When planning a holiday to Japan visitors first add Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka to their must-visit places. This past summer, my family visited all three cities but also ventured outside to see a different side of Japan. Believe it or not, not all of Japan is fast-paced and bustling with people. A perfect retreat is Hakone, a mountainous town known for its hot onsen and views of the iconic volcano Mount Fuji. Located in Japan’s Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, it’s only a 1-hour train ride from Tokyo, which makes it a popular retreat for Japanese city-dwellers and tourists alike.
There can’t be a better palace in Hakone to stay than the Kowakien Ten-yu. It is a luxury retreat that not only caters to couples looking to unwind from their hectic lives but families too. The hotel warmly hosted us this summer and it was the most memorable stay of all the places we visited throughout our month-long family adventure in Japan.
The resort has not only one, but two onsens, which are Japanese hot spring baths. Each is open-air to allow bathers to fully connect with the surrounding natural environment.
Directly in front of the resort, is the Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, which has water activities for the whole family. There is an indoor and outdoor water amusement park for kids to unwind and parents can book unique wine, sake and coffee bath experiences. Guests from young to old will also love the quiet peace of the resort’s Japenese Garden. And if this was not enough the resort has a Japanese Spa and offers yoga sessions each morning to guests.
Before checking into our room, we decided to eat at Soba Kihinkan, one of the two restaurants associated with the property. The restaurant is set in a historic villa, that was constructed for the baron Haeitaro Fujita in 1918 and is now officially recognized as a cultural heritage building because of its beautiful Japanese architecture.
We were very excited to try Soba noodles for the first time and they didn’t disappoint. Daniel and I both had soba noodles that are prepared from stone-milled soba flour in a light broth and the girls had lightly battered tempura. The beautiful Japanese garden that surrounds the villa made the whole experience even more pleasurable. The garden is truly a masterpiece and a must visit after you dine.
After eating, we made our way back to Ten-Yu to check in to our room. We were surprised with an upgrade to one of the six special executive suite rooms with indoor onsen and outdoor open-air onsen hot springs bath. Each room is named after place names in Hakone and is based on, ‘Historical Time Periods and Culture’ or ‘Nature and the Four Seasons’ themes. We stayed in SENGOKUHARA, which is themed after Japanese Pampas Grass Fields.
There are truly no words to describe how beautiful the room is. Every last detail was thought of when designing the room for its guests. Upon entry, is a large entrance to leave your shoes, from there you can change into traditional resort clothes or a Yukata that’s left for you in a closet close to a tiny toilet room.
Once fully dressed in your resort clothes, you can enter a large dining area, with traditional Japanese sliding doors that lead to the balcony. To the right, with another set of sliding doors is a lounge area with a small sitting area. At night traditional Japanese futons can be placed on the tatami floor. Leaving the lounge area, you enter the hallway, which has a small bedroom attached with two separate beds. Finally, from the hall, you can reach the pamper room with two sinks and towel area that leads to the indoor hot springs bath.
If you’re not in the mood for an inside bath, simply open the sliding door to the open-air onsen hot spring, which is protected with a shade for privacy. The balcony overlooks a waterfall, so you hear the relaxing sound of falling water at all times.
The outdoor onsen was a hit with our whole family. The hotel always keeps families in mind and has outfitted the outdoor and indoor baths with cold water taps. This allows you to cool the water enough, so even the youngest member of the family can enjoy the experience. It was a really good bonding moment for all five of us! The three kids also bathed together in the deep bottomed indoor tub. If you’re not staying in a suite don’t be dismayed, all rooms at Ten-Yu have an outdoor bathtub!
After letting the kid play around the room, our suite attendant notified us we would be served in-room a 7-course Japanese fine-dining experience. The meal served in our room was presented as a show and the traditional Japenese formality in serving each dish was an experience to watch. We excitedly waited for each new arrival as our server would enter by opening the sliding door on her knees with the food and would leave by kneeling and sliding the door closed.
The girls were given tiny portions of child-friendly foods – hot dog, omelet, french fries, salmon, and pasta. Our favorite dishes included the sashimi plate, which actually had smoke coming out of it when opened and the grilled wagyu beef fillet. The whole meal took about 2 1/2 hours, which with three kids would be an impossible experience at any restaurant for us. Being served in our room allowed us to enjoy an ‘adult’ meal as the kids happily played about the suite.
After our meal, it was time to put the kids to bed. They decided to sleep in the lounge area. Two staff members came to turn down the room by organizing the futons on the floor and placing insert panels into the windows to block out the sun in the morning. With the kids in bed, it was time for mommy and daddy to take advantage of the outside onsen. The sound of the waterfall while relaxing in the hot spring water was a truly magical way to end the night!
In the morning, we awoke fully rested and ready for an in-room breakfast experience. We had the option to choose from a Japanese or a western breakfast. Being in Japan, we chose the Japanese breakfast experience. Breakfast in Japan is very different from the West. There are no fried eggs and potatoes! We enjoyed, the tsukemono, which is pickled vegetables, Miso Shiro, rice, and oily fish most!
We only spent a day at the Kowakien Ten-yu and regretted not spending a day or two more. We experienced Japanese hospitality at its finest and a visit to the resort is a must while traveling in Japan for all visitors – couples and families. To learn more about Kowakien Ten-yu visit their official website, Instagram or Facebook page.
Disclaimer: Kowakien Ten-yu graciously hosted our stay in order to facilitate this review. Although, the opinions within this post are my own.