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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.