In a holiday region long popular with Tokyoites, in an area famed for its tranquil mountain-scapes and onsen (hot springs), a new hotel has emerged.
You could be forgiven for mistaking the Hakone Kowakien Tenyu for a modern art museum when you arrive. The property’s sharp lines and contemporary exterior stand in stark contrast to the soft, Hakone forest outside. Yet this hotel, which opened in April 2017, somehow fits into its environment, and beautifully.
On this visit, our small group (myself, partner and three-year-old) are greeted with bows by staff in crisp suits and kimonos - and any notion that this is anything other than a luxury hotel, is quickly extinguished.
Beyond the pretty bamboo cladding, Japanese rock gardens and flower arrangements, large automatic doors reveal a striking lobby, where natural light meets mostly dark decor. Here, large communal benches run onto a lounge area, while a small souvenir and convenience store (almost a necessity in Japan) lies to the side.
Free beverages, including a selection of infused waters (like citrus and rooibos, and wild pea-flower), a small library and wonderful views over the hotel’s amazing woods and gardens make the lounge a lovely place to just sit and relax.
Our lodging, a Superior Room (701) in the Mori (forest) Wing on the seventh floor, is a mostly traditional affair, where shoes make way for slippers, clothes for yukata (casual kimonos) and conventional beds for comfy futons (including a smaller futon for the kiddie). Tatami mats, shoji-like walls and even stunning ceilings reinforce the Japanese styling and superb minimalist aesthetic.
All the modern conveniences like fast wifi, large tv and tea/coffee facilities are also here, as are the luxury toiletries. But the highlight of the room is the private, open air bath. If you’re someone who might baulk at public onsen (where guests must bath naked in very hot water), you’ll love bathing in the hot spring water from the comfort of your balcony. For a quick shot of zen, try a bath followed by a cup of sensha (high grade green tea available in the room) whilst taking in the verdant views from the verandah. It works for me.
While this property boasts just about everything a guest could want from a hotel, ultimately Tenyu keeps it simple.
The onsen resort has one restaurant that serves set menus, one lovely albeit quiet bar on the lower ground floor, and the AN SPA. There are also a few wonderful walks, most notably to nearby Chisuji Falls and through the hotel’s own gorgeous green spaces. But Tenyu’s real appeal lies more in the quality of its offering and not quantity.
It starts with the rooms, which in form and function, are amazing. Beyond our Superior Room type, there are also the stunning Suite Room and Executive Suite Room, which among other things, boast their own incredible, individual gardens.
On to the restaurant, and it’s nothing but the highest of standards. Breakfast is a choice of Japanese and Western set menus. The more popular Japanese brekkie comprises a grilled local horse mackerel, a yuzu citrus-infused egg dish, clam miso soup, and numerous pickled and simmered vegetables presented in a beautiful bento-box.
Not to be outdone, the western breakfast features one of the most beautiful looking (and tasting) omelettes I’ve had, baked goods, and a selection of homemade drinking ‘salads’ - think beet, capsicum, cranberry, Assai plum and honey, and carrot, apple, orange and linseed.
The high quality continues at our kaiseki dinner, where conventional favourites like assorted sashimi mix with a Japanese bouillabaisse, while perfectly fluffy chestnut rice is washed down with a chrysanthemum tofu and burdock miso.
For my vegetarian partner, a delicious entree of grilled vegetables precedes an amazing konyaku ‘sashimi’, while yuba and burdock mixed rice lifts already exceptional Japanese rice to an even higher stratosphere.
Consistent with the rest of the meal, a number of small dishes comprise dessert, but the black sesame pudding takes the cake. And all of this happens in the comfort of our yukata robes, which can be worn all over the resort.
Before breakfast, after dinner and really at any time in between, the resort’s two hot spring offerings simply must be experienced. The fifth floor bath - just a few steps from the main lobby - includes a couple of indoor onsen and a stunning garden bath outside. With the sound of the huge waterfall, and beneath a canopy of giant Japanese maples and cherry blossoms trees, it’s easy to lose track of time when you’re in this bath - and I almost do.
But the real star of the onsen, and probably the whole property, is the outdoor rooftop ‘infinity’ bath one level up. Here, bathers can watch the sun rise over the mountains or, if you come at night, watch as steam brushes across the surface of the water backed by silhouettes of mountains. Indeed it’s beautiful, and if you’re on your own, even a little eerie.
Simple, sublime. This is a resort definitely worth checking out on your next visit to Japan.
What else to do: Across the road from Tenyu is Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, an onsen water park. Although it caters mostly for the Japanese market, it’s still great for families - and for those who like the idea of relaxing in natural hot springs mixed with real sake, coffee, green tea and even red wine! For a full rundown of Hakone experiences, click here.
How to get here: You can travel as far as Odawara Station if you have a Japan Rail (JR) Pass, which can easily be purchased through Rail Plus. From there, transfer to the Hakone Tozan Railway, which from Hakone Yumoto Station offers the historic switchback trains to Gora Station. The free hotel shuttle will pick you up from there.
The writer was a guest of Hakone Kowakien Tenyu.
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