What is it like to stay at Hoeiso?
Photo from Hoeiso
What exactly is it to stay in Hoeiso? We went there ourselves and investigated.
Arrival at the station
To Hoeiso through an old path
The doors of the Odakyu Romance Car open - you’re at Hakone Yumoto. As you take a step out of the train, the crisp mountain air greets you. You’re a 10 minute walk from the base of the Hakone mountains, but they are already calling you.
You walk out the station and cross the road. Old souvenir shops and beckon you to join in the traditional goods of Hakone.
You walk a little past the tourist shops and there’s a small, unassuming sign. That’s your bus stop to Hoeiso. You get in line and join other foreign travelers, young couples, and old grandmas waiting for their bus to their Ryokan.
The bus arrives. With a “pshh,” the doors open take a step into the small, 10-seat bus. You place your 100 yen coin in the money box and say “Hoeiso” to the white-gloved bus driver.
Photo from Hoeiso
The doors close, and your ascent begins. You leave the shops and the businesses of the Hakone downtown area as the bus weaves through the narrow, mountain roads of Hakone. You feel the rise in elevation. The forest thickens. The bus stops at other Ryokan along the way, and the bus slowly empties - until its just you. With a “psh” the doors open. “Hoeiso, hoeiso” the bus driver calls. It’s time to get off.
Invitation to the quiet & relaxing time in nature
You turn around as the rumble of the bus fades into the mountains. The air is crisper, cleaner than before. Across the road the yellow wall of Hoeiso welcomes you, perched on the edge of the mountain.
You cross the road and walk in. As you enter, the first thing that hits your eyes is the verdant mountain view from the lobby. It feels like the whole lobby is floating in the air next to the mountain.
The manager - Mr. Yago - greets you with a bright voice and even brighter smile, welcoming you to take your shoes off and come in.
You take off your shoes and being your experience as a guest in Hoeiso.
As you slip your feet into the slippers, the faint fragrance of incense welcomes to walk further into the lobby.
An old scroll of calligraphy greets you from the side as you take your first steps in.
“Time does not exist in the mountains”
Inviting you to forget the outside world and enjoy your mountain forest escape.
With the calligraphy to the left, and the lush mountain forest in front of you, you feel the spirit of Japan, connected with nature.
And here, the manager approaches you with a grin from ear to ear, asking you when you’d like to reserve the private onsen. When you’ve decided the time, he hands you a small board with your time on it. This is your “occupied” sign you’ll put in the entrance to the private onsen.
After you plan the reservation, a kimono-clad attendant guides you to your room. Walking through spotless, bright hallways covered in a modern Japanese style, you feel this Ryokan is staying up-to-date while never leaving its roots.
Entering the Room
Experiencing the luxuriousness of "doing nothing"
With a click, the attendant opens the wooden door to your room and slides it open with a swish.
Your private abode awaits.
You enter, take off your slippers, and step on to the wooden platform that leads to your room.
As you step in, the earthy, verdant fragrance of fresh tatami greets you, with a touch of incense. They’ve been waiting for you to arrive.
In the tatami room, the paper windows are filled with white sunlight, making the room bright even on a rainy day. And when you slide back the window, the verdant mountains greet you.
It’s just you and them.
To your side, there’s a television typical in almost all Ryokan. And normally, the TV breaks the traditional atmosphere.
But Hoeiso has gone through the effort to cover it with a deep green linen, preserving the natural, traditional atmosphere.
From behind, you hear a voice. Your attendant beckons you to sit at the low table with a smile, her hand outreached to the japanese chair.
Staying in the room
The space and time prepared only for you
As always, you change into the Yukata provided by the Ryokan. The Yukata that fits you perfectly is in a tray. On the rare chance the yukata doesn’t fit you, you can always ask the staff and they’ll bring the right size for you.
The loose fitting Yukata brings a wave of relaxation over you. No hard work today - just relax and enjoy the view.
When you open the window, you notice the lapping of the river below your room. The birds chirping in the trees. The sound of the rustling leaves.
Nature is chatting with you.
This isn’t a great place for doing many activities. It’s better for introspection, relaxation. For reading, journaling, clearing your mind. And it’s best for the ultimate luxury: enjoying the stillness.
At Hoeiso, the staff wants you to enjoy your time in peace. The only time you’ll see or hear from them is when they bring your meals to your room
Exploring the Ryokan
Relax, being part of nature
You have some hours until dinner. Now’s the time to explore the Ryokan a bit.
You leave your room and find the signs for the outdoor onsen. Following the signs, you meet a dark, concrete hallway. It’s still possible to see clearly, and you can see the outside world on the other side.
As you walk through the hallway, through the doors, you feel like you’re being transported to a new world. And in a sense you are: the forest garden of Hoeiso.
As you walk down the path, you’re surrounded by a well manicured but natural feeling garden, full of vegetation, stone steps, benches to enjoy the scenery and peace.
Wherever you go the songs of the birds and the rhythm of the river greets you.
