We waved goodbye to Tokyo this morning and headed for Hakone, a small resort region a few hours outside Tokyo. Our Tokyo hotel room was the smallest I’ve ever stayed in, internet was broken, few of the staff spoke English, and we were the only non-Japanese guests. So, it was nice to head for a more luxurious setting! Our trek to Hakone could have gone better — it totaled four hours with lots of hassle.
But once here the setting takes your breath away. Absolutely stunning! The weather is perfect: clear skies, bright sun, mountain air, fields of green. I went for a run in the national park area. The park is totally clean with tons of trails and mini-shelters for stretching and meditating. True Japanese tranquility.
After my run I went into the hotel’s hot springs baths. There’s an inside bath and outdoors bath. These are famous in Japan and I’m glad I was able to experience one after our unsuccessful hunt for a "sento" in Tokyo.
Then, I stored my provided-sandals and towel in the locker area and stepped into the shower area. I read in the guidebook that you must scrub thoroughly and with lots of soap and then you must wash the soap off completely before entering the hot spring spa. No bathing suits or towels allowed — they want to maintain purity. I did that and then stepped into the stone bath. Lovely. There were only a couple of other Japanese men and we stayed focused on the relaxation effect.
The hot springs water didn’t strike me as too different from normal hot tub water but the whole atmosphere made it more special.
Afterwards I went to the shower again and washed off, as you’re supposed to do. In the locker, as I re-tied my kimono a 40-something Japanese man started talking to me in Japanese. I just smiled. He asked me another question. I just smiled. Then another phrase. "No Japanese" I said. "Oh! No Japanese!" he responded. And that was the end of it. It was the first time someone ever tried to speak Japanese to me proactively in a one-on-one setting (in restaurants and everywhere else they speak Japanese to you whether you can understand or not, and you just have to smile and nod). I guess I can pass as Japanese when I’m in the flesh!