All About Japan

A Relaxing Weekend Retreat in Yugawara

| Ryokan , Hakone-Yugawara

It’s been awhile since our last trip. Since then, we’ve had our first child and I’ve changed work locations and hours, so our freedom to travel has all but vanished.

That said, when we were presented with the opportunity to travel with our child, we were both excited for the opportunity, and unsure about the inherent difficulties which would come with it. In the end, we simply couldn’t pass up the chance to visit a new location and experience our first ever ryokan, so we packed up the baby and all of her necessities (or so we thought), and set off on our Yugawara adventure.

We had a couple of objectives for this trip. The first was to review a few places of interest in the Yugawara area, which is pretty much the norm for every trip, and the second was to utilize the new Yubi-Coupon system utilized within the town, giving our opinions on how the system works, and whether we liked it or not. SPOILER: We liked it. So, if you’re living in, or visiting, Japan, and just want a place to relax for a weekend, Yugawara might just be the place for you.

Yugawara Art Museum

This was our first stop on the trip, and I wish I could say that we started with a bang, however, while both Ada and I enjoy museums, we weren’t expecting a painting exhibit. That’s not to say that it wasn’t interesting, but due to the pretty small size of the museum, and our combined lack of artsy taste in paintings, it was a bit underwhelming.

We also had issues with getting around within the building as it wasn’t built with baby strollers in mind, as both of the exhibits are on the second floors of two unconnected wings of the same building. This could also cause the museum to be a no-go for anyone in a wheelchair. I say “could” only because there was an elevator in the staff area which, after some confused Gaijin faces from my wife and I, they offered to us. It only took us to one wing of the building however, and I didn’t see another elevator for the second wing.

As with most museums, photography was prohibited, but the paintings on display were enjoyable to look at, and we were able to just sit and decompress for a bit in silence (finally) since the baby took a nap. Out of all the art on display, the ones that actually drew me to stare were the acrylic paintings by, Reiji Hiramatsu. I wish I could have taken pictures of the landscapes he created, but, those darn rules...

So, outside of the art there’s also a café, a gift shop, and a garden. The café offered the normal coffee shop fare, but did have a small discount for ticket holders for the museum. Outside, there was a small garden with a koi pond which was quite pretty, but again, rather small.

If visiting Yugawara, and you’ve got an hour to kill where you just want to sit and simply decompress while enjoying paintings created by local artists, then this can certainly fit the bill. At ¥600 per person, you won’t be hurting your wallet, but this is definitely a bit of a niche choice, as you really need to be into paintings to fully enjoy your time.

Address: 623-1 Miyakami, Yugawara, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa Prefecture 259-0314
Admission: ¥600 per adult

Ishizawa Store

A quick stop on our trip, the Ishizawa Store is actually more of a small farmers market offering some local goods from around the Yugawara area. I, however, was immediately drawn to the giant jars of honey!

This might not seem like much to some, but in Japan, finding raw honey in any amount of bulk is anything but easy. If you do manage to find some it’s usually at an astronomical price, especially if it’s a specialty honey. This was honey made from bees which fed off of the flowers from the mikan (Japanese orange) trees which are so prevalent in the Yugawara area. This means that it's exceptionally sweet, and has a hint of orange flavor. I ended up buying about 300 grams of this honey at about ¥3,000 (about 1.2 lbs of honey for US$30). Not exactly cheap, but considering the quality of the honey, it was worth it in my eyes. It also comes in smaller and much larger sizes.

My honey fix aside, the Ishizawa Store seemed to have a stock of rotating goods depending on the season, including an upcoming sale of mikan scheduled to take place in October. The pictures seemed to show hundreds of boxes of mikan laid out in rows within the store, so it certainly looks like something to place in our "To do" list in the future.

We couldn’t linger at the store long, but I will add that the staff was very enthusiastic to help us, especially after seeing my excitement with the honey. They offer the Yubi-Coupon system here as well, but unfortunately, we had not registered with the system yet, so we had to pay the old-fashioned way. Be sure to make a stop at the Ishizawa Store, and honestly at any local market like it, during your trip!

