Thursday, September 4, 2014

Mountains + Onsen = Happy Kate

I'm writing this from my Japanese-style suite at Hakone Ginyu, a traditional ryokan with onsen in Hakone.  I can hear the water trickling into the bath outside on the balcony and the occasional very loud cicada, and I have a panorama view of the green mountains beyond and manicured Japanese garden below.

Mountain view from Hakone Ginyu

The Museum also has a free foot bath,
which has floating lemons and oranges in it.
We arrived yesterday a little too early to check in, but we had lovely drinks on the balcony anyway, and then headed to the Hakone Open Air Museum.  The Museum has an eclectic array of sculptures by Rodin, Henry Moore, and many others.  There is also a two floor gallery dedicated to Picasso, where we saw some of his pottery and glass works.  I hadn't really known he'd been into pottery, so that was interesting.  Still, I prefer his paintings more. :)

At the Hakone Open Air Museum.
Curry with shrimp and onsen egg!
Since we were hungry we stopped at Woody's Bar & Café on the way to the museum.  It seems to be run by just one man and has a very cute little patio at the back, which is where we ate.  Lunch was not just reasonable, but also delicious!
Woody's lunch menu.

James on the patio at Woody's.
After the museum we headed back to the ryokan to enjoy a bath before dinner, but not before snacks which are generally provided on check in.  I thought this was just a nice gesture but apparently it's to prevent guests from becoming light headed in the bath. 

Japanese snacks including sour plum (umeboshi) and camembert cookies.  Oishii!
Close-up of bah: it's made of wood!
If you've never enjoyed a Japanese bath before, it's definitely an experience worth trying!  There are usually communal, gender-segregated baths for people to enjoy but some people find this 
intimidating (since you don't wear bathing suits in Japanese baths).  The water is very hot and relaxing.  There are no bubbles are soaps in a Japanese bath, you just soak and enjoy the scenery (and at onsen they usually arrange it so bathers have a beautiful view to enjoy).

Private Japanese bath on the balcony.
Traditional alcove in Japanese rooms.
After the bath, we relaxed for a few hours before dinner time.  At a ryokan you usually have dinner in your room, and it's usually kaiseki-ryoori, kind of like Japanese haute-cuisine.  We had many courses, each very small in size, but ultimately as a whole very filling.  My favorites were the milk gelatin and lily bulb paste (not sure if the translation is exactly right), the sashimi, and the pumpkin and orange jelly.  
Appetizer course!  Apple wine, steamed sweet potato mixed with soymilk, topped with sea bream, crab and sauce.  In the middle is milk gelatin and lily bulb paste.

Second course: Japanese soup made of matsutake mushrooms.  It also contained shrimp and fish.
James enjoying the sashimi course, wearing yukata.
Entrée #1: Broiled harvest-fish with miso sauce, edible chrystanthemum dressed tofu, steamed taro, broiled ginkgo nuts, pumpkin and orange jelly, salmon wrapped around sprouts.
Dessert course: Japanese-style tiramisu and kaki (persimmon).  Served with green tea.
We got two free drink cards so after dinner headed to the bar to enjoy some beer.  It was very empty, but there was a nice view and it was quite cozy.  Another thing about a ryokan is that you wear yukata, and so we wore that to the bar as well.  There was still time for another bath, which at night is just as pretty as in the day because the garden is lit up and the mountains have lights from the roads and cars.  Luckily they are too far away to see! ^_^

After a great rest on traditional Japanese futon beds, I'm now enjoying the sunrise and waiting for breakfast, after which I'll probably enjoy yet another bath!  Then it's off to the mountains for some sightseeing before heading on to Kyoto.


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