In November 2019, I took my parents to Japan for their first time – and my seventh – over two weeks. This series is to be read as a diary, and serves as a place to showcase the pictures taken and preserve the memories made.
Date of trip: 14/Nov/2019 – 28/Nov/2019
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All experiences – food, accommodation and activities in this post were independently paid for.
|Day 1 – Hiroshima (introduction)||Day 2 – Okayama/Kurashiki|
|Day 3 – Osaka||Day 4 – Mount Koya|
|Day 5 – Kyoto||Day 6 – Kyoto|
|Day 7 – Arashiyama||Day 8 – Kyoto|
|Day 9 – Uji & Nara||Day 10 – Hakone|
|Day 11 – Hakone||Day 12-14 – Tokyo|
Japan Day 10 – Hakone
The title of this post should just read ‘A pandering to Hoshino Resorts‘. Its accuracy wouldn’t suffer: yes, I fully admit it reads like a sponsored post, such is the rush of gush. But oh, I only wish it was! Hey Hoshino Resorts, if you’re reading this I’m totally up for some collab post-COVID19 *wink wink*
Now we’ve addressed the gigantic elephant, let’s talk Day 10. Don’t worry, I get to Kai Sengokuhara very, very quickly.
After checking out from The Thousand Kyoto, we ate what I thought would be a quick breakfast at Lorimer, a washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine) cafe, serving up ichiju sansai/gosai一汁三菜 / 一汁五菜 – a meal format I talked about with Kishin Kitchen. The sets revolve around seafood, the produce is always locally-sourced, and the staff also run cooking classes. In what’s still a fairly rare instance of diversity in Japan, Lorimer is run by New York expats.
It was an expectedly satisfying brekky – but golly was it anything but quick. The wait from order to plate-on-table was an excruciating 40 minutes, likely due to multiple groups being seated right before us. If you’re in a rush I wouldn’t try to chance the small space, despite the obvious quality of its food. Plan accordingly, but go if you have a lazy morning.
After Lorimer causing us to nearly miss our shinkansen (and believe you me, hoping for a train delay is NOT a valid strategy in Japan), we scenically made our way from Kyoto to Odawara. Odawara? I’m glad you asked – I’ve also never heard of it – people who visit Hakone from Tokyo don’t need to deal with this mandatory stop. From Kyoto? Not so easy – you change at Odawara*. It would be analogous to a visitor from Canberra having to change at Sydney’s aptly-named Central Station in order to then take a train to visit the Blue Mountains. But that’s enough pettifogging over this little detail. We have a luxury resort to check into!
*There are other options, some which are cheaper too, but Kyoto to Hakone via Odawara is the fastest.
Due to poor weather (as you can clearly see in the photos) and Hakone still reeling from the aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis (remember that guys? Felt like a jidai ago), transportation in the posterchild town of hot springs was a mess. Many bus routes were modified or cancelled, taxis were as rare as hen’s teeth, and trains? Good bloody luck. A trip that takes 35min under normal circumstances took over 1.5 hours and three bus changes: that’s how long it took to get to Kai Sengokuhara. Oh and we had to do this with luggage. Oh and the buses were always somehow full, so every change was a fun game of tetris. Oh and it was raining heavily. The entire day.
At this point, we could be checking into a youth hostel with shared toilets and it would still be the mirage of the desert.
Hakone’s schtick as an all-season scenic resort town means there is no shortage of accommodation, ranging from humble guesthouses (minshuku) to luxury 5-star resorts & Japanese-style ryokan. With that in mind, why Hoshino Kai Sengokuhara? Well obviously because I was paid to write this, duh.
Oh if only. Our choice boiled down to the simple fact that the absolutely legendary Gora Kadan was booked out. Given luxury property in Hakone are a dime a dozen, the strength of Hoshino’s brand and the fact that Kai Sengokuhara is one of the region’s newer properties – having only been completed in 2019 – were particularly attractive.
As you’d expect of a luxury ryokan, the tariff gives you an oversized washitsu (traditional Japanese room) that’s something between the size of a very large one-bed or small two-bedder apartment, and all provide a balcony with an outlook to the Hakone mountains. Also included are full kaiseki dinners and elaborate breakfasts (which importantly, were delicious if not traditional), as well as impeccable service through and through. The usual omotenashi stuff. It’s the sort of place you don’t actually want to leave, especially given the $1200-$1600/night rack rate. Think twice if you’re visiting Hakone and intending to be out and about.
The resort also pays homage to Hakone’s secondary claim to fame as a preeminent centre for the arts (with many world-class art museums, it’s not just a hot springs town!). There are local artist works in almost every nook and cranny, with the central lobby featuring an atelier-like space where guests can participate in a free-of-charge tenugui (Japanese handkerchief) colouring activity. Easily the best souvenir of the trip.
Now, I would be spreading misinformation if I said Hoshino’s Kai Sengokuhara stands above all else in Hakone. But gosh, you’re not exactly drawing the short straw here. With all that is sublime with this incredible stay, did you expect me to do anything else?