Oh I am so relaxed right now after having spent a wonderful night at a traditional Japanese inn, also known as a Ryokan.
My journey yesterday took me from Tokyo to Odawara station and from there I took a 45 minute bus ride to Sengokuhara where my Ryokan – Mount View Hakone was situated.
The bus ride was beautiful if a little twisty (mountain roads). The leaves are already starting to change colour and some of the colours are truly stunning. This was my main reason for coming to Japan and I would definitely recommend this time of year. It’s not too crowded and the weather is still warm.
I arrived at my Ryokan at about 1PM but check in was at 3 so I decided to take the bus to lake Ashinoko with the hope of catching a glimpse of the elusive Fuji-San.
I arrived at the lake just in time to see the pirate ship tour boat disembark (from what I could see it was completely packed).
If you do decide to take this tour then it is recommended to upgrade to a first class ticket (price difference is only about 10 CHF).
After soaking up the beauty of the lake I headed up towards the cable car which takes you up Mt. Owakudani which is an active volcano.
In 2015 a major eruption caused a new gas vent to open up and so airconditions are continually being monitored for toxicity. If too high then the cable car will shut down. I’m assuming transport would be arranged for those at the top of the mountain…
It was on this (Swiss made) cable car that I first spotted Mt. Fuji in the background. Unfortunately it was quite hazy so I couldn’t get a good view. But it’s the best that I am going to get on this trip.
At the top of the volcano you are greeted by a variety of souvenir shops and some viewing point of the gas vents. There is also a Geo Museum for 100 yen.
The souvenir shops were naturally packed with shoppers wanting to get their hands on the famous black eggs. These regular chicken eggs turn black during the cooking process thanks to high content of sulphur and iron in the water. The eggs are perfectly safe to eat and legend has it that eating one egg adds 8 years to your life and eating two adds 16. Eating 3 or more is considered bad luck.
The hiking trails up the mountains were unfortunately closed so I didn’t have the opportunity to watch the eggs being cooked and I didn’t want to purchase 5 eggs for 500 yen because that would have brought me bad luck. Next time I hope to travel with a friend so we can enjoy the benefits of longevity together.
At about 3 PM I made my way back towards the Ryokan, eager to check in and relax. After the intense activity of Tokyo and the tourist filled shops of Owakudani I was definitely in the mood for a bit of relaxation.
Ryokans are quite luxurious guesthouses with tatami flooring. After checking in, I was shown up to my room which consisted of a sleeping room and a toilet plus sink. I had to take my shoes off at the door and I was presented with my Yukata set.
I love Yukata. They are so comfy and light enough that you don’t feel restricted. The cotton is extremely breathable. I was given instructions on how to wear it (left over right – the other way is how bodies are dressed for buried). You wear a Yukata over your underwear and can wear it everywhere in the Ryokan or even outside (if you’re in an onsen (hot spring) resort).
Ah Onsen. The reason why I headed up to Hakone.
What are Onsen?
Onsen are Japanese hot spring baths. Due to the volcanic characteristics of the island, Japan has many onsen scattered around.
I decided to brave it. Onsen can either be gender separate or mixed. I was asked if I wanted to reserve a private bath but I declined. I generally can’t stay in hot water for a long time so it would have unfortunately been a a waste of money.
Before heading in I meticulously googled the etiquette of an onsen. It being quite an intimate activity, I didn’t want to make any faux-pas. You know like throwing an insane amount of fish food into a koi pond or something…
First I went into the female changing area, where it is required to take off all your clothes. (Yes – all of them. No bathing suit allowed).
Then I went into the bathing area and sat down and had a shower. It is extremely important to wash yourself thoroughly before going into the bath and to make sure there is no soap residue on you before getting in.
A) You don’t want to make the bath dirty and B) the baths are pretty warm (40°C) so it’s a good idea to prepare your body for the extreme temperature.
After washing I could now immerse myself slowly into the hot water. It’s important to go slow because the high temperature could put a strain on your heart.
Once in, it is such a relaxing experience. The onsen was outside so I could enjoy a cool breeze on my face.
I could only bear it about 5 mins before I started getting dizzy so I got out and went to the cooler bath inside.
I really want to stress how important it is to read the rules before enjoying an onsen. While I was bathing, a non-japanese woman went immediately from the changing rooms into the outside bath, without washing herself. Two Japanese women, who were also bathing outside, immediately left and I could see a look of pure disgust on their faces.
I personally felt embarrassed and disappointed.
Dinner time conversations
At 1930 it was time for dinner. In traditional Ryokan style I would be dining alone.
I was shown to my little booth where a fantastic looking meal was already laid out.
There was everything: Miso Soup, Sashimi, Pork, Chicken, Rice, Tempura etc etc.
The waitress asked if she should explain in English or Japanese – again I decided to brave it and said “Nihongo wa daijyoubu desu” Japanese is ok.
The food was delicious and my meal was broken up periodically by my waitress filling up my water. I decided again to be brave and had a series of mini conversations in Japanese!!!
Me: Excuse me! Which Sake would you recommend? W: Hmm. Would you prefer hot or cold? Me: Cold please. W: The Hakone Sake is very delicious and is low calorie.
W: Are you enjoying your Sake? Me: mmm yes it is delicious. W: Oh I am so happy! Me: Using chopsticks with the left hand is hard isn’t it. W: ahh yes! You’re right. But I hope you can still enjoy your meal.
Convo 3:Me: Excuse me! What kind of meat is this? W: Oh it’s pork. Me: It’s so delicious. It tastes quite sweet. W: Yes. It’s cooked using sugar mirin.
After the meal I said “Gochisou sama deshita” (Thank you for the meal). The waitress complimented me on my nice Japanese and presented me with an origami crane which I will forever treasure.
With a full and happy tummy I went back to my room where I proceeded to binge Downton Abbey.
Breakfast is not your typical corn flake.
Breakfast was served at 08:30 and again I was greeted with a wonderful array of sumptuous looking food.
A typical Japanese breakfast is miso soup and rice, which does take a little getting used to.
I checked out with a head full of wonderful memories and headed happily to the bus stop, where my next adventure was to start.
My trip to Matsumoto / The Japanese alps.
Thanks for reading!