiseki dinner. I wish I had photos of the outdoor bath to show you, but I didn’t want to freak out any of the other guests by bringing a camera in. But trust me when I say that it brings a complete sense of peace and relaxation when you step into the warm mineral waters and look out over a beautiful garden. And when the petals of a nearby cherry blossom (sakura) tree fall to the ground below you, the only word that can describe it is “magical”.
We spent only one night in Hakone, more specifically in Gora. On our first day, we traveled all over the region on the Hakone Loop – a circuit that includes five different modes of transportation: train, cable car, gondola, pirate boat, and bus…no, “pirate” was not a typo. It was supposedly one of the best ways to catch a glimpse of the elusive Mt. Fuji, but it never showed itself, hiding behind its cloud cover. Andrew was quite disappointed in that fact as he kept a watchful eye out for it, but I enjoyed the relatively cool weather we were having. The next day, before leaving for Kyoto, we stopped at the Hakone Open Air Museum to check out the gardens and statues. Not having much interest in modern sculptures, I busied myself with taking photos of the flowers instead.
Stay tuned for a post on Kyoto, our last stop. More posts from our Japan trip here.