Hakone is one of the most popular travel destinations in Japan, owing as much to its easy access from Tokyo as to its abundance of hot springs (onsen). An appropriately named “Romance” car arrives directly from Shinjuku, while the bullet train stops in nearby Odawara. Most of Hakone, however, remains remarkably quaint. Sure, there are plenty of shops carrying your usual tourist kitsch, but many sell local goods, from pickled plums to alcohol. Older buildings, whether restaurants or family-run onsen, are charmingly decrepit, with faded sidings and moss-covered stone foundations—the moss, actually, grows everywhere in the valley.

From the main stop at Yumoto Station, a rare switchback train takes travelers up to other onsen hamlets. The Hakone Museum of Art, Gora Park and the Hakone Museum of Photography are all located at elevation. At Gora, passengers change to a cable car and at the next stop, Sounzan, change again to the Hakone Ropeway, whose gondola traverses the ridge and descends to the shores of Ashinoko. Sightseeing boats cruise the placid crater lake, providing passengers with stunning views of Mt. Fuji.

It is possible to go off the beaten track in Hakone. A network of hiking trails crisscrossing the many ridges makes for great nature excursions and some of the trails are not so well traveled. Perhaps the relative steepness of some of the trailheads, like the Old Kamakura Trail, deters some—it would behoove the interested hiker to have some fitness, good knees and sturdy boots. The Old Kamakura Trail is perhaps the most popular (and most easily accessed) route, though you will have to take one of the other trails up to some of the taller peaks, like Mt. Komagatake (1357m), to enjoy views of Fuji. Most of the trails will require at least several hours of well-invested time. The tourist office at Yumoto provides useful trail maps.

After a hike, absolutely drop in to an onsen—higaeri (day-trip) rates are usually affordable. We visited Tenseien, to review this newest addition to the valley. One of Tenseien’s novel offerings is the room set-up. Realizing that groups, even families, don’t necessarily like all sleeping together, designers included a number of connecting rooms. Over 20 rooms have private, open-air baths. Because of such design, all the units are much smaller than your typical onsen fare, but the greater privacy and more affordable prices are quite welcome. There are even rooms for single occupants. Onsen have notoriously inconvenient check-in and check-out times. Tenseien allows overnight guests to pay higaeri rates and come early or stay late—for a total of 23-hours of usage if you do both! Rooftop open-air baths overlook gardens behind the hotel. There are two scenic waterfalls––one of which inspired a tanka by famed poet Yosano Akiko––a shrine and tea house (chaya). One concern, however, is the food. Mind-blowing meals are a huge attraction for many onsen patrons. Tenseien’s sheer variety of offerings, for its banquet halls, partitioned dining areas and private rooms, is impressive. But we question whether they can ever deliver on the level of the best while running such a large operation. All in all, though, they are doing a respectable job so far. We’ll knock the rocks from our boots and drop in again. For more info: www.tenseien.co.jp

An open air bath at one of the many small, privately-owned hot springs




ハイキングの後は温泉で疲れた身体を癒そう。日帰りなら料金も安い。最近全面新築オープンした「天成園」では、旅行のスタイルに合わせてフレキシブルに使える部屋が豊富に揃っており、同じ団体や家族でも寝る部屋は別々がいいという宿泊客のために、隣り合った二つの客室間が内部で行き来できる「コネクト対応ルーム」をいくつか備えている。それぞれに露天風呂が付いている部屋も20余り用意している。そうした作りのため、個々の部屋は従来の温泉旅館の部屋よりも多少狭くなっているが、プライバシーが保てるのと価格が安く設定されているのが何よりも嬉しい。さらに一人部屋もある。温泉宿ではゆっくりしたいものだが、なぜかチェックインが遅くてチャックアウトが早いと感じさせるところが多い。ここ「天成園」では宿泊料金に日帰り料金をプラスして払えば23時間の長時間滞在が可能。「屋上天空大露天風呂」からは彩り豊かな四季折々の庭園風景が楽しめる。この庭園には与謝野晶子が詠んだ短歌に因んで名付けられた「玉簾の滝」(たまだれのたき)など有名な二つの滝、由緒ある神社、茶屋などもある。また、食事も温泉宿での大きな楽しみ。「天成園」の食事は宴会場か、仕切りの付いた食堂か、オプションで自室にて食べることもでき、その内容は色とりどりの四季の味を生かしたもので見応えがあるものだが、その一方で、あのように大量の料理を作って果たして最高レベルの味が保てるのだろうかと、正直なところ少々不安にもなった。しかし心配には及ばず、味は十分満足のいくものだったので一安心。さて、靴底に挟まった小石を落として、また箱根に出掛けよう。詳しくは www.tenseien.co.jp

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