In Japan, onsen (hot springs) are enormously popular and part of everyday life-their temperature and mineral content are regulated by the Government. My favourite is the town of Hakone, where you can relax in the one of the many bath houses on the picturesque mountainside. There are several "onsen ryokans", traditional Japanese inns which have their own hot springs even if you aren't staying, they will allow day visits. Many of the pools are outdoors in beautiful wooded surroundings, even glimpsing Mount Fuji on a clear day. The onsen at Hakone Kowakien Yunessun are split into two separate areas - one, a traditional, nude environment and the other, a family zone requiring costumes where you can experience the surreal sight of enormous bottles of wine and casks of sake dwarfing the bathers soaking in themed pools. In one pool, coffee is added so caffeine can stimulate the skin, and in another, green tea is believed to help weakened immune systems. Afterwards, you may be offered black eggs cooked in the sulphurous pools nearby; eating one is supposed to add seven years to your life.
The museum is all out in the open with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains creating a lovely balance between art and nature.
From Tokyo take the Odakyu line to Hakone Yumoto. From there take the Hakone Tozan Railway to Chokoku No Mori Station (then a short walk).
IF you are in Tokyo and it is a bright sunny day ... ditch your plans and get an ODAKYU line Hakone Free Pass from Shinjuku Station (Cost 3,400-5,000 Yen depending on day of travel and duration of pass). This will pay for your train to Odawara then train a beautiful zig-zag ride through gorgeous mountains and trees up to Gora, where you get on the cable car (known as a ropeway in Japan) ... see the sulphur springs and the gorgeous view of Mt Fuji, which appears from out of nowhere in awesome symmetrical beauty...
Go down to Lake Ashino and either take a bus to your choice of four ONSEN areas or back to Odawara and Tokyo OR take a tacky Pirate ship across the lake. If Fuji-san is in view ... it may be worth the Pirate ship experience for the views.
For the truly luxury oriented, stay at a traditional Ryokan for a night to enjoy the ONSEN and JAPANESE FOOD experience. It will cost around 15,000 yen each ... but it is truly worth it. Remember the Free pass will pay for everything including the cable car, funicular and buses. It is really good value for money. Family passes are also available.
IF you have time, get of at the stop BEFORE GORA and visit the Hakone Outdoor Sculture Museum.
ODAKYU HAKONE FREE PASS from SHINJUKU ST, TOKYO OR ODAWARA ST. (SHINKANSES runs to ODAWARA for JR PASS holders)
MAPS are available from there.
1. English speaking Ryokan
Senkei Ryokan and Hotel HAKONE YUOMOTO
PLEASE REMEMBER TO TIP YOUR MAID IN THE RYOKAN....WE DIDNT REALISE...VERY EMBARRASSING.
2. CHEAPER Minshiku, especially for foriegners with private outside and inside onsen for family or couple use.
FUJI HAKONE GUEST HOUSE, SENGOKUHARA
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