When visiting Japan, there are a few experiences that you must take part in during your short stay. One of those is to spend a night in a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese-style inn which offers the amenities of an onsen (hot springs bath), elaborate multi-course dinner that offer a variety of different dishes and ingredients to keep your taste buds guessing, topped off with a heaping breakfast, and service that is unparalleled. While each Ryokan is different, whether it be a traditional or modern building, tatami area or regular seating, public or private onsen bath, they all have the same style of service and you cannot go wrong with choosing from a majority of them.
As for Hakone, where Mt. Fuji is located, this area is best know for it's hot springs getaway due to the mineral rich water that comes from the surrounding mountains. For Trekprep's experience, we stayed at the Hakone Yuyado Zen Ryokan, a more modern version, which provided a private onsen bath within the room, a multi-course dinner, and a breakfast. Here is how our experience was.
Pre-Arrival and Arrival
We booked the Ryokan through Booking.com and decided to choose a room which had a "balcony view" of Mt. Fuji. After reading some of the past reviews, visitors suggested contacting the property when you reach the bus stop at the bottom of the hill. This turned out to be the best case, as a van picked up our luggage and drove up a very steep hill towards to hotel. Upon arrival, we were sat down in the common area and given coffee and team while being briefed on the property. We were asked when we wanted dinner, either 6 or 6:30pm which is standard time for Ryokan dinners to begin, as well as breakfast, which was either 8:30 or 9am.
Once our room was ready, the staff took brought our luggage to the room and we were given a short walk through of our room. In most Japanese hotels or Ryokans, there are two separate beds in the room rather than one so be prepared for this option. The closet had two kimonos with pairs of indoor and outdoor sandals that can be worn around the Ryokan at all times. The fridge was stocked with a few beers, tea, and veggie drinks, as well as a expresso maker up top. For the rest of the room, there was a stereo with onsen music soundtracks, a glass shower, and the balcony had a private onsen.
For the private onsen, there are adjustable handles for either heating up or cooling down the mineral bath to your liking. Furthermore, the bath is able to hold two people, but may be tight for for those over 6 feet. Most onsen's, if on site in the facility, are separated between men and women. Also, you go naked into the hot springs so there is no need for a bathing suit. One thing to consider is if you have tattoo's, you may be asked to cover them up or not allowed to go in as it is against the rules for more places.
After enjoying some time in the onsen, it was time to prepare for dinner. Showing up at 6pm we were greeted by our staff member who ushered us to a private table with no one around. Typically, Ryokan dinners have you sit at a tatami area to eat (crosslegged on a pillow on the ground) but we were seated at a normal table. We were given an overview of the meal, the master chef who was preparing it, and if we wanted any drinks. Little did we know that we were getting ourselves ready for a 2 and a half hour dinner of incredible dishes. Below is a gallery of our menu and meal from start to finish:
Waking up early before getting ready for breakfast was easy after enjoying one last dip in the onsen before heading out to start our day. We walked to the community eating room where we were greeted and seated balcony side in a "private" room closed off by curtain doors. When the breakfast was brought out it was one of the most incredible spreads we have seen from fresh salmon, to bacon, to fish, to just about anything else. Check out the below pictures to see more:
While a Ryokan is expensive, it is a must-do experience if you plan on coming to Japan, especially in Hakone. Every Ryokan is different with their own style and variety so make sure that you do your research and pick which one is best for yourself. A lot of them don't have the private baths, but if you are going with a significant other, we would lean towards having your own since public onsen's are split up between men and women. The above experience at Hakone Yuyando Zen was unbelievable, with everything form the food and hospitality to the incredible staff. If you would like to learn more, feel free to reach out and we will get back to you with any questions or concerns!