When a gentleman retires from city life to spend time in the countryside he has two things on his mind: relaxation in gentle soothing surrounds, and communion with nature. In pursuit of both these modern luxuries, we zipped away from Tokyo’s frenetic metropolis on the ultra efficient and awe-inspiring bullet train, The Shinkansen, to catch the Hakone Mountain railway to Gora. This wasn’t your average commute; it was a spectacle of human engineering. And one that left you pondering why our trains do not run like this back home. It is a useless question, they never will. Thoughts of impending cuts back in England aside, we boarded the gleaming vision from Tokyo’s Shinjuku station and watched as the concrete scenery dissolved into picturesque countryside. Hokusai’s woodblock paintings hadn’t transmitted any deception, everywhere were the fine-cut and eminently Japanese silhouettes of cherry trees.
Towering regally above it all was the omnipotent form of Mount Fuji. We were in the country now. The city was long gone.
Surprisingly quickly we arrived in Gora, deep within the Hakone National Park. Moments later we were within the warm embrace of Gora Kadan Ryokan and, in short, we went back in time to a very nice era indeed. Replacing our clothes with the customary robes, we entered ‘Old world Japan’; meaning a traditional inn and spa, ryokan, with a mood of unparalleled muted elegance. This is how minimalism was supposed to feel. Beyond lounges with low-style Japanese couches were immaculate gardens and steaming natural thermal spring baths, onsens.
We bathed, ate cleansing food and drunk (surprisingly cleansing) rice wine and bathed again. The silent green valleys of cherry and pine trees that kiss the shores of Lake Ashi just beyond the Ryokan, not yet in full spring bloom, ensued one of the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had. I would say I would return to Gora Kadan, but that would mean I would first have to leave.
Words by Julia Hobbs @ Black Tomato