Japan Memories #10: Hakone Ryokan Experience

Travel Date : 27th March (Tue)

From a brochure: 

Even before modern transportation, Japanese people were great travelers. Tourists visited important Shinto Shrines such as Ise in Mie prefecture and Buddhist Temples. Along the well-trod postal routes and official highways, most travelers stayed in hatago or inns for common people. Hatago evolved into the traditional style of inn known as Ryokan.

Ryokan Experience

Cat:

We had decided to explore the Hakone Region first before going to the Ryokan (a hot spring resort) for our dinner and one night stay. 夕雾庄 ( Yuugiriso Inn or “Xi Wu Zhuang”)was the Ryokan we booked in Singapore using the internet.

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We arrived at 4.30pm, quite late and was welcomed by someone far away from the entrance. When we were led in, all the staff of the Ryokan was there to greet us and bowed. We were overwhelmed with it. I was a little ‘scared’ in fact (not used to such hospitality ^_^). Too hospitable.

A lady was assigned to us as our personal “housekeeper” but she knew little English. We had to try to decipher with my limited Japanese vocabulary. I understood somewhat but couldn’t speak a sentence well enough to her. I was also too tired and brain couldn’t function for the right words. I managed to ask her when will dinner be served and told her we want dinner at 6pm. She told us about the difference between the ‘onsen’ or hot baths in Japanese and we struggled to understand.

Soon, she gave up and went to arrange our dinner. I found it frustrating as we didn’t know what to do when the lady was gone. Vin had to keep going out and find her to ask.

Vin:

When we first arrived at the Ryokan, I got a little nervous as the surroundings got more deserted as we walked in. I couldn’t help but wonder if we were going to be the only customers there.

When we stepped into the lobby, we were greeted by several traditionally dressed women, and all of them spoke only Japanese. Even the man at the reception desk handling our check-in knew very little English. Oh no, this was going to be a tough stay, I thought.

The lady assigned to us knew very little English too so we had a hard time communicating with her. When she left, we decided to go for the private ‘onsen’ which was for family or friends, but were unsure of what we needed to do. Do we need to ‘book’ it first etc.?

Room

Shoji, or doors made of wooden frames with paper inserts, and tatami, or matted floors of woven rush plants, were traditional features of Japanese architecture. These natural materials helped keep homes cool in the summer and warmer in the winter, making home life pleasant throughout the nation’s four distinct seasons.

Cat:

The first thing we did was to enter our spacious room, a welcome retreat for the long day and a huge space compared to the tiny hotel room at Kazusaya.

The tatami was comfortable indeed and I was asked to choose the colour of my Yukata (A Japanese sleep robe).

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Bathing

Vin:

Anyway, after giving up on getting help from the staff, I figured that we just need to bring our bathing stuff and wait outside the bathroom.

So, we changed to our Yukata, went to the ‘Family Bath’ and saw Japanese ladies waiting. Vin tried to ask but they didn’t know English so we gave up and went back. I checked up bath on my guide book and found it was called, “Ofuro” so we decided to go back again.

They had already went in by then as we could hear the muffled voices of Japanese women inside. We had to sit on a bench and wait outside for them to finish.

When two ladies emerged later and caught sight of us, they were very apologetic and kept saying sorry to us. (Japanese are too polite…) We just smiled at them.

We read about bathing in a Ryokan before coming here so roughly we knew we had to clean ourselves thoroughly first before getting down to the main bath. But whoa, the waters were really, really hot (around 40 degrees Celsius?) and I had a tough time getting used to the temperature. It felt very great after the bath though.

Cat:

We read about “bathing etiquettes” beforehand and knew what to do but was still unprepared as the shower doesn’t seem to prepare the water properly so we had to use a basin to pour the water inside.

Dinner

To savour a variety of dishes on a dinner table is a part of the enjoyment at ryokan. In Japan’s many ryokan, travelers can ask the nakai-san or housekeeper to bring a meal to their rooms.

The dinner was a set seafood meal. We didn’t find it that fantastic though compared to other meals we ate in Japan and Singapore. Our only favourite was the crab soup! It was really tasty.

