A nice breakfast in the Swissotel Club lounge, which included sausages and tomatoes.
Then we were back on the Shinkansen heading for Odawara, which was a transfer station to get us to Hakone. On the train we encountered some other tourists just as we were getting off, they were asking if we were heading to Hakone, they had tossed up between there and the Fuji five lakes – the same as I had. The five lakes have the view of Mt Fuji I desired badly, but after trying to make it work in the time we had available I just couldn’t justify it. Maybe next time.
Hakone is a spa town that is often visited on a day trip by tourists and Japanese alike. It’s popular because you can perform a loop traveling on five different means of transport (train, cablecar, ropeway, boat and bus). The ropeway was down when we visited, but we got to try two of the options.
From Odowara you go down the escalators and then to the end of the platform to catch the train to Hakone -Yumoto which is quite a short journey. The train emerges from the trees to a beautiful river cascading over rocks. It was quite pretty and I would have been tempted to explore if we didn’t have a more alluring destination in mind. Instead we swapped to an older train again to head up to Gora. We got in the train with a man accompanying an older man – both with aussie accents. They were quite clearly train spotters and it was funny to hear them geeking out.
The train driver took his seat and using his white gloves he set the Hokone Tozan train in motion. What is unique about this train is that it takes a zig zag method to get up the very steep mountain, which results in some amazing scenery. It takes about 35 minutes to get to Gora, because of how steep it is, the train has engines at both ends and the driver walks back and forth between them to drive depending on which way the zig zag goes.
At Gora we called the Hakone Gora Hanougi Hotel to be picked up and were happy to discover the van was already there to retrieve some other people. We had the option to take the cable car, but figured we could do that the next day to get back and it would be easier to find the hotel by being driven there.
Up another steep mountain and we were dropped inside a japanese garden oasis with some large doors beckoning us inside.
Entering the huge doors we were immediately greeted by the staff in Kimonos and urged to remove our shoes, which we wouldn’t get back until we left. We were in awe of the architecture of the lobby and the feel of the tatami mats on our socked feet.
The staff led us open mouthed to a seating area where they brought us tea and nibbles to fill out the paperwork, where we still couldn’t believe what we had walked in to.
After completing all the necessary paperwork we were shown to our room, where the jaws drop ped again. We were prepared for the in room spa bath but not for all the modern Japanese features like in floor heating, automatic lighting and stereo speakers in the ceiling. This somehow seemed to fit with the tatami mats, futon bed, wooden bath and incredible views from the balcony.
We were provided with two kimonos – one a formal type one for walking around the building and the other a more relaxed version for wearing in the room.
Left to our own devices we enjoyed the room and the spa and the music before heading down to dinner in our outdoor kimonos.
Claire was a little nervous about the dinner which was a degustation that was very seafood heavy. She can’t stand seafood but the hotel restaurant only offers two types of meals, the standard or a vegetarian, so she chose vegetarian. I don’t think the Japanese comprehend the idea of not liking seafood.
In the restaurant we were greeted by our server Liddy and taken to our private room to dine. Everyone in the hotel gets their own private dining room while they eat which was a novel experience for us.
Liddy was absolutely charming and so Japanese with the formal way of presenting the food and describing it. She totally made the meal for us, she spoke in quite a high pitched voice but when she discussed the plums her pitch got very deep to explain that they were “sour”.
The food was fantastic, but Claire sometimes couldn’t stomach some of the items which led to a bit of guilt when Liddy returned to collect the plates with a disappointed look on her face. It was like a personal affront to the Chef and Liddy when she didn’t like Tofu. From my perspective the food looked amazing and tasted great, although there was some things that didn’t exactly suit my westernized palate I was still able to admire it.
We were one of the first to finish dinner so afterwards we headed to the public onsen within the hotel to try out the shared spa facilities. There was a large internal spa with the abiity to lounge in the water as well as a large wooden bath outside in the elements. We sat on the little plastic chairs to perform a wash before trying out both spas. It was fun to sit in the outdoor bath which was a little chilly outside while being super hot in the water – makes me want to try something like that in the snow. It was weird being naked in a public place, but luckily no one turned up as they were all still eating their dinner. They have dressing rooms after you finish in the spa with hair dryers, hair brushes and various different beauty products. Unfortunately no photos were taken in any of these areas due to the privacy concerns.
Our day at the hotel had been utterly mind blowing and a great exposure to Japanese culture. The minimalism, design ascetics and respect for the history of their culture is just so admirable and manages to rub off as an inner calmness and feeling of relaxation.
For more photos, check out the Flickr Album.