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  • Candace Ahlfinger

Traditional Japanese Baths--And Baths in Wine

Updated: Sep 4, 2023


Hakone Countryside

We stood on the train platform in Shinjuku Station waiting patiently for our Shinkansen, the bullet train, to arrive and sweep us off to Hakone, our next destination. While waiting, I tried to take a picture of the Shinkansen going by in the opposite direction. The platypus-designed train went so fast that I did not even have time to aim my phone.


We looked forward to the train and the visit to Hakone to glimpse a view of Mt. Fuji. However, according to legend, Mt. Fuji is a shy maiden who hides if too many people are watching. Based on the dense fog that swirled everywhere, too many people were definitely watching.

Our Shy Maiden View in Hakone

Hakone was our opportunity to experience the Japanese countryside. Hakone is a cooler lush green mountain area famous with both tourists and Japanese for its hot springs. Our first stop was at the overlook at the Hakone Ropeway where we had a snack of black eggs. The eggs are boiled in the sulphuric hot springs water which results in black-shelled hard-boiled treats that taste the same as their “normal” counterparts but provide a great marketing product for the area.

Hakone Black Egg

The ride on the cable car, the Hakone Ropeway, was fun. We think we went over gorgeous, luscious trees on our way to the bottom of the mountain. (I said I think because the fog and mist were so heavy that we couldn’t see the ground below us and sometimes we couldn’t see the trees beside us.) The 25-minute ride was peaceful—even the howling winds provided a peaceful sense of isolation from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see Owakudani Valley or Lake Ashi which were out of sight—literally. In addition, the boat cruises were cancelled. Instead, we drove around the lake for a lunch of tempura and noodles (soba or udon) and marizushi, supposedly while overlooking the lake. (Disclaimer: The fog and mist did lift briefly to give us a peak. of the lake so we know it exists.)

Artist at Hakone Maruyama

Since we had extra time, we went by the wood mosaic store, Hakone Maruyama,to watch an artist create trick boxes and other beautiful pieces (https://hakonemaruyama.co.jp/). He kept us entertained by demonstrating how the boxes opened. He and the others in the store enjoyed showing our grandchildren how the various boxes worked.

Children's Playground at Hakone Open Air Museum
Children's Playground at Hakone Open Air Museum

Miraculously, the rain stopped as we walked through the Hakone Open Air Museum, a beautiful outdoor art park. The various shades of green, the pink and purple hydrangeas, and the soaring mountains all served as a beautiful background for the amazing statuary. The Lincoln Log children’s playground was a hit with the younger members of our family as a much needed movement break. The Picasso Pavilion, an indoor display, features Picasso’s pottery and is the largest Picasso collection in Asia. We could have stayed longer wandering around the museum, but the rain started again so on to our hotel, the Hakone Kowakien Ten-yu.

Hakone Kowakien Ten-yu's Beautiful Gardens
Hakone Kowakien Ten-yu's Beautiful Gardens

The hotel was built to mimic the traditional ryokan, a Japanese inn. The hotel was a cross between traditional Japanese and western cultures. Unfortunately, we didn’t experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, but we were greeted with choices of cold teas in the spacious lobby and then escorted to our rooms. Our tatami-floored room had a place for us to change into the included indoor shoes and provided yukatas and socks for every person. (Yukatas are cotton summer kimonos.) Visitors can wear their yukatas to the lobby and even to dinner.


One of the highlights of a stay in Hakone is the onsen baths. We had researched how to use the onsen, but we still had many questions. These traditional Japanese baths require that a person strip, bathe, and then immerse themselves in a warm pool of their chosen temperature. (Tattoos are not permitted and so must be covered.) It is different for most Americans to walk around naked in front of people, but the view from the infinity pool that overlooks the gorgeous mountains is worth it. (Baths are located on two floors. Men and women shift access daily so both get to enjoy the special beauty of the onsen.) After the baths, the hotel has areas equipped with luxurious hair and body products. (No photos allowed for obvious reasons!)

More of Hakone Kowakien Ten-yu's Gardens

Visitors come to the area to experience the peacefulness of the hot baths that are fueled by the springs. Even the atmosphere of the ryokan reflects this desire. The beautiful, multi-level gardens surrounding the hotel, the baths on the terraces of each room, the comfortable hanging Papasan chairs on the lounge balcony—everything encourages visitors to pause and relax. The impressive five course meal was no exception. We ate in the dining room wearing our yukatas. The meal was both eye-appealing and delicious, but our granddaughters weren’t overly impressed with the offerings.

Hakone Kowakien Ten-yu Room

We didn’t take advantage of the onsen the next morning. Instead, we followed the underground tunnel to Yunnesun Water Park and Spa. The majority of Yunnesun requires swimsuits with only the top floor requiring no swimsuit. Since we were with the entire family, we stayed in the family area as we went from hot tub to hot tub. We soaked in coffee, sake, wine, and green tea in addition to the plain old hot water. The majority of the experience is inside but slides, a water playground and more hot tubs are located outside the huge facility. Two of the favorites of the day were the fish foot bath and the peaceful outside hot tubs we discovered at the end of the stay that overlooked the playground and the beautiful mountains.

Coffee, fish foot, and wine baths


We ate at the spa before leaving Hakone for Kyoto via the Shinkansen, aka the Bullet train. On to the next adventure!


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For information about our four days in Tokyo, click here.

To read about our visit to Kyoto, click here.

To discover information on Hiroshima, click here.

Hakone is a beautiful place




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