Address: 2-16-4 Dohi, Yugawara, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa Prefecture 259-0303

- www.yugawaraonsen.com (Japanese)

Itouya Ryokan

The highlight of the trip was our stay at Itouya Ryokan. This was going to be completely new territory for both of us, as neither of us have stayed at a ryokan before. For those that don’t know, a ryokan is a traditional Japanese hotel of sorts. The charm of the ryokan is in its simplicity and traditional Japanese setting. Everything from the tatami rooms, the rice paper sliding doors, the low tables, public and private baths, and the traditional Japanese cuisine adds to the experience. They are also generally much more pricey than a normal hotel, as again, you’re paying more for the experience rather than the amenities and modern conveniences.

We were greeted at the parking lot, which was down the street a bit from the ryokan, by the extremely friendly staff, who insisted on taking our bags for us. At the lobby, an English-speaking staff assisted us with Yubi-Coupon registration. Then we charged our Yubi-Coupon account with ¥1,000 each. After registration, he showed us the list of restaurants and shop where we can use the Yubi-Coupon.

- www.itouya-net.jp (Japanese)

What is Yubi-Coupon?

Yubi-Coupon is a payment system in Japan using your fingers. To date, Yubi-Coupon is available in Yugawara, Hakone and Kamakura. All you have to do is register for Yubi-Coupon account at a ryokan that utilizes it. For example, in Yugawara, you can check the ryokan that use Yubi-Coupon here (Japanese only, make sure that your browser’s translation feature is on). After registration, you can charge your account with any amount, minimum of ¥1,000. The ryokan should be able to provide you a list of restaurants and shop where you can use the Yubi-Coupon after signing up.

Here’s a video of my wife signing up for a Yubi-Coupon account.

Room Tour

After everything was set up, they gave us a tour on where the baths were, and how to contact the staff if we needed anything. We were then shown to our room where we were served tea with mochi snacks.

The room was very simple, consisting of a single table, a TV (which we didn’t use), a phone, and a closet with yukata provided (even one in my size). There was also a toilet and sink attached to our room, but to bathe and shower you needed to go to the public or private rooms.

Kaiseki Dinner

We were served a traditional Japanese dinner which had about 10 different dishes and a dessert. That said, I hope you enjoy seafood, because that’s basically all that was served. As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of seafood, this was a bit of a problem. The turban shell in particular, I don’t really care for. I even searched for videos on YouTube on how to eat it. Apparently, you can eat the guts, all of it. Since my wife is from the Philippines and can apparently eat anything, I enjoyed watching her eat it.

All in all, there was enough variety that I was able to end the meal feeling quite satisfied. Each of the dishes was served by the very kind staff, who did their best to explain each dish despite the language barrier.

The Relaxing Bath

The Relaxing Bath

After dinner Ada and I took turns watching our baby so we could both experience the onsen. I was able to use the private bath, while she used the public, which was empty at that time.

I was very slow to the onsen scene due to a combination of Western modesty and a worry about the sanitation. I’ve since changed my views, and now find onsen to be one of the most relaxing experiences you can have in Japan.

The private bath here is an outdoor bath with a wooden cover to keep prying eyes at bay. It’s built to look like a natural spring, and was extremely relaxing. There’s also a second private bath, which is a modern onsen, but with a big sliding door to the outside. It doesn’t give a good view—basically a fence and a building—but it does allow the mountain air in.

Café & Bar Bon

Café & Bar Bon was the first restaurant where we used the Yubi-Coupon. The first thing I noticed about the place was its relaxing atmosphere. We were warmly greeted by the husband & wife team of Bon for our lunch break and promptly seated. The menu was small, but has enough variety to please any non-vegans out there. I personally decided on the Spicy Yakisoba (the house specialty), while Ada chose the Crab Fried Rice. My Yakisoba may very well have been the best Yakisoba I’ve eaten in Japan so far.

The food was so good that we decided to return the next day, before starting our trip back home. This time I decided on the Beef Stew, while Ada ordered the Hamburger Steak Set. The quality of the food did not disappoint, and even more importantly the owners were very patient with us while we were dealing with our rather fussy baby.

I’ll need to stop in again someday to sample from their large collection of whiskey, including a whiskey specially made for their bar. But, unfortunately, I was driving during this trip, so I couldn’t sample any of the wares.

