A couple weeks ago I went with a dear friend here in Japan to a beautiful ryokan in Hakone called Kai Hakone to view the fall leaves and to experience one of the most beautiful onsens in the country. We meet at Starbucks every Wednesday and on one particular day, we were flipping through a local magazine and we saw a picture of this ryokan in the fall, a perfect definition of zen and autumn. We immediately knew what needed to be done. Chika made the reservations for just one night over a month and a half in advance and we were beyond excited about staying here.
Kai Hakone is a really popular and highly rated ryokan in Japan so it wasn’t all that cheap, but we paid for Michelin star service. The entire stay was flawless and beautifully simple. It was by far the best traditional Japanese experience I’ve had while living in Japan, and I fell more in love with Japanese design and culture after staying here.
However, before we showed up to our ryokan, we took the local train to a stop in the hills to eat a “kuroi tamago” or black egg. There’s a lot of sulphur in the hills and the eggs turn black. People come here to eat these eggs because it is said that ingesting one egg means you will live 7 years longer. I can believe the claims about sulphur and its spa properties though – few things create clearer skin.
But we arrived at Owakudanai via a gondola through the hills with an outstanding view of Mt Fuji. We were fortunate that this time around, there were few clouds to obstruct its view.
I grabbed a couple of interesting bites to eat, the skewered fried potatoes as well as the Yakisoba dogu, or yakisoba in a hot dog bun. Strangely, this was actually pretty damn good. I’ve seen this before here in Japan but it never inspired me to taste it until Chika said it was good. Good thing I listened to her!
After eating our lunch on the go, we saw a few signs for hiking. We weren’t entirely sure what kind of hiking, but the weather was great and we wanted to see more. Both of us however weren’t really in hiking attire. I was in classy loafers while Chika donned a skirt and a fashionable little jacket, which as I always say, as long as it looks great in photos. But we pursued this venture anyways. About a half hour into our hike through tall grass and over a rocky path, we begin to wonder where exactly we were going. There was no destination in site, yet we continued to see some people coming down. But we were blown away with the beauty of the landscape so we kept going a little further until Chika finally asked someone where this path led to. Apparently, “up the mountain.” That was totally not possible and we had no intentions of camping out for the night, so we laughed and headed back through the tall grass and decided to just to check in to our ryokan and enjoy a relaxing next 15 hours full of onsen and gastronomical adventures.
We checked in around sunset and we immediately fell in love with this property. The lobby was so simple and mod and reflected the natural beauty inherent in Japanese design. We were shown to our room which was a very traditional style ryokan with tatami floors that gave off a district aroma that you know is Japanese. We each had a yukata to wear to the onsen, to dinner, to breakfast, as well as to sleep so you basically don’t need any clothes at all during this entire stay. I had a few issues tying my yukata in the front and Chika tried to caution me more than a few times about not accidentally “exposing” myself and being a “henna gaijin,”, a term she likes to joke about. I had it down though.
We headed to the onsen before dinner for a hot bath. Two and a half years later in Japan, I’m finally comfortable with participating in these public baths. I was totally against it until last Feburary when I had my first onsen experience in Nagano, as I bathed in a hot zen room, with maybe one other person in the middle of a snowy forest. It forever changed me and I no longer care about bathing nude with the other females since experiences of this kind are far more rewarding than its discomforts.
The picture of the onsen below is from the hotel’s website. I did NOT take this photograph; I couldn’t as there was obviously a no camera policy and I didn’t feel like asking the staff to let me in off hours. But it was quite beautiful.
We had dinner afterwards and for the first time, I fully understand why Tokyo has more Michelin star restaurants than Paris. The art, the detail, the perfection, and the presentation that went into our five or more courses was incredible. They were small courses, but every bite and flavor was created with full intention.
After dinner, we went back to the onsen and had another soak while staring out into the starry night and dense forest beyond us. We slept wonderfully that night. In the morning, we went down for breakfast in a quiet room, and then hopped into the onsen again before we left to go to the incredible Venetian Art Glass Museum which honest to God felt like Europe. I will post on that later.
It was a brilliant and memorable two day trip.
All photos taken by me except for this one inside of the onsen.
Glamorous hiking. The light was absolutely beautiful on Chika’s left side so and looked so in the above photo as she treks through the wilderness. I feel like this should be an ad for some kind of Japanese fashion brand.