Hakone: Hakone Kimono Rental & Hakone Suimeisou

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Just like your average tourist to Japan, I wanted to stay in a ryokan, soak in hot spring water, and rent a kimono to wear during my trip. So basic, I know.

I don't care.


Luckily, I managed to squeeze all that into my first Hakone trip ever last year in December 2017!!!



Don't we look nice.  ;)

But first, to travel from Tokyo, Shinjuku Station precisely, to Hakone-Yuumoto Station.

In Tokyo, I bought the Odakyu Hakone Freepass for 2 days 1 night, and topped up a little extra to take the Romancecar to Hakone. It was a more luxurious and faster way to get to Hakone, and I just wanted to experience it at least once.



Of course, I was a sucker for the Romancecar lunch box (bento), and bought it immediately just so I could keep the train lunchbox it came in.

Japan is very good at getting me to spend my money.

I got to Hakone-Yuumoto station in 75 minutes, as advertised. After I found Hakone Suimeisou, my ryokan for the night, I quickly got on the bus to get to the Hakone Sekisho Ato bus stop, where my Hakone kimono rental place was located.

When I researched kimono rentals in Tokyo, much to my dismay all the Tokyo kimono rentals that I could access were just... expensive, or had ridiculous rental hours for exorbitant prices.

I was just about to GIVE UP when it struck me I could try to find out if Hakone had kimono rental services, though I had never read about that before.

I did a quick Google search, looked through a bunch of websites, and that led me to... the Hakone Sekisho Tabimonogatarikan

A mouthful, I know. I learned that the Tabimonogatarikan, located near the Hakone Checkpoint Atoko, recently started offering kimono rental services in early 2017.

Score! 

A very lovely Hiyoshi-san, who replied my Facebook messages, greeted me as soon as I stepped into the Tabimonogatarikan building and turned right towards the kimono rental area.

Tip: Please go to the toilet before you put on a kimono, because it will be VERY HARD TO DO SO once you're wearing one.

Each of my friends got assigned their very own kimono helper after we chose our kimono and obi. Within half an hour we were ready to explore Lake Ashi, the Ancient Cedar Avenue, and Hakone Shrine for the next few hours (without going to the toilet even ONCE, because it was impossible to walk long strides in our geta-slippers, let alone be able to maneuver toilet seats and the like).


Worth it, though.

If you ask me, Hakone is a GREAT place to be able to rent kimono, just for the pictures alone. I only wish we could have seen Mount Fuji more clearly (it was hidden by clouds most of the time), but the pictures I got were more than satisfactory (you bet I took A LOT of pictures of myself in kimono, since I didn't know the next time I'd get to wear one again).


First we walked along the Ancient Cedar Avenue, with cedar trees planted in 1618 (!!!) to provide shelter to samurai and travelers going between Edo and Osaka. I would have appreciated the historical significance a lot more if I wasn't trying NOT to fall.

It turns out I am not very good at walking on smooth roads in geta, let alone rocky ones.

However, it was worth it because a bunch of tourists going by told us that we were pretty. Behold, the power of the kimono.

We also took the sightseeing boat on Lake Ashi by doing one loop around the lake, before going back to visit Hakone Shrine in our kimono.





Many, many Instagram-worthy pictures were taken. A few other tourists also grabbed hold of us to take pictures with us, because we were one of the very few groups of people actually in kimono in the area, surprisingly.

At Hakone Shrine, I prayed for a couple of things, one of which failed to materialise. I'm not so sure about the other, too, but I guess we'll see...

... at least I have nice pictures of myself at Hakone Shrine, if I do say so myself (I DO say so myself).

Mount Fuji also finally appeared to us in the late afternoon, and I quickly snapped a few more pictures!



Sigh. What a lovely, relaxing day that was, despite not being able to answer nature's call for a few hours (aka no guzzling of water).


As we walked back to return our kimono, WE SPOTTED A PET OWL IN HAKONE!

Disclaimer: please don't have owls as pets, though. Seriously. Especially if you live in the city.

It was tied to a bike, and the owner came out and agreed to let us take a picture with his owl, which also obliged by looking at the camera.



Hello, little one.

The sun set early in early December, so by the time we got back to Hakone Suimeisou around 6pm plus, the sky was dark.

In Hakone, too, I scored something I wanted to eat but couldn't find AT ALL in Tokyo city itself. Thanks, tourists. I know it was you all.

