Gwen wanted to get outside of Tokyo a little, and one of the destinations she really had in mind was 箱根, a popular tourist area with lots of hot springs. Bright and early we headed out. Got on the 小田急線, taking the 急行 as far as 小田原, then changing to a 各停 to 湯本, then changing to the tiny three-car 箱根登山 train that took us to its terminus, 強羅, by way of several switchbacks along its steep route (first time I’ve ever been on a train that made switchbacks).
At Gora, we stowed our packs in a coin locker at the station and walked our way back to the 彫刻の森. This was a lot of fun. A lot of the sculpture frankly left me cold, but plenty of it was wonderful. There was an extensive Picasso pavilion, but my reaction to most of the pieces in it was ‘this is the work of a man who knows he has the world by the balls.’ In other words, not his best work.
We hiked back up to Gora (not far) and started looking for lodgings. We had my preferred Japan guidebook, Gateway to Japan, which recommended a couple of lodgings. One, we couldn’t find. I was sure we were looking in the roughly right place, but it just wasn’t there. The second was 箱根太陽山荘, part of a government operated network of 国民宿舎. We found that place, and it looked quite nice, but there was some excavation going on and nobody seemed to be around. Eventually the little old lady who ran the place saw Gwen and me standing around looking confused; she came out and told us they were closed for just that day because of construction. I asked if she could recommend anything else in the area in our price range. She went inside and made some calls, and recommended a place called さつき園, not far away. She gave me a little map showing all the inns in the area, and we made our way there quickly enough. Satsuki-en was located up a very steep hill, and when we got there, the little old couple that ran the place seemed surprised to see us, surprised that we wanted to stay there, and surprised that I could manage Japanese. But we checked in, had some tea, and got oriented to the place’s somewhat Byzantine bathing schedules. I then trotted back to the station to retrieve our bags. On the way, I walked by a construction site–or what would be, if anything were actually being constructed there. An extensive building had been torn down, and the construction-information signboard indicated that construction was to begin in…1994. I checked the address, and it turned out to be the place we had been looking for. No wonder.
After getting settled in at the hotel, Gwen and I both went down to the baths. This place has a confusing system: they have two “regular” baths, one each for men and women. Which one is which depends on the time of day: they hang signs by each indicating who should enter (and not a simple 男/女 that someone with limited kanji ability could figure out–no, they use 殿方/婦人). They also have a much nicer 露天風呂, which is reserved for men during certain hours, women during other hours.
After bathing, it was about time for dinner. They brought up this lavish 12-course meal. We both ate at least a little of everything. Pickles, sukiyaki, tofu, roasted fish, sashimi, shumai, etc. I later talked with Bryan about this, and he had been puzzled by the outlandish ryokan spread when he first encountered it too. His wife had explained that the thinking behind it is that certainly you’ll like something in all of that (actually, we liked pretty much all of it). I suspect there’s also an intention to create a sense of excess and luxury.