35 Before 35: Go To An Onsen

While our trip to Japan had been envisioned as another of our “urban adventures,” we decided that since it was technically our honeymoon we did want to take a little time to ourselves somewhere more traditionally romantic. On the advice of a former colleague we decided to take a little side-trip to Hakone and indulge in a some traditional onsen action.

For those of you not familiar with an onsen, it’s basically a traditional Japanese bath. The ones in Hakone have the further distinction of being natural hotsprings with all sorts of curative properties for everything from headaches to acne. Unfortunately, most onsen are closed to those with tattoos (to keep undesirables, like Yakuza, out), so we had to find a hotel with an in-room onsen. Oh, poor me. lol

Rick Waiting for the Shinkansen Unbeknownst to us at the time, apparently Tokyo hotels will hold your luggage for you, even if you’re not coming back to that hotel. Not knowing this, however, we were forced to drag our ridiculously overstuffed bags all over the Japanese countryside and back to Tokyo with us. Protip: Pack light.

On The Train To Hakone The fastest and most comfortable way to travel from Tokyo to Hakone is by shinkansen or bullet train. We were lucky to meet a pair of English speaking sisters in the line for the train who shared some tips on taking the train and things to look out for in Hakone. Rick and I both appreciated the chance to talk to someone other than each other as neither of us knew enough Japanese to carry on a conversation and most Japanese people tend to keep to themselves, even if they do speak English.

Mountain Train to Gora After a relaxing train ride to Odawara we had to jump on the local train to Gora where our hotel was located. However, unbeknownst to us at the time, the local train only goes part of the way to Gora. The rest of the way was straight up the mountain in a little switchback train.

Up The Switchback to Gora I didn’t realize when we booked our hotel how far up in the mountains it was. My ears popped several times and I kept expecting Totoro to pop out from behind the lush greenery to fly us up to the onsen.

Ten-Zaru Soba Once we got to Gora we were starved. Restaurants were scarce, save for a few peppering the area around the train station. Being that we were still lugging around three comically full suitcases we opted for the place closest to the train station. I was able to get some delicious tempura (my first of the trip!) with cold soba noodles (zaru soba), while Rick opted for yet more curry. Seriously, once that man finds something he likes, he tends to stick to it.

Ryokan Room Our room was a huge traditional style suite with tatami floor and futon in the closet. Ironically it was probably the best sleep we got the whole trip.

Onsen Yukata The room also came with courtesy yukata (cotton kimono) and haori (jacket) to wear while in the hotel. Rick had great fun pretending he was an ancient samurai, although he was a little concerned about being “that guy,” as in “that white guy with the Asian girlfriend who wishes that he was also Asian.”

Balcony Onsen Balcony onsen for two! Waking up and showering outside before a relaxing soak while gazing at the mountain side… priceless.

Toilet Sandals Hakone Onsen Apparently these slippers were only to be used in the 2 foot by 2 foot restroom. The Japanese really do think of everything!

Roadside in Gora Hakone The area around our hotel was just too lush and picturesque for words. It really felt like something out of a Miyazaki movie.

Hakone Onsen Balcony View 2 Can you believe this was the view from our bathtub?!

Hakone Neko The area was also full of near-wild cats patrolling the various hotels and foraging for tourist waste. They were all pretty scruffy, but some were quite affectionate and meowed for pets when we would pass them in the street.

Walking in Hakone Unfortunately, the two days we spent in Hakone were the only time it rained our whole trip. The increased cloud cover did add a magical feel to everything, but it also meant that sightseeing was a little less fun.

All in all it was a magical experience that I would repeat in a heartbeat and really gave us a desire to explore more of the Japanese countryside the next time we visit.

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  • Reply
    Jane Yoo
    October 28, 2013 at 11:50 am

    beautiful pictures. and totally it looks like something out of a miyazaki movie. and great tip about tokyo hotels holding your bags for you!

    • Reply
      October 29, 2013 at 10:40 am

      I’m just sad we found out too late. I guess we know for next time 😉

      • Reply
        May 15, 2015 at 10:02 am

        hi, you can put that size of bag in the shinkansen? will go to japan next week and i also have to take my 29″ luggage to shinkansen, since i wont be back to Tokyo anymore.

        • Reply
          May 18, 2015 at 12:46 pm

          Just be careful what time you take the train, and try to stay at the front of the car (there is more room for luggage there).

  • Reply
    October 28, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    I’m so jealous! It looks like you had an amazing time. I’d love to go to an Onsen too.

  • Reply
    October 29, 2013 at 12:23 am

    So beautiful! I need to keep this place in mind. I love the photos you took.

    • Reply
      October 29, 2013 at 11:05 am

      Thank you. I’d just gotten a new camera that I was eager to try out. 😉

  • Reply
    October 29, 2013 at 2:38 am

    How beautiful, as much as I love Tokyo I think Japan’s countryside is equally as amazing 🙂 An onsen in your room, now that’s super fancy!

    • Reply
      October 29, 2013 at 11:05 am

      We got a super deal on the room, but it was still our biggest splurge as far as accommodations on this trip. Totally worth it, though. 🙂

  • Reply
    Nerd Burger
    October 31, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    What a beautiful area of Japan. I am soo happy you got to use an Onsen. It makes me sad that I can’t go in them too. I think we will got to a hotel like this when we go next year. I hope I see Totoro too 🙂

    • Reply
      November 1, 2013 at 12:29 pm

      Check out for hotel discounts in Japan. We were able to get our room in Hakone for close to 50%.

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