Ryokan: a Traditional Japanese Inn
A stay at a ryokan should be on every itinerary of first-time visitors to Japan. It’s not a gimmick and very popular with Japanese and Western tourists alike. Ryokan’s are typically found outside city centres in scenic locations and near onsens (hot springs), offering a relaxing city break.
Fukuzumiro Ryokan in Tonosawa, Hakone
Our first ryokan experience was at Fukuzumiro in the small town of Tonosawa, Hakone. Hakone is a popular destination with Tokyoites looking for a city break. It is also renowned for its hot springs and views of Mount Fuji.
It takes just two hours to reach from Tokyo with the bullet train. We caught the Shinkansen from Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto station and transferred to Tonosawa by local rail.
Steeped in history, Fukuzumiro was established in 1890 and has since hosted a number of famous Japanese writers and artists. We stayed for three nights in March 2013 in room Sakura 1, where scriptwriter Hojoh Hideshi once lived.
When you enter a ryokan, you are greeted by a host in traditional dress. Step out of your western shoes and don a pair of Japanese slippers, it’s all part of the experience. A yukata and slippers are usually worn when inside the ryokan.
The only time I had seen interiors like Fukuzumiro before was in a movie. The ryokan really met all of our expectations, from the beautiful glass porch in our room overlooking the Hayakawa river, to the stunning communal facilities. Everything looked so authentic. Rooms divided by sliding doors, tatami-mat flooring, traditional futon bedding, and a central Japanese garden.
Ryokan’s are beautiful reminders of the days past. You’d do well to forget about technology and modernity and immerse yourself in the daily rituals. Breakfast is served daily in your room, followed by a day-time excursion. It’s a good idea to head back early enough for a soak in the hot springs before dinner.
Kaiseki usually consists of several different meals, like a taster menu, using seasonal and regional ingredients. Therefore, there is no menu, everything is chef’s choice.
The surprise Kaiseki dinners were the most exciting culinary experience of our trip. The most delicious meal we ate was succulent beef sukiyaki, my favourite Japanese dish. The strangest thing has to be abalone drowned in sake, which I admit I’m not a fan of.
The most surprising dish was fugu… you know, the poisonous blowfish! It’s not really something we had ever thought about trying before. But when it appeared on our plates before us, served by our smiling hostess, we swallowed it down like it was nothing, giggling at our brush with death.
We also ate all types of sashimi, as well as sea snails, fish heads, tempura, charcoal grilled sea bream, and a few things I can’t even name!
Our Charming Hostess
Our lovely hostess really made our stay extra special and memorable. Using a combination of basic Japanese, English and sign language, we were able to communicate life stories and jokes.
Hiking in Hakone
Hakone has plenty of hike trails, shrines, a natural park and a lake worth exploring during the day. To this day Hakone’s hiking trails remain among the most beautiful I’ve ever explored.