This past month, I was invited to go check out a ryokan in Hakone called Hakone Kowakudani Onsen Mizunoto. The “Hakone” part of their name is obvious, and the “Kowakudani Onsen” part refers to the ryokan’s specific location within Hakone, as well as the hot spring spas it offers its guests. The final part of the name, “Mizunoto”, is really the kernel, not just of the name but of the concept of this ryokan itself. Literally meaning “the sound(s) of water”, the name itself invokes a naturally tranquil and refreshing image. Upon my arrival (and stay), I was pleasantly surprised to discover the scope to which Mizunoto incorporates this concept both inside and out.
A Ryokan Immersed in Nature’s Tranquility
As we pulled into the front driveway, we were greeted by the traditional main gate of the ryokan. One of the main reasons people even come to Hakone is to enjoy the famously beautiful scenery, and just catching my first glimpse of Mizunoto, it was clear that they took this fact to heart. The ryokan itself is nestled amongst towering trees, and the beautiful grounds and gardens of Mizunoto envelope the ryokan like a verdant blanket.
In the surprisingly spacious lobby, besides the front desk for your checking-in needs and whatnot, there is a lounge area with free coffee and tea, and floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors which offer both views of the garden outside and access to the terrace. The terrace is a great place to kick back and relax: you can enjoy a view looking out over the garden, and in mid-summer the experience is even accented by occassional fireflies.
As I mentioned above, Mizunoto’s name refers to that primally soothing sound of water. Besides just being the name of the ryokan, this concept is actualized throughout the spaces and halls of the buildings themselves. From the river running through the grounds below the terrace, to the numerous decorative water features set throughout the interior, not to mention the plethora of hot spring baths (more on these later), water is aplenty here at Mizunoto. The sounds — rhythmic dripping, gentle rushing — unobtrusively permeate the air of the ryokan itself, subtly melding into the atmosphere and helping to ease your body and mind into a sublime state of relaxation. Furthermore, the various aquatic accoutrements, many of which are traditionally crafted pieces, blend seamlessly with Mizunoto’s classic ryokan interior, which focuses on soft, warm tones, natural materials, and simple, unobtrusive design. With all of the bamboo fountains and small rock formations, it was kind of like an Easter Egg hunt trying to find them all (definitely not all pictured in this article; you’ll have to find them yourself!).
On a side note, though not a room feature, Mizunoto offers on-site coin laundry facilities which are a lifesaver for those of you on longer journeys.
A Range of Room Types and Sizes
After getting a tour of the grounds and the common areas, Mizunoto’s proprietor was gracious enough to let me take a peek at each of the kinds of guest rooms on offer here. With 92 rooms total between the main building and new wing, Mizunoto offers a variety of room types. The most plentiful type is the new wing’s Japanese/Western-style room which features a quite stylish traditional-meets-modern design and a combination of tatami and hard-wood flooring. The older main building also consists mainly of Japanese/Western-style rooms which, though older than the new wing’s rooms, feature tatami and carpeted areas and are considerably more spacious. The rest of Mizunoto’s room line-up features some very spacious and comfortable Western-style twin rooms in both wings, as well as a number of semi-double rooms in the new wing which, while small, are rather chique and are perfect for individual travelers who don’t need a ton of space. As a bonus in the semi-doubles, what you sacrifice in space is made up for with a little more relaxation help: they come with your very own massage chair right in the room. As is typical at ryokan, guests will also find some traditional garb to wear. However, unlike the usual yukata (light kimono) on offer, Mizunoto instead offers a rather unique alternative, called samue, which consists of separate top and bottom pieces (as opposed to the single robe of yukata).
All of Mizunoto’s rooms are designed with character and comfort in mind, and even the Western-style rooms resonate deeply with the very Japanese sensibilities and design elements present throughout the ryokan. All rooms feature private toilets and washing facilities, and there are many rooms available with ensuite open-air baths on their verandas. While the ensuite open-air baths are not sourced from the area’s natural hot springs (all other baths at Mizunoto are), they’re quite relaxing and a great way to enjoy your room’s view.
The ryokan also invites its guests to have a say in the interior design and atmosphere of their own rooms: near the elevators on each floor you can find a small stand with freshly cut flowers and a variety of vases to choose from to create your very own arrangement to accent your room. Room amenities cover all the basics like towels, toothbrushes, shampoo, body soap, etc. and are also equipped with TVs, tea sets, and safes, mini-fridges, and the like. Rooms with tatami flooring feature seating areas on the mats, and the new wing’s Japanese/Western-style rooms include a love seat in addition to this. Rooms with verandas have a couple chairs and a stand/coffee table that are perfect for enjoying the view from your room with a nice hot cup of tea. Depending on which floor your room is on, you can look forward to a view of the ryokan’s garden or the surrounding tree-covered mountainsides.
A Hot Spring Spa Resort
Being a ryokan in Hakone created around the concept of water, it’s more than safe to assume that Mizunoto has hot spring baths. Not only do they have hot springs, but Mizunoto goes above and beyond the call of duty here, as they do with many aspects of their services and facilities. This ryokan features a veritable onsen spa resort with a variety of large public baths as well as private open-air baths. In terms of public facilities, Mizunoto features four different daiyokujo (large public bathing areas), with two in the new wing and two in the original wing. Each daiyokujo offers both indoor and open-air (rotenburo) baths, and the baths themselves vary from wooden to natural stone construction.
