Taiwan and Japan

2015 - 2016

Day 11


Today we left Osaka for Hakone. We checked out of our hotel and organised to get our bags delivered to the next hotel. The forms we needed to fill out were practically all in Japanese so last night we got the hotel staff to help us fill out one as a template so we could copy it for the others. The first form she filled out was all in Japanese characters which we would have had a really hard time copying, but then thankfully she started again in English for us.

We left our bags with the friendly staff, checked out and headed to the train station. We then caught a local train to Shin-Osaka station where we could catch a JR train to Hakone. We have used our JR passes a lot so far, very much worth it!

We got some food and boarded our bullet train with perfect timing and started our 2.5 hour trip to Hakone. Towards the end of the trip we went past Mount Fuji, it was hard to see from where we were sitting, but the sky was clear enough to see the sides of the mountain while the top looked like it was covered by cloud.

The bullet trains are amazing! We covered quite a big distance in this time and it was a really smooth ride. We had reserved our seats the day before which is highly recommended because on our last holiday we ended up standing most of the way, which was not fun! This is basically like a much more convenient plane trip and they look awesome too!

Once we arrived, we went to the tourism desk and bought a Hakone Free Pass… Which cost about $40 Australian. The free part of because it allows you to freely get on and off most of the transport around Hakone, including the train, cablecar, bus and ropeway.
Unfortunately there is a section of the ropeway that is closed due to a volcano!! I could not believe this! I’ve had two trips cancelled because of volcanoes and they getting me again! Thankfully this time it shouldn’t effect the trip too much and there is a replacement bus to work around it.

We jumped on the train to go to our hotel, the free pass didn’t include the express train so we had a few stops but it was a pleasant journey, the landscape was quite different to Osaka!

When we arrived we had a nice, easy 10 minute walk through what looked like a small mountain town. We walked along a nice river and arrived at our ryokan, which is a traditional Japanese Inn. Once we were checked in we were shown to our room. First of all, the rooms look amazing with wooden floor and walls and paper blinds, it looks like the traditional style you see in movies, but then we realised there were no beds, just some tables. We weren’t sure if this was where we were having dinner or what was going on.

Before long our room maid came in and helped us get settled. She was a small, older Japanese lady and didn’t speak much English, but she was very kind. She made us realise that we needed to take our shoes off at the door and she put them in a cupboard for us. She brought in tea and a small snack and turned on our Kotatsu, which is basically a table with a blanket attached that you sit under and a heater inside to keep you warm. It was pretty awesome!

She then got some clothes for us to wear that included some cool toe socks so we could wear the house clogs and a yukata, which is basically a casual robe similar to a kimono but much simpler and less formal. She made sure we had the right sizes and left us to enjoy our tea.
The chairs at the table were more like pillows on the ground with a small back support and everything was really low to the ground. It felt like we were getting the real traditional Japanese experience, so cool!

Dinner was already booked for tonight and our maid came back to pick us up at 6pm where she led us to the banquet hall. We took some photos of our group all dressed nicely in our yukatas and we all took our seats on the ground. We had also booked a geisha to accompany us to get the full experience. The maids started bringing out food and drinks for us and it was really nice! There were quite a few dishes I had no idea about, but apart from one or two small items it was all delicious. Some of the best sashimi I’ve ever had.

After our first course the geisha arrived. Her English was very good. She greeted us and made some conversation. Through out the night we learned a lot about Japanese culture and exactly what a geisha does. They follow old traditions and are trained as dancers, musicians and singers to entertain guests, normally older Japanese business men for meetings and other work functions.

We had the option of hiring two geishas, but we weren’t sure if that was necessary at the time. We found out tonight that there are normally two so one can play the music while the other dancers, so instead our geisha first played music using two different traditional Japanese instruments and then played some music on a portable stereo so she could perform the traditional dancing. We also learned that she helped translate Memoirs Of A Geisha and also how wrongly it portrays the real Japanese traditions. So much so that it actually has a somewhat bad reputation amongst the older, more traditional generation.

After we had our dinner, we presented Amy with our thank you gift. Amy has done such an amazing job organising this trip for so many people, including booking flights, accommodation, sight seeing agendas, train tickets, even down to which rides at the theme parks I would actually go on! Not only did she do all this, but separate itineraries for our two groups too. Before the trip we organised to all chip in some money and we ended up with 3 different hot springs vouchers, a Disney Pandora charm and some cash to spend at the spa’s. She seemed very happy with her gift.

When we arrived back at our room, the tables and chairs had been put away and replaced with beds. The beds were just some really thin mattresses on the floor with a blanket and a thin pillow. Sleeping on the floor is quite good while you’re on your back, but sleeping on your side is a little more difficult with these sorts of beds.

After relaxing in our room for a little bit, we heard how good the onsen was and I decided to give it a go. The traditional Japanese onsen are big bathing areas that use natural hot spring water but they have rules about wearing clothes inside, so you must go in completely naked. This is obviously a little awkward for us westerners, but I was determined to give it a go.
Luckily when I got there it was actually empty, so I followed the instructions and put my clothes in a tub in the changing room and walked into the bathing room. You have to sit at a washing booth and clean your self with soap and a hose properly before getting into the bath and then also rinse yourself off when you get out.

The water was really hot! The room was full of steam and the water was so still that I initially couldn’t tell where the water level was. I sat on the edge and dipped my toes in, but it was so hot I had to take them out straight away. It took a minute or two for me to adjust to such hot water, but I eventually did and enjoyed the bath.

It was really relaxing! Eventually another person came in as well but it’s really not that intimidating when you’re there, however being naked with friends may have been a bit weirder.

After a little while I actually got a little light headed and I realised I had barely had any water today and was probably a bit dehydrated. I decided to hop out, get some water and head back to the room, that meant I could also let Rob know how good it was so he could go down and try it too.

The walk from the room to the onsen was really cold, the weather is freezing here at night but on the way back it felt like summer, I was sweating so much I couldn’t even comfortably stay in our room for long. It’s amazing how different your body temperature is after even a short bath, but definitely worth it, I’m hoping I get another chance to do that at some point, very relaxing!

It’s been an awesome day, I’m so glad we put this one ryokan night in the trip, I could definitely stay here longer and after two previous trips to Japan I feel like I have finally experienced a bit more of the traditional side of the culture here, such a great day!