And as you follow a particular stone path, you’re lead to a small bamboo hut: the entrance to the private open-air onsen.
Inside the Ryokan there is also a bright, clean public onsen you can use anytime. You can soak in the hot, mineral rich water, gazing upon the mountain trees surrounded by the mist hovering over the waters.
This is natural, non-frivolous relaxation at its best.
After relaxing in the water, you head back to your room for dinner.
Healthy pheasant dinner with great hospitality
Knock Knock. Who’s there? It’s your attendant, bringing your multi-course meal in lacquerware trays. You chose either 6:30, 7:00, 7:30 to have your dinner, and in traditional Japanese fashion, your attendant is 15 minutes early.
She delicately lays small dishes full of beautiful colors and textures.
But the focus is on Hoeiso’s specialty.
Pheasant, cooking in a small pot with leeks and other savory vegetables.
Pheasant is a rare find in Japan. A bit tougher than chicken. But the lean meat has a deep flavor, with no gaminess.
The whole meal is light, refreshing.
To the side is pheasant sashimi - raw pheasant. It provides a new perspective of pheasant and is quite delicious. But if you are a bit hesitant about eating raw pheasant, you can always cook it in the pot with the other pheasant meat.
The second course greets you with a pheasant gratin. And to end it all is a pineapple dessert with cream and a cherry on top.
A great balance of Japan and western cuisine.
When you finish your meal, your attendant pours you tea and leaves you once again to the mountains.
A note from the Authors:
Many Ryokan can’t accommodate many guests’ dietary preferences. But when we asked Hoeiso about the food, we were pleased to hear a different story.
Hoeiso can accommodate many diets, including vegetarian and halal. They can even avoid fish - down the the dashi soup stock (which in Japan is almost always made with fish).
Hoeiso really lives by its motto of leaving guests with nature, allowing them to relax on their terms. That is the ultimate hospitality.
Open-air onsen right by the river
After dinner, it’s time to visit the private onsen! You take the same route you did before. But the transition to night has transformed it into a different world.
It almost feels like your sneaking in the night to a secret hideout.
You find the same bamboo hut that is the entrance for the hot springs. And placing your sign by the entrance, you step into the changing room.
You disrobe, turn around and see the hot spring waiting for you through the foliage.
As you take steps towards the hot spring, the sound of the Sukumo river gets louder and louder.
The river is rushing right by the onsen.
You take a wash-bin by the spring, and douse your body in a bit of the hot water.
And then you get into the hot spring.
At first, it feels a bit shallow. The water doesn’t even come up to your shoulders when you sit in it. But the water is warm enough to where that’s not an issue.
Your body being heated to the core by the hot-spring. Your ears being flooded with the roar of the river.
It’s easy to forget everything and be one with the sensory experience.
Unfortunately, those 45 minutes of privacy pass in what feels like 10 minutes.
It’s time to get out and prepare for sleep.
The calm sound of nature guiding you to deep sleep
The sound of the river follows you back to your room. It’s faint whisper fills the space as you enter. The warm water of the hot spring has washed away your stress, and the lightness leads to rest.
Your futon lies on the tatami mat - that’s right. They prepared it while you were dining.
The thicker than normal futon welcomes your body as the river sings you to sleep.
Wake up with birds singing
The first thing you hear is the birds chirping. And then you realize - it wasn’t all a dream.
You sit up, remembering the dream that was yesterday. You get up. You walk towards the sliding doors. As you slide the door open, the morning sun floods your room. The sun is so bright, the paper windows cannot hold it back.
It’s your time with the morning sun until breakfast. Walk on the balcony, open the windows and breathe in the fresh air, or even visit the onsen again for an extra refresh!
Get some healthy energy to enjoy another day!
Right on time, your attendant knocks on the door.
It’s breakfast time.
She slides open the door and places before you healthy, delicious, traditional Japanese dishes:
Miso-soup, rice, hijiki (a type of seaweed), salmon, and egg to name a few.
Full of nutrition, full of energy to help you fully enjoy the day.
Experience your favorite, again
After breakfast, there are only a few hours left before checkout. This is your time to enjoy your favorite part of the Ryokan - before your return to reality.
Enjoy the hot springs, the forest garden, the view from your room. It’s all yours.
The worst part of the trip
This is the worst part about Hoeiso, because you never want to leave. But checkout is getting closer and closer.
You take off your Yukata and change into your regular clothes.
You pack up your bags, search around the room for anything forgotten, grab your key, and leave the room.
When you take the key to the front desk, an attendant is there with a smile. He gives you directions, practicing his English, on how to take the bus back to Hakone-yumoto station.
And now it’s time to wait - wait for the bus to bring you back to real life. You chat with the attendant until you hear the roar of the bus. The exhale of the stopping bus is your cue to leave.
As you leave Hoeiso, you look back. The attendant and Mr. Yago are waving at you.
You get on the bus, the doors close. With that, your mountain escape at Hoeiso has come to an end.
You can’t wait to go back!