Hakone-Yumoto is the main gateway to the Hakone area near Odawara, and is Hakone’s most famous hot spring. Located approximately 90 minutes from Tokyo by express train, there are numerous ryokans and hotels for a weekend getaway as well as 28 facilities that open their onsen to day visitors. From Hakone-Yumoto you can also take a combination of trains, buses, boat trips and rope ways to do a circular trip to view Mt Fuji and Lake Ashi. On the day of my visit, it was a cold, wet, grey day with no chance of seeing Mt Fuji, so I headed straight to the onsen.
Admittedly, I was a bit bamboozled by the choice of onsen, and in the end I chose one that was “very famous” – not always such a good move in Japan as it means there are too many people! The hit and miss exploration is all part of the fun though.
Tenseien is located about 20 minutes walk up the hill from Hakone-Yumoto station. It is a pleasant walk along the river, and the bonus is that there is the beautiful Tamadare waterfall and beautiful gardens in the mountain side behind the hotel. In fact the name “Tenseien” literally means “The garden that heaven made”, and inspired a number of famous composers in their literary works.
The onsen is available for both overnight and staying guests. Unofortunately it feels a little bit like a “people factory” as you are herded into lines to check in, as well as queuing in lines to checkout and pay.
Comparatively the cost is high – 2300 yen for the day, however it does include a bath towel, face towel and yukata rental for the day, and useage of the relaxation rooms. The facility also stays open for 23 hours for day guests, so there is plenty of time to relax if you are so inclined. At the reception desk you are given a bar coded bracelet which is scanned to keep track of any food, drink or other services that you might order throughout the day.
Tenseien has indoor and outdoor baths located on the 6th and 7th floors of the building. Apparently, of an evening it has a stunning night view overlooking the town. Unfortunately, visibility both in the inside and outside bathing areas was extrememely poor on the day I visited. The hot steam from the water was mixing with the cold air and creating more steam and cloud.
The age range was quite diverse, ranging from younger families to older single people. Unfortuately I witnessed the detrimental side of onsens, when I saw one older lady collapsed on the floor after her bath. This isn’t something you see too often however it reminds you that you do need to drink lots of water and also not bathe for too long as you can get light headed.
On the second floor of Tenseien there are large dining areas including Japanese or Wesetern foods. Most people are wearing their yukata and come to eat after they have their first bath. Soba and sake was the go for me. The food was OK, but again, the scale of the place was too big for me. Luckily I was able to take my time relaxing at the table as I later found that the relaxation room was full.
On the way home
After another soak in the roof top baths after lunch, I headed for the exit. After a relaxing time it was a bit disapppinting to have to stand in a queue to be processed wth the bar code and pay the bill – but that was the system! Although the onsen quality had been good, the overall experience, with too many people and feeling “too processed” did not quite do it for me.
I will howver come back to the area to try out some of the other day facilities, and perhaps have better luck next time.
From Shinjuku, take the limited express Romancecar (85 minutes) directly to Hakone-Yumoto and take the hotel shuttle bus from the station (5 minutes).