One experience that you should not miss when you visit Japan is staying in a ryokan, or a traditional Japanese inn. In this post I’ll share about my stay in Gora Hanaougi Sounkaku Ryokan in Hakone, which I would highly recommend if you want a lovely ryokan experience in a scenic countryside!
Before that, a bit of a history lesson: ryokans started spouting up during Japan’s Edo period to serve travellers journeying along the major highways at that time. Usually ryokans will have tatami-style rooms and communal baths, and guests get to wear yukata (traditional casual Japanese clothing) and sleep in futon (traditional Japanese bedding). Meals are usually included, and though at some places you can opt out, dining at a ryokan is an experience in itself that should not be missed!
Today, ryokans are mostly popular in scenic areas, especially in places where there are natural hot springs (onsen). The onsens will be utilised as the ryokan’s communal baths, and guests can enjoy a relaxing soak in the hot spring. On top of all that, Japanese ryokans are known for top-notch customer service. So during my recent Japan trip with my friends, we definitely had to give this whole experience a try.
We decided to find a ryokan in Hakone, a mountainous town about an hour away from Tokyo, popular for its onsens, lovely scenery and views of Mount Fuji. Even then it was not easy to find the right one for us. Good ryokans can be really expensive, and they charge per person so you cannot split the room cost to make it cheaper as you would in a usual hotel. We also wanted a ryokan that was (relatively) easy to get to. After loooong tedious research, we finally found the perfect option – Gora Hanaougi Sounkaku Ryokan.
Gora Hanaougi Sounkaku Ryokan
Gora Hanaougi Sounkaku is a really nice ryokan offering the full experience at an affordable price. It is also located just outside Sounzan station, from which you can take both the Hakone Ropeway to other parts of the mountain, as well as the Hakone Tozan Cable Car. The naming was quite confusing at first – the “Cable Car” was actually a tram, while the actual thing I’d usually call a cable car was called the “Ropeway”.
Anyway, we were lugging our suitcases over from the station when an attendant stationed outside the ryokan spotted us. He hurried over to welcome us and check our names off the list, and helped us carry our stuff in.
The ryokan had a covered verandah, where we left our footwear before entering the main hall. Immediately it was like stepping into a different world – the atmosphere inside was just so zen.
Check in was a breeze. We handed the check-in guy our passports, and were served hot towels and welcome refreshments as we waited. We were then shown to our rooms, which were on the third floor. There were six of us – the two guys shared a room and us four girls shared another.
Our room was super lovely. It was spacious and airy and bright, and opened up to a large balcony. The muted colour tones lent the room this air of understated elegance that I totally loved. The attendant showed us where everything was before he left, including our yukata set!
After we all were dressed nicely in the pretty yukatas, we went out to see the onsen area. Gora Hanaougi Sounkaku has two separate communal baths, one open for the ladies and the other for the gents. This is alternated once a day, so we had to pay close attention which one was which at the time!
When we were there, the ladies’ communal bath had two outdoor onsen pools. They were pretty small, but we were lucky that no other guests were there at the time. We practically had the whole place to ourselves. It was really lovely to get a hot soak in the crisp, almost-wintry air!
After onsen we went down for dinner. We were shown into a private dining room and served a thirteen-course kaiseki (Japanese fine dining) meal. Everything was delicious. I’ll let the photos take you through the meal experience 😉
Breakfast the next day was served in the same room. It was a much simpler affair. Japanese breakfasts are very minimalistic – with plain rice and miso soup and fish, and some condiments.
When it was finally time to check out, I really did not want to leave so soon. Our one night stay in Gora Hanaougi Sounkaku was truly lovely. I found the service to be just okay though – it was not bad, but I think I had heard so many off-the-roof praises for services in ryokans that I had higher expectations.
Getting there turned out to be quite complicated too (scroll down to see detailed directions!), but I guess it was already one of the most strategically-located ryokans in Hakone. Heh. Still, despite the trouble, if you are planning a Japan trip, coming out to Hakone and staying in Gora Hanaougi Sounkaku is highly, HIGHLY recommended 🙂 We made our reservations directly through the website, and spent JPY 20,000 (~SGD 246) per person.
PS: Gora Hanaougi Sounkaku is actually the slightly lower-end version of a high-end ryokan, Gora Hanaougi, located just nearby. So when you make your booking, do not confuse between the two 😉
PPS: Even if it’s labeled a “lower-end” version, in my opinion it is already superb!
Gora Hanaougi Sounkaku Address: 1300-492 Gora, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa Prefecture 250-0408, Japan Phone: +81 460-82-3311 Website: http://www.gorahanaougi.com/en/sounkaku/ Getting there: From Tokyo, take the train to Odawara Station. You can take the JR-Tokaido Shinkansen line (faster and more expensive) from Tokyo Station, or Odakyu-Odawara line (slower and cheaper) from Shinjuku Station. At Odawara, take a different train to Hakone Yumoto Station. At Hakone Yumoto, take the Hakone Tozan Railway to Gora Station. This is a special railway train that goes around Hakone, stopping at various scenic spots so passengers can sight-see. At Gora Station, take the Hakone Tozan Cablecar to Sounzan Station. Remember this is the tram. It was quite a fun ride up the mountain, actually! Gora Hanaougi Sounkaku is located just outside Sounzan station. From Sounzan station, you can take the Hakone Ropeway (a cable car/gondola line) to explore the other parts of the mountain!