Good Monday! How is this January going on? Ours is freezing, brrr! This means more indoor time, which is good because we have another chapter ready of our Japan adventures with a traditional feeling. We are visiting today the (probably) most famous area of onsens – a.ka. thermal baths – in Japan: Hakone! Want to dive in with us?
From our first visit to Japan we missed one of those experiences that it’s in lots of bucket lists because it looks as one of a kind. I actually don’t feel like I have to tick everything out from a bucket list when travelling, some of the “things to do” may feel right to us (touristy or not), while other simply sound off and we skip it without thinking twice. However, being on an onsen sounded just perfect, we could spend a traditional night at a hotel and see what it feels to bath naked for the first time in a public space.
Would it be totally awkward yet worthy? We were going to see! Nevertheless I have to tell you up front that, as I know my western habits, we made sure to make only baby steps and instead of going to a public bath house opted for a hotel with public & private baths. One step at a time folks, ha!
One thing we quickly learnt when looking for information about it is that Hakone is the name of the area, where you can find several attractions such as the Lake Ashi with the tori in the water or an open air museum. In fact, the most popular tour for 1-day visitors from Tokyo is to take a train, a ropeway and a pirate boat.
Since we were going to spend the night as our main highlight, we decided to focus on finding a good-looking hotel at a walking distance to the Lake. We were going to stroll around it (half of it, in fact, from Hakone-machi to Hakone-moto) while having views of Mt Fuji, only if odds were in our favor, as it seems to show up 80 days in a year. Hakone-machi happens to have a lovely lakeside but also a cute park and a cedar avenue to walk from and to the shrine. If you have a good day to walk, I definitely recommend soaking into its calmed atmosphere.
Before 17:00 we were expected to be at our hotel for the check-in. Usually this type of traditional hotels include dinner that it is served at around 18:00, but before that you are welcomed with a hot green tea (& sweets) and you can change into more homey clothes. We were visiting from Tokyo and was wearing my Mickey popcorn purse (lol), I still remember how lovely all the staff were with me commenting if I loved my Disney day. I am a broken record, I know, but Japanese kindness always puts a big smile in my face.
The room was like having a little traditional home for ourselves, with a separate room for the futons and a living room, with garden views, where our dinner was going to be served. Quite breathtaking in such a subtile minimal way! As the goofs we are, we were joking how Doraemon was definitely sleeping inside the closet in our room, ha! it totally looked real that he could be climbing down with a dorayaki in his hand. You can tell how our fool heads were working after too much excitement.
After dinner and wearing our yakutas, we decided to visit the public baths during night-time; one of the perks of staying in a hotel is that often they are open all night-time. The public area was empty – a quick trick is to check if there are sandals in the front door, as people is required to be barefoot – and thus we felt free to brave a camera inside (which is a big no-no if anyone was inside).
The mood the onsen creates is different from everything I have experienced before. Truth be told, my first time ever at a spa was during my birthday this last September, so my opinion may not be the most qualified, but still this felt completely different in every way. Jumping naked at 4º (around 39F) in a 42º (around 108F) natural spring water, while listening to the cricket chirps and surrounded by a garden, was something I don’t really know how to describe; that I felt happy is probably a good approach. Jumping out of the pool, and not feeling the cold at all is also something I can still vividly remember.
That’s all for today’s post! Hope you enjoyed the traditional baths and the hotel ambiance. Oh, yes! that lovely Mount Fuji is quite stealing the show too, isn’t it? For next time, I will make sure to learn how to make good bows for my yukata, promise, ha! Have you ever been to an onsen private or public? Would love to read your opinions!
Tokyo – Part I
Tokyo – DisneySea