If you’re looking to relax in a more private setting, Mizunoto also features three private open-air baths, scenicly set out in the ryokan’s garden down a wooded path. These private baths are first come, first served, and you can see whether or not they are currently in use at the entrance to the path. Be sure to ask the staff for an explanation about this when you check in. Of course, the doors to the private baths themselves lock from the inside and display an in-use/vacant sign.
Besides the smorgasbord of relaxing hot springs on offer here, Mizunoto also offers massage and aroma therapy services.
Throw on your samue (remember, the yukata alternative from above), grab the onsen tote bag from your room that is conveniently prepped for each guest, and head to the public spas or go for a stroll through the garden to the private bath of your choice.
The baths, both public and private, are open for use in two shifts everyday from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 1 a.m. These early morning and late night hours are great for when you want visit as many of the baths as possible and ensure that you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the baths throughout your time here at Mizunoto.
A Choice between Feasts
One thing everyone looks forward to when they stay at a ryokan is the food. After a day of traveling and snapping pictures of just about everything, I was pretty famished and definitely looking forward to it. Mizunoto offers two types of meals for dinner, both of which are served in the ryokan’s dining hall(s). The biggest difference between the two options are the main course: grill or hot pot. If you choose to dine in the Tsutsuji-tei dining hall, prepare to feast on an assortment of meats, veggies, and seafood that you get to grill yourself over the brazier built into your table. Alternatively, at Ashigara dining hall you will be delighted by a seasonal nabe hot pot: a stew which features, depending on the season, various meats or seafood and vegetables in a tasty soup.
After learning that the current seasonal nabe was sukiyaki, thin strips of beef and assorted vegetables simmered in a light, soy-based broth, my mind was made up; Ashigara it was. The multi-course Japanese-style meal was more than satisfying, and besides the main course included an assortment of traditional hors d’oeuvres, fresh sashimi, miso soup, pickles, tempura, and kamameshi rice. For dessert I scarfed down some fresh fruit and black sesame mousse.
For those requiring a midnight snack after or in between dips in the hot springs, Mizunoto has you covered: “yonaka soba”, “night-time noodles”, are available every night from 10:30 – 11:30 p.m. free of charge. All you have to do is show up!
At breakfast, you are once again faced with a choice between two options: Japanese or Western-style. The breakfasts I had went like this: Western featured eggs, sausage, salad, assorted bread, cereal, corn potage, and salad. Japanese featured grilled fish, an assortment of traditional Japanese dishes, rice, miso soup, natto (fermented soy beans), fruit, and optional rice porridge. Both are hefty meals with a variety of dishes that will fill you up and keep you trucking well to lunchtime as you do some sightseeing around Hakone or points beyond.
If you find yourself craving some coffee or tea in between meals, as I mentioned earlier, you need not venture farther than the lobby lounge, where both are on hand for free, pretty much around the clock. Grab a cup and relax on the terrace!
An Ideal Location for Experiencing Hakone
Mizunoto Ryokan is conveniently located about a 10 to 15-minute walk from Kowakidani Station, one of the last stops towards the end of the Hakone Tozan Railway’s switchback train. Between 3 and 5 p.m. each day, the ryokan also offers a free shuttle service from the station which does not require advance notice as it is timed to the trains’ arrival times. When checking out, the staff will escort you back to Kowakidani Station by car. For those planning to take in Hakone’s famous sights, this is a great place to stay. It’s location close to the end of the switchback line makes accessing the cable car, ropeways and Lake Ashi a breeze. As an aside, the Hakone Freepass is a great deal for sightseeing and will grant you round-trip transportation between Shinjuku (Tokyo) and Hakone as well as free use of the Tozan Railway, cable cars, ropeways, Lake Ashi ferry (the pirate ships), and a lot of the local buses in Hakone. It can be purchased from Odakyu Railways at Shinjuku Station (who have an English-language info desk, by the way) in 2- or 3-day versions.
A Few Words from Our Customers
So what are you waiting for? If you’re looking for a great ryokan in Hakone, you can’t go wrong with Mizunoto. Need more incentive? Here are some things our customers had to say about this ryokan which, by the way, has been rated a 4.8 out of 5 by JAPANiCAN.com customers:
“Amazing experience! A MUST do in Tokyo. The pictures don’t do this place justice. Once you’re there expect Japanese Onsen at its finest. The food was spectacular, service was amazing and surprisingly had several English speaking workers that were more than kind. We were in the new wing with a 5th floor view that was breathtaking. Worth every penny!!!!” (Anonymous, U.S.A., age 21-35)
“This kid-friendly posh resort hotel has many beautifully designed baths separated by gender as well as 3 small private baths (1-3 people). Our room was spacious with western beds and toilet. In the dining rooms, we were served wonderfully prepared traditional breakfasts and dinners (kaiseki or grill). Many water features throughout the complex gave “water sounds” (meaning of “Mizunoto”). Coffee and tea were provided in lobby/lounge 24-7. The staff were extremely friendly and helpful. We had a relaxing 4-night stay with some nice walks in the area.” (MauiTravelers, U.S.A., age 51-65)
“Great location as not many tourist alight. Mostly local Japanese. Staff is very helpful. Shuttle pickup service is a plus point between Ryokan and station. Room is nice and cosy. No regrets for choosing this Ryokan on our very first trip to Hakone. Wonderful breakfast and dinner but a bit too much for small eater like us. Overall, we have a luxury relax 2 nights.” (Linda, Singapore, age 36-50)