Looking for the best ryokan in Hakone? Hakone Kowakien Tenyu might be your answer — read my review here.
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Best Ryokan in Hakone
Just an hour outside of Tokyo lies the mountain town of Hakone, a serene haven of green forests, hot spring onsens and vermillion torii gates. It’s a lush escape from the chaos and wackiness of Tokyo.
What made Hakone particularly special for us was our stay at Hakone Kowakien Tenyu, a sanctuary tucked amidst the mountains of Hakone. Opened in April 2017, this spectacular five-star hot spring resort is a destination on its own and has fast become one of the best ryokans in Hakone.
The hotel is a contemporary take on the traditional ryokan, adding a touch of luxury to true Japanese style. Even though there are 150 rooms in the hotel, the interior feels contemporary and upmarket as well as quintessentially Japanese.
Relax in the Mountains
Perched on a mountaintop, Hakone Kowakien Tenyu stands amidst lush green forests and tumbling hot spring waterfalls. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to relax and not leave the resort, ever!
But there is a downside to the hotel’s rural location — you’ll need a car to get around the area. There isn’t any restaurant, shop or public transport within walking distance. That is exactly the appeal of the resort. It allows you to experience Japan off the beaten path in a way, despite its proximity to Tokyo.
For those with a vehicle, the hotel is a 10-minute drive from the Hakone town and other attractions such as the Hakone Shrine, the Hakone Open-Air Museum, Lake Ashi and Owakudani volcanic area. If you’re not driving in Japan, you can get to the hotel by taking a train to Gora train station, from which the hotel provides a free shuttle service.
Surrounded by Nature
You don’t even need to go far to enjoy Hakone’s mountains and forests. The hotel has a big and lush gardens, filled with winding paths that weave through cypress trees. You’ll find yourself crossing ponds and standing under tumbling hot spring waterfalls. Follow the wooden trails and you’ll eventually get to a Shinto shrine. The shrine has been standing at this for decades, before the hotel became what it is today.
The gardens are definitely my favorite thing about Hakone Kowakien Tenyu. They gave me the sensation of staying inside a forest and added that bit of mystery to the hotel. I stayed in a hotel bar for an hour, just looking out inside the garden and feeling myself relax.
Ryokan with a Twist
What makes Hakone Kowakien Tenyu stand out from the other hotels in Hakone are its contemporary yet traditional rooms spanning seven floors. Each of its 150 rooms also has a private ceramic Japanese-style hot spring bath on the balcony. A push of an electric button will fill it up with onsen water piped directly from the ground, for soaks with a view. Ask for a Forest Valley View room — the Mountain View rooms are on the car park side of the hotel so are slightly less private!
Our room was extremely spacious — complete with tatami mat flooring, low tables and chairs, comfortable plush beds. It also had a big bathroom and living area for our daughter to play with her toys and us to hang out as a family. But unlike a traditional ryokan, we got to sleep on plush comfortable beds here instead of thin futons spread on the floor.
Infinity Hot Spring Pools
As with every other resort in Hakone, the hotel is devoted to all things onsen (Japanese hot spring). It provides every guests with cotton yukata gowns and encourages you to wear that in the resort grounds. We absolutely loved wearing our yukata — it was so fun and comfortable.
The hotel has two onsen hot spring baths (both indoors and out) are just spectacular and therapeutic — Ukigumo is an infinity hot spring pool perched on the 6th floor, with obstructed mountain views. Kurumazawa is a natural hot spring bath in a forest, with mineral-rich water fed by a plunging waterfall.
The two pools are switched for male and female each day, which means you’ll get to enjoy both baths even if you’re staying for just one night. Note that the onsen does not allow people with tattoo to enter — but you can get tape from the hotel reception to cover them up if you have any. In Japanese culture, tattoos are associated with gangs and most onsens refuse admission to gang members.
A Family-Friendly Hot Spring Park
For those traveling Japan with kids, the hotel is owned by the same people who run the Yunessen Hot Springs Park, which is just across the street. The quirky themed park features hot spring baths filled with red wine, green tea, sake and coffee!
My 4-year-old daughter said the hot spring park was her favorite experience on our two-week Japan trip. But Yunessen isn’t just for kids — its unique hot spring pools are great fun for adults as well. Experience soaking in hot spring baths of different color and aroma (especially the coffee one!) — just don’t try to drink the water. Plus there are big slides and also outdoor springs perched on a hilltop with spectacular views.
There are two separate areas of Yunessen: the bathing suit area and the traditional onsen (no-clothes area). To enter just the bathing suit area, the entrance fees are at 2900 Yen ($26) for adults and 1600 Yen ($14) for children. Book your tickets here!
A Japanese Culinary Experience
Our dinner at the hotel’s in-house restaurant Hakone was possibly the best culinary experience we had in Japan.
Dressed in our yukata, we enjoyed a sumptuous eight-course dinner that truly felt like a feast. It was a contemporary Japanese-style affair, with artful displays of fresh sashimi and broths served on an array of ceramics and laquerware. Our menu included dishes ranging from wild boar sausage and rhubarb to a delicious raw fish sashimi spread.
Breakfast is also served here – and guests are all welcomed to eat in their yukatas. We chose from either Western (cereal, eggs, bacon, mashed potato) or Japanese (grilled fish, tofu, rice, miso soup) breakfast menus.
Activities in Hakone
Most guests who stay in the hotel tend to spend most of their time in the property, enjoying the onsen, lush gardens and delectable food. But there are lots of activities on offer, besides the hot spring theme park across the road.
Hakone Kowakien Tenyu also organises guided hikes in the area and daily morning yoga on a stone platform in the garden, with the surrounding forest waterfalls creating a meditative soundtrack.
There’s also a spa that offers Japanese-inspired treatments in its cosy four-room spa with garden views (including massages with Japaense yuzu and hinoki cypress wood).
Overall Review of the Hakone Tenyu
In all honesty, Hakone Tenyu gave us a nice break from the intense Japan itinerary I had planned for my family. It allowed us to enjoy another side of Japan without having to jostle with the crowd in the subway or hike up mountains.
I absolutely loved our time at Hakone Tenyu and found it a very special experience. And I wasn’t the only one who loved it here — my husband ranked this as one of the coolest hotels we’ve stayed at, and our daughter still can’t stop talking about the hot spring theme park here.
Hakone Tenyu was perfect for us, in every sense of the word.
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