Courtesy of 7-11 Hakone, I bought...


The much toted, much raved about Nakiryu 1-Michelin Star Tan Tan Noodles in a cup. All I can say is, these are surprisingly good for cup noodles.

I do have to say, though, I wonder how tourists cook these without knowing the kanji. There are 3 packets inside, 2 of which have explicit instructions on "ADD ONLY BEFORE SERVING". Otherwise, the soup may come out too thick the longer it is mixed and heated up inside.

At Hakone Suimeisou, I took the Japanese-style room with open-air bath, along with dinner and breakfast for the 4 of us. It came up to ¥18,750+, almost RM700.00 per person for one night's stay - a considerably cheap ryokan experience, compared to the others that I've looked at.

I don't have pictures of the room (or even the open-air bathtub, but I can say it looks pretty similar to the ones on their website), BUT DO I HAVE PICTURES OF DINNER AND BREAKFAST FOR YOU.

Behold!

Dinner ala Hakone Suimeisou






We stepped into the dining room, and practically gasped at the spread laid out before us. I don't like raw food (neither does the person next to me), so we were talking about how we'd give all the raw food to the two people who do like raw food.

Unfortunately, there was just too much food for our kaiseki dinner. I did try some of the raw food, which were okay but still not my thing.

The nabemono (one pot dish) food was REALLY good. I don't normally like steamed prawns, but this one was sweet and succulent. Japan, what magic do you use? I also liked the beef tataki, but unfortunately as this is a kaiseki meal, there were too little slices of it. Sigh.

All in all, a kaiseki meal is a great experience, but I don't think I'd do it again just because of the food wastage I am likely to occur, due to the large amount... unless I'm eating with someone who has an extraordinarily large appetite.

Breakfast ala Hakone Suimeisou

Breakfast was also a much more extravagant affair than I'm used to. To me, breakfast normally comes in one bowl. This breakfast, however...





Not one bowl at all.

The lightly fried saba fish. The warm miso soup. The onsen egg.

Perfect. Just perfect. Although, also too much for breakfast.

The staff at Hakone Suimeisou, mostly elderly, did their best to accommodate us. Please note that they do not understand most English, but they are certainly friendly. I read some reviews online complaining about how the staff didn't understand English and therefore couldn't explain the dishes served at kaiseki, to which I have to say...

YOU ARE IN JAPAN, SURELY YOU CAN RESEARCH THE DISHES YOURSELF ONLINE. 😑

I wouldn't go to Korea and complain about Koreans being unable to explain to me in English (or any other language that I understand) about their customs/ traditions, as I am capable of comprehending that the world does not revolve around English speakers.

But I digress.

Frankly I wish I could have stayed another night, because I spent too little time in the bathtub, but budgetary constraints and all that.

The next day Hakone was gloomy as we checked out, perfectly capturing how I felt about leaving. We left our luggage in the ryokan still as we explored one more place before heading back to Tokyo - Owakudani.

On a clear day, we could have seen Mount Fuji clearly from Owakudani, but it was so windy that day I could only manage one picture. It was the only day in Japan that I broke out my windbreaker, too.



Owakudani, in an eggshell (😅) is famous for their black eggs (boiled in their sulfuric hotsprings). One egg is said to extend 7 years of life. I also had black ice-cream, as well as black ramen at Owakudani.

The place of my goth dreams, clearly.

After my December 2017 trip, I have realised I much vastly prefer places like Hakone and Kamakura as places to visit this time.

These places were also besieged by tourists, but definitely at a lesser rate compared to the city itself. I've been in Japan once every two years at least since 2011. Each time, I can see that Japan's campaigns to drive tourism is succeeding even more and more.

I think it's great for their economy, but mass tourism will also bring in certain problems, like destruction of their attractions - people breaking off cherry blossom branches for photo opportunities, for example. I've started to look at attractions in Japan that are off the beaten path, just to avoid running into such tourists.

The Hakone and Kamakura I saw were filled with tourists, but I could still feel a unique human warmth I could no longer feel in places like Harajuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, and the like.

From the kind Hiyoshi-san at Tabimonogatarikan to the people in Kamakura that I met, their genuine interest and enthusiasm in welcoming/ helping foreigners like me are one of the reasons why I love returning to Japan.

The next time I return, I hope that I will be able to go to more places in which I can feel this human warmth still.

Thank you, Hakone. I would love to come back again.

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