Hakone is one of the most popular destinations in Japan and is located just 1 hour by train from central Tokyo, making it the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. The rural town boasts hot springs, outdoor activities, parks, traditional attractions, stunning natural beauty and a view of nearby Mt. Fuji all within close distance. Here, GaijinPot is taking a look at the Senkei Ryokan and the experience of staying in a traditional Japanese inn.
Departing from Shinjuku station. The fastest way to get to Hakone from Tokyo is to take the Odakyu line. For a little over 5,000 yen, you can buy a return ticket which includes 2 days of free use of the trains and cable cars in Hakone. A little bit more expensive is the Romance Car, voted Japan’s favorite train for the last 2 years in a row.
No long train ride in Japan is complete without Ekiben.
Hakone Yumoto (箱根湯本) is the main station of Hakone and where all the trains will stop. Plenty of small shops selling traditional sweets, many featuring Neon Genesis Evangelion characters (Hakone appeared prominatley in the anime).
Just a bit further is the Senkei Ryokan, a group of accommodations which includes a Ryokan, a Japanese-style hotel and a Western style hotel. We were after the traditional touch, so we chose the ryokan. Visiting the hot springs is one of the main reasons for visiting Hakone and the Senkei Ryokan has three different types to choose from.
Our reception was seamless. After arriving to beaming smiles and deep bows, sneakers are swapped for geta and we are led into a bright guest room in a separate building which will be home for the next 2 days.
One of the best things about staying in a ryokan like this is that they create a little bubble of traditional Japan for you to experience. Staying here, even if it is only for a few days, you can easily forget about the outside world. The next day we went to see what Hakone has to offer. Too much to report on here, so will just cover a couple of the basics.
Art is one big reason to come to Hakone, plenty of museums to check out and craft work going on.
Ōwakudani (大涌谷) is a volcanic hot spot full of sulfurous springs – it can be translated as The Great Boiling Valley. If you stop off here, you can eat the famous Kuro-tamago (Wikipedia link).
In the evening, it is back to the ryokan and time for some serious R&R in an onsen. Senkei has 3 to choose from. The most picturesque is on the fifth floor and overlooks the mountains opposite. At the time we were there, it was restricted just for the girls but the next day this switched and the boys got their turn.
Back downstairs you can see if there is anyone in the family onsen. The best way to check is to see if there are any Geta (sandles) by the entrance.
No need to worry if it is your first time; instructions guide the way.
After the onsen, we head back to the room. Seated in our room’s kotatsu beside a tinkling fountain that fed pools running around our room, we watched Senkei’s jolly assistant initiate dinner with smiles and signs.
First, she laid out the freshly prepared rice, vegetables and assortments with earthware bowls and pots. The table cooker was already primed with the meat cooking away. When everything was set up the assistant left us to get tucked in. If Japanese food doesn’t agree with you, the hotel also provides a Western menu in the restaurant next-door.
Took a nigh-time stroll around the grounds, too. Wandering between the mossy stones gives you plenty of time to reflect. The simplest pleasures, food, bath and rest, can add up to something very special. Or as it was explained to us: ‘One day here is such a short time compared to a whole life. That day should be very valuable.’ Drifting off to sleep in our futons, we can safely say, mission accomplished. A room at Senkei, with dinner and breakfast costs from 13,800 yen per person; the hotel caters to both foreigners and Japanese and so even if you don’t speak much of the language, it’s pretty easy to get by.
Senkei Ryokan Website (in English)