One of the things we really wanted to do in Japan was to spend a night at a traditional guesthouse (ryokan): eat the multi course dinners, bathe in hot springs and sleep on futons on a tatami floor. We decided to go to the Hakone area since it was an easy train ride from Tokyo and in the right direction for our trip through Japan.
Hakone is a mountainous area a couple of hours from Tokyo. The train ride to Odawara was easy, and there we connected to the Hakone transport system with our Hakone free pass. There is the so called “Hakone round course” where you are able to go around the area in a day using different means of transportation: busses, trains, ropeways and a boat. It sounds like a lot of transport changes but it was very easy. What I like about this area is that it is very easy to get around without a car since the transport options are included with the train pass.
Unfortunately, the beautiful weather we had most of the time in Tokyo vanished when we got to Hakone. The Yugiriso ryokan that we stayed at was located in Hakone-mashi very close to the lake Ashi where you are supposed to see Mount Fuji on the other side. We walked along the shoreline but we couldn’t see a thing, it was so foggy! And then it started to rain and it didn’t stop…
We were glad we stayed in a nice ryokan and enjoyed their indoor facilities such as the indoor and outdoor hot springs.
Our oom at the Yugiriso ryokan had the traditional tatami flooring and futon beds, which the staff made up for us in the evening and put away in the morning. There was also a small table where the elaborate meals were served. We stayed there for two nights and were given different dishes, most of them delicious, with lots of seafood, fish and vegetables.
After the very tasty dinner, we visited the hot springs again. They are gender separated as is traditional in Japan, and are shared with the other residents. I suppose there are ryokans where you can have your own hot spring but we were happy with our choice. It wasn’t very crowded at all so at times, we had the hot springs to ourselves. Since they were outside, we could talk softly to each other through the wooden wall that separated them. If anyone else was there, I think you are supposed to be quiet and contemplate nature. We slept like babies afterwards on the futons.
The next morning, breakfast was served in our room in the same concept as dinner, which means many small dishes in different bowls. The lady serving us was very polite. The breakfast dishes also consisted of mainly fish and vegetables. Green tea as well, of course. I enjoyed most of the dishes very much but the fermented baby eals (they looked like it anyway, probably some kind of fish) was a bit much.
Then we were off on the Hakone round course which included several means of transportation: train, cablecar, ropeway and boat! Even though the weather was absolutely horrible – very windy, foggy and rainy – we had a great day. The round course transportation worked out fine although we were lucky to catch the last boat across the lake before they cancelled them due to the fog. The boats were actually pirate themed for some reason.
The most challenging part was high up in Owakudani where it was so windy that it was actually hard to walk in the wind and the rain. The ropeway up there and down again wasn’t that bad though. Luckily, there was a big gift shop there where they sell the famous black eggs which are given their color by being cooked in sulfur ponds. There are trails to walk along to the sulfur ponds but we didn’t due to the weather, and I think they are closed some of the time because of sulfurous fumes as well.
We returned to the ryokan in the afternoon and went straight for the hot springs to warm up. We then had the same excellent dinner experience with different dishes and then even more hot springs. It was very relaxing to be at a ryokan and we were happy to have booked a two nights stay.
So, if you’re wondering whether it’s worth the price to stay at a ryokan, for us it definitely was! We chose one of the mid-priced ones which included meals in our own room (some have communal meals) and shared hot springs. It was very different from the rest of our experiences in crowded Japan and very well worth our time and money. We were a bit disappointed with the weather and lack of view but used the hot springs more than we probably would have otherwise. And had the weather been clear, I’m sure the view of the lake and mount Fuji would have been amazing.