I can’t recommend this place more highly. Between both our meals, we never exceeded ¥2,300 (Approx. US$23), which in Japan is very cheap for most cafés.

Again, Café & Bar Bon offers the Yubi-Coupon payment system, and was our first experience utilizing it. The system is very user-friendly, with really only two buttons on a tablet to choose from. So paying for our meal was as easy as entering the cost of the meal and using the fingerprint scanner to pay. Quick and painless, we were off to our next stop.

If you’re visiting the Yugawara area, you definitely need to make Café & Bar Bon part of your trip.

Address: 35-54 Izumi, Atami City, Shizuoka Prefecture 413-0001

- www.yugawara-sci.or.jp (Japanese)

The King English Bar

I’ll admit, I’m happy anytime I can consider going to a bar “work,” but I genuinely enjoyed my time at this little bar.

I don’t use the word “little” as an insult, more of a statement of fact. It’s physically small, only seating around 10 people comfortably. It’s also easy to miss unless you know where it is; you could easily walk past it thinking it to be another house. But Kings more than makes up for its small size with its great atmosphere, and an accommodating owner. The entire bar is packed wall-to-wall with basically every kind of memorabilia you could imagine for a traditional pub, which, together with the lighting and music really adds to the feel of a cozy place to unwind.

The drink selection was extensive, and the owner/bartender knew how to make nearly any drink I could think of. There is no actual drink menu, and the only available food was complimentary boiled peanuts, which I’d actually never tried before, and were surprisingly good. The owner did tell me that he would occasionally have barbecues for his guests, but not on this particular evening.

As what seems to be a theme in smaller Japanese cities, the prices at Kings were much lower than in places like Tokyo, Shibuya, etc., as my three drinks only came to around ¥2,000 (around US$20), which in Japan is a steal for mixed drinks like margaritas and white Russians, which normally cost about ¥1,000 each in other bars. The Yubi-Coupon system was in use here as well, which is really great as it can allow you to go out for drinks and not need to worry about losing your wallet, or getting your card stolen since all you need to pay is your fingers.

My time at Kings was second only to the ryokan in enjoyment, and I wish I could have spent more time there, but I had to get to bed early since the ryokan would be serving breakfast at 8 a.m. (I work nights, so 8 a.m. is REALLY early for me).

Address: 3-9-24 Dohi, Yugawara, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa Prefecture

- www.yugawara-sci.or.jp (Japanese)

Doppo-no-Yu Onsen at Manyu Park

I feel like I’m using the terms "‘relax" and "decompress" a bit too much, but honestly, it’s truly the best way to describe our time spent in Yugawara. It was truly what the town seems to be built for. To add to this narrative, we took a trip to Doppo-no-Yu, which was nestled within Manyu Park.

I love spending time in nature. My wife and I go hiking on a regular basis, and the only thing better than sitting down and enjoying nature after a long hike is to have your feet submerged in pools of hot spring water while enjoying nature (and not having to destroy your feet to get there).

Doppo-no-Yu is a little fenced area within the park which has many small foot baths filled with water from the nearby hot springs. Each pool supposedly gives different benefits, and seemed to range from almost unbearably hot to warm water which even our baby was able to enjoy splashing her little feet in. This is definitely one of the best stops you can make in Yugawara, and I would suggest it to anyone.

Address: 704 Miyakami, Yugawara, Ashigarashio District, Kanagawa Prefecture 259-0314

Summary

Since Yugawara isn’t a known tourist spots for many foreigners—which we are thankful for—it was a challenge for us as visiting foreigners to communicate with locals. Having lived in Japan for years, it’s also merely our fault as we still don’t make an effort to learn the language.

Yugawara is really close to Hakone, so if you want to avoid the crowded tourist spots in Hakone, then Yugawara is a great choice. It’s an escape from the craziness of city life, and offers plenty of opportunities for sightseeing or relaxation.

As a whole, our trip to Yugawara was very enjoyable and we will need to make a trip back in the near future. There were parts of the visit we needed to change due to having our child with us, so there are still plenty of activities to do.

See more photos at Travelin' Boots below!

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