If you searched about things to do or where to stay at Hakone, chances are you would have came across suggestions of staying in a ryokan with hot spring. Afterall, Hakone is very famous for its natural hot spring. One of my dream is to stay in a traditional Japanese ryokan with a private onsen in the room over looking a beautiful view of a lake or mountain. That dream hasn’t been realised yet….. One day. For this trip, I only had 1 month to book my accomodations as my trip to Japan was a birthday gift so it was pretty last minute. Most of the top ryokans would have been booked out at least 6 months in advance. There were pretty much no hope for me to find the ryokan of my dreams. BUT, luckily, there were still some decent hotels for me to choose from and Hakone Lake Hotel fit right in.
The main reason I chose this Hotel was because of it’s location. It was right next to Lake Ashi and Togendai station. Hence, it was close to point of interest that I wanted to go. I also wanted to catch the sunrise from the Lake and with the hotel only 2 minutes walk away, it was somewhat perfect! That being said, it is very far off from town (Hakone Yumoto) and there aren’t any restaurants around the hotel. Therefore, you will either need to bring your own food or, you can hook yourself up with a traditional Japanese dinner in the hotel. This hotel is quite unique. It’s unique because even though it’s called a “hotel” and the structure of the building from the outside seems very westernised, the rooms are actually very Japanese. They also have hot springs facilities and offers traditional japanese kaiseki like dinner. Usually a Kaiseki dinner in a ryokan cost quite a lot, I was so surprised when the hotel got back to me that it cost only 2000 yen per person for the dinner! They even cater for vegetarian which was perfect for the hubs! I should also add that I am very happy with their email replies which were prompt and they had no trouble replying in English. My previous attempt to book a different ryokan for my previous trip was disastrous in comparison as they never got back to me (hence my dream ryokan experience hasn’t been fulfilled).
From Hakone Yumoto, you can take a direct bus to the Hotel. Upon entering, you will be greeted by the reception staffs and they speak perfect english. I booked the traditional Japanese style room with private toilet. By private toilet, I thought we have our own toilet with shower or bath in our rooms. But, it turns out, that toilet literally meant toilet and hence, our traditional Japanese room came with a separate toilet room in our room but it has no shower nor bath. In order to take a shower, you will have to go to the open shower/ shared shower area next to the public onsen. It’s not the usual public shower you have in western countries where you have your own enclosed cubicle either. It’s quite public and open. More on that experience in later paragraphs below! It is one I will never forget.
Our room came with a tatami mat and a small roundish coffee table with 4 cushions in the middle of the room. There’s a small basin with tap on the right corner that allows you to brush you teeth and freshen up your face. There’s also a cabinet on the left corner and in there we find yukata robes for each of us, a big towel for each and a smaller towel for each. There’s also a small carry bag for you to put some of your belongings when heading to the public bath. It’s very common for ryokans to have yukata for their guests as it’s part of their culture. The yukatas are supposedly more comfortable and easier to wear and remove before going into the onsen. Many Japanese were seen wearing the yukatas around the hotel. There’s another bigger cabinet nearer to the entrance and in there we find our futons, which are Japanese mattress and blankets. Traditionally, Japanese folds their futons away when they get up and when they are ready to sleep, they move the table away and fold out the futons to sleep.
As we had a long flight and train ride that day, the hubs was quite tired. It was also raining really heavily outside that day so we couldn’t go out anyway. He took a nap while I went down for a bath. Here comes my first Japanese public bath experience. To be honest, I was very nervous. I have never been the type to show my body, let alone be nude in front of strangers. There’s also a lot of rules to follow for a public bath and I wasn’t sure if I’m doing the right thing. There’s a paper in the room that tells you what to do and what not to do. Apparently you can only bring the big towel up to the locker area and not into the bath area. You can only bring the small tower into the bath area. You will also need to strip nude at the locker area. The thought was so daunting I had to strategise my timing. It was about 5PM by then and I thought, well, dinner is served at 6:30PM sharp, surely most ppl would have had enough of bath and want to get ready for dinner? So I gathered my courage and went for it.
The public bath is separated by genders and I went to the women bath. Upon entry, you are told to remove your hotel slippers. There are clips at the side with numbers on it so that you can identify which pair of slippers belonged to you when you finish. You need to be barefoot from this point onwards. Once entered, on the right, there’s a space with mirrors and counters for you to sit comfortably to dry your hair and put on your lotion. On the left, are the locker area and next to the lockers is a sliding glass door that leads you to the bath area. There are some girls finishing up, with their yukata on and drying their hair and all I thought was, oh gosh, if I have to strip at the locker area, these girls would have seen me naked! But it seems like no one is fussed. They were all just minding their own businesses. So I went up to a locker, open the locker and put some of my belongings in. Started to strip when the glass sliding door behind me opened and a middle aged lady came in, still nude and wet and went to get her belongings at the locker below mine. She wasn’t embarrassed for such encounter, just apologised for getting into my way. By then I was like, okay, seems like everyone here is used to this and no one is minding me. So I stripped completely, dash to the sliding door and to my horror, I didn’t see any enclosed cubicles, but really short cubicles of see through glasses. Each cubicle has a small stool you can sit on, and there’s shampoo, body wash and conditioner together with a hand held shower. Next to all these cubicles is an indoor hot spring pool that connects with another sliding door that leads to presumably the outdoor hot spring pools. Luckily for me, there weren’t anybody left in there and I searched for a somewhat more secluded (but not quite) cubicle. Had a quick shower in the weirdest position because you are sitting on a stool.
