Higaeri Ryoko (The one-day trip to the country)

Posted on May 18, 2011 in Hiroko's Blog

On last Sunday my husband and I decided to engage in a very typical Japanese weekend activity, the hi-gaeri ryoko – the one day round trip (by train, of course) to the countryside for some activity that nearly always involves an interesting meal and a dip in a hot bath at a local onsen (hot spring bath).  So we – along with several thousand other Tokyo-ites – boarded one of the frequent deluxe “Romance Car” trains of the Odakyu Electric Railway bound for the famous Hakone hot spring mountain resort area about 55  miles from Tokyo (about $25 each way for each person).  We left Shinjuku Station in Tokyo and arrived at Hakone Yumoto Station about 90 minutes later.  Hakone Yumoto is a town whose very existence and business life are 99% based on tourism. 
At Hakone Yumoto we headed to an inn, Shi-unso, where day tourists like us drop by for dip in an onsen.  Because our hotel in Tokyo made a reservation for us, we had the privilege of using our own private roten-buro (outdoor bath; literally an “under the heavens bath”).  The bath filled with continuously running hot sprigs water was about 20 feet in each dimension and about 2 feet deep (up to your shoulders when you are sitting) was made to look as natural as possible being constructed from large rocks.  The bath was located inside a private wooden fenced area surrounded by lush vegetation next to the rushing river that passes by the inn.  This privilege cost us $75 for 90 minutes.  Before entering into the hot spring water (we are completely naked of course!) as is the custom we scrubbed ourselves with soap and water at a designated area equipped with hot and cold tap water and a shower.  Then we entered the onsen pool staying in the delightfully hot water for about 10 minutes – that’s about all you can take in a single sitting – before emerging to cool down. We rested and cooled down on a wooden bench next to the pool and then back into the pool we went. We repeated this ritual four more times consuming our allotted 90 minute time.  Soaking in hot water made us a kind of tired – the blood circulates faster – and made us hungry.  We consulted with the locals – of course the taxi driver (an all electric Nissan Leaf!) and the inn front desk – to find the best place for a light lunch.  The decision was for the soba restaurant Gen. That meal and experience is the subject of the next entry in this blog.