To complete my round trip of Hakone, I take the bus back towards Hakone-Yumato. Hakone-Yumato means source of hot-water. Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered natural baths to be built here in 1590 to provide his armies with respite in the natural hot spring waters of this volcanic region.
After an amazing day, as the sunshine of the day begins to turn to late afternoon gloom, I get off the bus in a small village and walk a hundred metres or so to my accommodation for the night. My honkan (hot springs inn) is a traditional wooden building alongside a fast flowing stream. I take my shoes off at the door and swap them for geta. I check in and reserve my time for my onsen (hot springs bath).
The inn is one of the oldest in the Hakone region. Incredibly, it originally opened in 1630. My ryuton (room) is comprised of two rooms with two smaller outer rooms with shoji between each. The very small entrance room is solely for my geta and has no tatami mats unlike the next two rooms. The next is a small room with shoji hiding a wardrobe which contains my futon, pillows and quilt. The middle room, the biggest, has a low table in the centre with two flat chairs with no legs plus zabuteon (cushions) and tea making equipment on the table. There is also a tokonoma (alcove), a hot water heater for the tea, and, surprisingly, a modern television which looks completely out of place. The small outer room, which overlooks the stream, is chilly with a small western table, two chairs and a sink. The toilets and washing facilities are elsewhere.
On the table, along with the fire safety brochure, is an instruction pamphlet for bathing, changing into a yukata (robe) and for organising the futon to sleep on. I follow the instructions for my yukata and walk, with difficulty in my geta, to the hot springs. There are public baths, one for men and one for women, plus a private one. I have reserved the private bath as I don’t really know the etiquette and don’t want to offend anyone with any mistakes. I follow the instructions by washing myself thoroughly in the shower first before bathing in the hot spring water. The water is supposedly efficacious against rheumatism, high blood pressure, diabetes and other ailments.
At dinner, in the dining hall on the top floor, I’m the only Westerner. At least I have my yukata on. Two Korean guests are inconspicuous in their jeans and t-shirts. The restaurant is only half full, although this is the second sitting of the evening. The other diners are young, maybe fifteen years or so younger than I. Two old waitresses fuss over everyone, bringing dish after dish from the kitchen. There is no menu and no choice. Neither of the waitresses speak any English, so I just sit back and let them serve me. The main course has vegetables in a bowl set on a small stove on the table. One of the waitresses comes over and takes my plate of raw beef and adds it to the mix. I eat my cold fishy starters whilst it cooks. Once the beef is done, I tuck into that too, adding the stew and sticky rice to my small bowl before eating it. I have no idea what any of it is, but it’s very, very good. Soup is brought too, plus a small salad and then a sorbet for desert.