After the shower, I thought, well, since I’m already here, might as well make use of it and jump into the indoor hot spring pool. Best. Idea. Ever. It was soo good. It was then that I suddenly felt brave and not feeling shy anymore for being nude in public because right then, a woman came in with her daughter and started taking their shower behind me and I couldn’t care less that we were all there in the same room naked. Lol. Sounds so wrong. But believe me, everyone is just minding their own business. After 15 minutes or so, I got up, ready for dinner! And while drying myself I thought, okay, the hot spring opens at 5:30AM in the morning. I’m sure most ppl will still be asleep by then. I will come tomorrow morning for the outdoor hot spring if the weather permits. 🙂 Guess what, I did (because I was getting up for a sunrise shoot anyway) and the rain had stopped! There were two others in the outdoor hot spring pool by the time I went, but luckily for me, there are two separate hot spring tubs for singles that are not taken and I jumped right in. Soaked for probably close to 30 mins. It was the best. The air was cool because it was winter but the tub was so warm and the single tub made it felt so private. It was really good. I’m already looking forward for my next hot spring experience, although I’m not sure when that is going to be.
Dinner was served at 6:30PM sharp. We went down to the hotel restaurant on time and there’s a small line of fellow guests getting their names and room number ticked off. After getting our own names ticked off, we were lead to our table and there’s a “vegetarian” card on one of our seats for the hubs. We were told that there’s a small buffet bar on top of the Japanese dinner all included in the dinner package. The buffet bar consisted of rice, miso soup, some side dishes, salad, and desserts in the form of pudding and jellies. There’s also a menu list on our table to let us know what we will be having for the Japanese Kaiseki dinner. We both have a small hot pot which was so delicious and comforting on that rainy and cold day. In the hot pot, there’s salmon, mushrooms, and vegetables of sorts. The hubs got a big piece of tofu and more mushrooms instead of the salmon. There’s a platter in front of each of us as well with small portions of three different things. Again, mine was slightly different from the hubs. At the side, there’s another small plate of sashimi for me and the hubs had konnyaku. There’s also another plate of grilled fish for me and vegetable tempura for the hubs. We started eating after getting some rice and side dishes from the buffer bar. While I was enjoying my food, the waiter came with my main of roast chicken and the hubs had eggplant in miso! So much food, all very delicious and only $20 a head! I can say hands down this was one of the best dinner we have had in Japan and this experience probably spoiled the rest of my food adventure in Japan because everything else seemed so normal compared to this. The creme caramel pudding was the “icing on the cake”. The best caramel pudding I’ve had. It was sooo creamy and rich. I couldn’t find any other pudding (or purin) that tasted this good and seriously I’m not exaggerating. We tried buying all sorts of caramel pudding in the supermarket, all sorts of different brands, and nothing came close.
Our room package came with free breakfast as well. After our sunrise photography session at Lake Ashi, we came back to the hotel for our buffet breakfast. They have both Japanese and Western breakfast. We took a bit of each. I was feeling Japanese so I had a special plate that had 9 little dented sections for you to put 9 different side dishes and I had them with plain white congee. Eating plain white congee with side dishes is quite common in chinese culture too. In fact, that’s what my maternal grandmother eats all the time. So to me, this is kind of like comfort food. The hubs on the other hand hates congee because he relates that to “sick ppl’s food” as it’s quite common in asia to be advised by your doctor to eat something plain when you having a fever of upset stomach and chances are an asian mom would be cooking you plain white congee. So, the hubs got himself some croissants, scrambled eggs and salad. We enjoyed our breakfast very much.
I probably mentioned in my Hakone post that staying in this hotel was one of my highlight of the trip and it is. It’s such an experience. I know I’m yet to experience a real traditional Japanese ryokan but, this is my first in a lot of things. My first tatami mat-futon sleeping, my first Japanese public bath and hot spring, my first kaiseki dinner, my first yukata wearing in a hotel. It felt special and I can’t help but think that “That’s exactly why I came to Japan for”.
So if you’re thinking of visiting Japan, do spend a night if not two in a Japanese ryokan. A lot of them can be quite expensive but the experience is so worth it. Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this post. Thanks for reading til the end! Til the next post, keep experimenting~!
Visited: 22 Dec 2016