04 Jun 2019 in Discover Japan
Enjoy riverside views, local arts, and an atmospheric walk on an ancient trade path.
From Tokyo, it’s an hour by train to Hakone-Yumoto station. Take a taxi up a winding road and, a few minutes later, you’ll arrive at Hoshino Resorts KAI Hakone, tucked away among lush woodland.
The ryokan is situated within the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, and nature envelops you the moment you step in the lobby. On two sides, floor-to-ceiling windows open up onto the verdant hillsides of Mt. Yusaka with the busy waters of river Sukumo babbling below.
Admire the scenery over a welcome drink of local citrus fruit before being guided to your room.
The 32 rooms are divided into two buildings connected by gangways with giant bamboos planted in between, their top leaves reaching as high as the fourth floor. Inside your room, nature continues to be omnipresent. You’ll have a river view and tatami mats lining the floor.
The minimalist style is completed by bamboo furnishings and parquetry decorations made from local wood.
Time to relax into the ryokan experience. How about a massage in your room? Or a revitalizing soak in the public hot spring baths?
Lie back in the cedar bathtub, immersing your body in Hakone’s famed warm waters and contemplate the mountain scenery outside.
The restaurant serves a multi-course kaiseki menu filled with seasonal mountain flavours. The presentation is exceptional, with sashimi served in a beautiful locally-crafted parquetry box and accompanied by sauces of plum and amazake (a sweet fermented rice drink).
For the main dish, why not treat yourself to the speciality Meiji Gyunabe, a local beef hotpot?
Head to the lobby for a short demonstration about parquetry. The local version of this artform is known as yoseki zaiku. It consists of creating mosaic patterns by shaping and gluing together different coloured woods, naturally sourced from the surrounding forests.
You’ll have a chance to play with a himitsubako, a handcrafted puzzle box that can only be opened by sliding movable strips in a unique sequence!
And why not try your hand at making your own parquetry mosaic?
Today is all about exploring local history. Just outside the resort lies the old Tokaido highway, an ancient travel route that once linked Edo (modern day Tokyo) and Kyoto. In the Edo era, Hakone was an important stop-off along the route, where travellers would fuel up.
At Hoshino Resorts KAI Hakone, breakfast is a nod to those days with a hearty spread of steamed fish and rice cakes, plus a glass of energy-filled amazake.
Take a bus from outside the ryokan and head up to Moto-Hakone, a 20-minute ride away.
This pleasant town is bordered by the vast expanse of the caldera lake, Ashinoko. Start with a walk on its shores.
Head into Onshi Hakone Park, a peninsula with landscaped gardens that was once the summer retreat of the Imperial family. On a clear day, the Lakeside Observation Building provides the best photo opportunities of the lake, with Mt. Fuji looming large in the background.
Back along the shore, take a look inside the reconstructed Hakone Checkpoint, which features gates, a prison, and lodging for soldiers. This was where travellers had to check in during the Edo period as they made their way between Edo and Kyoto.
From town, follow the path that heads into a thick forest up stairs lined with red lanterns to the Hakone Shrine.
This is said to be a “power spot” that brings good fortune to lovers. Don’t miss the huge, atmospheric red torii planted in the waters of Lake Ashi.
Back in town, a path leads into the forest to the old Tokaido highway.
Walking on huge, misshapen cobblestones through dense pine trees, you’ll be following in the footsteps of Japanese traders and travellers from 400 years ago. It’s extremely atmospheric and nearly all downhill.
A mile in, you’ll come across Amazake Chaya, a thatched teahouse where you can fuel up on amazake and mochi cakes, just as travellers did in this very same place 350 years ago.
The old path comes out in the small town of Hatajuku, a hothouse for Hakone parquetry and a great place to find a gift. From here, it’s a 10-minute bus ride back down to Hoshino Resort KAI Hakone. The hot spring baths await you!