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Soak in Public Bath

How to bathe in Public Hot Spring

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After the interesting dinner, we went for a soak again at 9pm. I was apprehensive at appearing naked in front of other women but the thought of experiencing a real hot spring threw my uneasiness away. I just had to know how it’s like!

After placing my belongings in a cubby hole and taking a small towel, I stepped in. There was nobody around except for one person soaking outside in the hot spring water. The glass door was too misty to see through to the outside so I only saw a glimpse of an outline. The entire bath was huge and right beside the entrance were different shower points. The taps were so different from the ‘family bath’ that I had to figure out how to switch one on. I couldn’t see clearly without my specs so I didn’t know why the temperature seemed to be scalding hot as I turned the knob.

I gave up and begin to fill a tub with water using the shower head before pouring over myself. I think I looked clumsy to a Japanese lady who came in slightly after me with a child. I turned around and saw how they were using the shower head. They adjusted the shower and used the shower head as it is. Squinting my eyes at the tap, I realised I just had to adjust the temperature to what I like at a knob above and stop turning it. Then, turn on another knob below it. Gosh, it was complicated and nothing like our simple tap at home!

After that, I entered the bath with normal hot water. It was like a small swimming pool. I was at one end while the lady with the daughter took the other. The lady left to walk out to the open bath. I was a bit embarrassed but after a while, I finally mustered up the courage to step out to the door separating the outside bath (with real hot spring sulphuric water) and the inside.

Woah…it was cold and the bath was so small, only half the size of the bath inside. The two Japanese women were already soaking inside and greeted me as I stepped out but I was shy and didn’t know how to respond.

I gingerly stepped down the stone steps into the water which was steamy, cloudy and smell of sulphur.

I nodded with a smile but didn’t know how to respond. Due to earlier encounters with Japanese, many of them didn’t know English and I couldn’t speak Japanese so we seldom communicate unless we really need them for directions. As an afterthought, I should have tried speaking to them in English or use my limited Japanese just in case. I was too shy to be soaking in a bath with two strangers then. They talked to each other while I sat there awkwardly in front of them in the small pool and left quickly soon after.

At least, I finally experienced what a hot spring bath feels like!

This was the hot spring for men, which Vin went into.

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We understood after this, that the lady was trying to explain to us that at 9pm, the baths would be switched over. Both genders would then experienced two different style of baths. The difference is in the landscaped scenery for the outside hot spring bath.

This was the hot spring for women, which I went into.

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Sleep –  Futon Experience

Cat:

I love the futon bed because it had been days since I could sleep properly without squeezing with Vin in that little room of our hotel in Tokyo.

However, unknowingly, my bed got pushed to the heater and I woke up feeling very hot, partly due to the soaking in the hot water before and partly due to the heater blowing on me. I moved my bed away and turned down the heater.

In the morning, we got woken up by knocks on our door. Breakfast is at 8 a.m. and we were still in bed! We had overslept…Gosh, we quickly brushed our teeth and went down to the dining hall.

We were surprised to see many guests eating already. I felt quite embarrassed stepping in and what’s worse, we were still in the Yukata we were dressed in. The other guests were already in their modern clothes. I felt strange and wondered if it is wrong to still be dressed in Yukata. Didn’t had much appetite to eat since we were still in a dazed mood.

Finishing breakfast, we went back to our rooms and dressed quickly. Before that, we remembered to take some photographs of the place. I found out much later that my spectacles had been left behind! (We contacted them after returning to Singapore but no response at all on returning it back to me…)

 More Info On Futon and Hot Springs

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 Cost

Accommodation: 1 night including dinner and breakfast for two / Bath Fees (150Yen each) = 22,980 Yen (abt SGD 258.4 )

The next day before we leave the Ryokan, we specially took a picture of ourselves in the room.

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It was a memorable experience and till this day, I still remembered the awkwardness of soaking in a public bath with other people. ^_~

(This entry is from our Travel Scrapbook of Japan in 2007)

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