24 Mar 2017 in In immersion
Take time out to relax at this resort beside the river...
Situated 10 minutes away by car from Yumoto station, Hoshino Resorts KAI Hakone is tucked away out of sight, close to the river, below a little road that leads to town, nestling in the mountain’s lush greenery.
The buildings are arranged around an inner courtyard, with gangways, such as you see on boats, giving access to your room and the different areas provided for guests.
Like a cocoon
The layout of the rooms has been designed to make optimal use of the space. The architect opted for just one room lengthways, with a bedroom leading off the lounge, divided by just a low partition wall with sofa placed along it.
This arrangement means you have a permanent view out of the window, which gives you the feeling of living close to nature, protected by the mountain and lulled by the sound of the river.
The best way to get inside the skin of the Japanese is to adopt the traditions and habits of the country. As soon as you arrive, you can slip on a yukata, a kimono made of light hemp, one of the traditional items of dress, and swap your shoes for a pair of zōri. This is kind of sandal, with a wooden sole overlaid with a second, thinner sole made from plaited rice-straw.
Wearing this, you are suitably dressed for relaxing in your room, going to the onsen or dining in the restaurant.
The hotel has two onsens, each of them reserved for men and women alternately, since nudity is the standard here.
The ryokan-inn’s hot baths face towards the mountains, with wide open views. This exceptional and quite unique setting is perfect for treating yourself to a moment of complete and utter relaxation. Once dressed, you can prolong the pleasure in the rest area, enjoying a cold drink.
The dining room is divided into individual boxes, to allow you the luxury of personal service and dining in privacy. The Kaiseki cuisine served at dinner time is of high quality, and the ‘delicacies’ are worthy of special mention; these little appetisers, served as a starter, are one of the chef’s great strengths.
Specialities include beef miso ‘Meiji Nabe’, cubes of meat browned until golden in a skillet with miso sauce, then allowed to rest in a broth before the vegetables added. The whole is simmered for a few minutes, and is served with a runny egg that brings all the ingredients together beautifully. This typical dish is a real treat. Another local dish is kuro shichimi, which is similar to a fondue but is prepared with soya milk topped with snowy peaks of egg-white, into which you dip vegetables and thin slices of pork.
To complement the very sophisticated cuisine, the hotel also takes great pride in its selection of tableware. The work of local artisans is showcased, with the very pretty little containers in which the “delicacies” are served and also the bowls and plates used throughout the meal.
The craftsman responsible for all this marquetry work is Mr. Tsuyuki, the fourth generation of his family to perpetuate the skills of Yosegi Zaiku in the city of Odawara.
In the lobby
After dinner you can attend a demonstration in the lobby and discover the skills and secrets of Japanese marquetry. The demonstrator explains how the work is done, and the various items used in creating the artefacts are passed round the audience.
Finally, everyone is invited to try to open a “secret box”; some of these boxes require up to ten manipulations before you can open them. You have to be quick and observant because you only have five minutes to penetrate the mysteries of these boxes.
The hotel’s boutique also has a display of marquetry items, together with few local specialities to take home with you.
The surrounding area
Set in the heart of the Hakone national park, this hotel is the ideal starting point for some marvellous walks; Lake Ashinoko and the Hakone sanctuary are just a few minutes away, and Onshi-Hakone Park offers wonderful views of Mount Fuji.
The park also has a visitor center with an exhibition of photographs showing images of this part of the region during the last century. Finally, before you go home you must take the time to try a glass of amazake, a drink made from fermented rice, served in accordance with the best tradition in a 400-year-old tea house now run by the 13th generation of the Yamamoto family.