A quick ten-minute ride on the Hakone-bound bus from JR Odawara Station is all it takes to get to Hakone Yumoto Station. Souvenir shops and restaurants line the bustling streets surrounding the station, but travel just a bit further and you will find yourself in a natural paradise, surrounded only by dark green foliage. As I alight at the Tonosawa bus stop, the sound of the cascading waters of the Haya River rushes to meet me. I marvel that such a peaceful, natural oasis could exist right next door to the busy shopping area I just left behind, and after a short stroll along the highway with its endless parade of cars Fukuzumiro Ryokan comes into view.
The large wooden sign hanging above the entrance not only displays the ageless Fukuzumiro name, but also conveys a sense of the long and storied history that accompanies that name. For a moment, I am assailed by the sensation that I have crossed over into a different world, or some bygone age. Still awash in that sensation, I enter the foyer. The polished wooden floor shimmers a greeting from dimly lit, spacious room.
Built in 1890 (the 23rd year of the Meiji Era), the venerable Fukuzumiro's entire complex is a registered cultural landmark. The area I will be specifically detailing is a Japanese-style room located on the mountain stream side of the building. Outside its window, the view of luxuriant greenery and the rushing river unfolds before my very eyes.
Make no mistake, this ryokan is the real deal. It is not some modern motel masquerading under the guise of ersatz tradition. Rooms have no keys; doors can be manually locked from the inside, but not from the outside. Rooms have no bathrooms, a measure to avoid moisture damage to this historic structure. However, far from an inconvenience, these quaint qualities added to the time slip sensation and excitement I felt at experiencing a stay in such a historic lodging.
That is not to say Fukuzumiro has been completely swept away in the river of time. I was pleasantly surprised to find a refrigerator, an air conditioner and an LCD television patiently awaiting me in my room.
That said, each of the 18 rooms residing in this three-story wooden structure differs in layout and design. While the proprietress guided me through the premises, she delighted in pointing out traditional Japanese designs that adorn the hallways and rooms, as well as the variety of woods that were employed in the building's construction.
There is a large room with doors that slide open to reveal the beautiful Japanese garden. Every year from July to through October, the windows are opened and guests are invited to relax amidst the tranquil atmosphere.
I could imagine reclining with a good book and whiling away the hours in perfect contentment.
The round, cauldron-like "omarufuro" bath crafted from a bored out tree trunk is another symbol, a calling card, for Fukuzumiro. With the natural spring waters reaching temperatures of 62 degrees Celsius (about 144 degrees Fahrenheit), the cauldron analogy may be all too apt. To make this hot pot suitable for guests as opposed to beef stew, the proprietors pipe in cooler, but still all-natural, waters. The result is a gorgeous hot spring that is always overflowing with fresh water at a temperature even Goldilocks would like.
If your timing is right, you may even find that-for a time, much like the blond-haired heroine-you have the entire bath to yourself. The verdant scenery reflected on the surface of the bath, the water pouring onto the wooden floor... "Now this is a Japanese bath," I thought as my body melted away in the warm, alkaline spring waters.
This "omarufuro" is designated for use by either men or women at alternating times, affording every guest a chance to sample its serene splendor. And it is just one of the baths at Fukuzumiro. There is also a smaller version crafted in the same design, a one-walled bath created from dynamic black rocks, and an additional bath that can be reserved for family use.
Guests staying at Fukuzumiro can take their meals in the comfort of their own rooms. Dinner mainly consists of kaiseki cuisine prepared using fresh seafood from the area.
Upon returning from the bath, I found hors d'oeuvres and sashimi being arranged on the table in my room. After I began eating, the staff began slowly unveiling new delicacies one-at-a-time. Neatly presented upon delicate tableware, each dish had its own unique, equally delicate flavor. I was enraptured with each savory morsel, each new succulent taste conveying the meticulous care that the staff had taken in preparing this meal.
The following morning, I once again visited the hot spring. "I can't wait to see what's for breakfast," I thought to myself on my way back to my room. So you can imagine my delight when I found sun-dried horse mackerel and salted squid awaiting my return.
The white rice that had accompanied my dinner the previous evening had been so delectable that I had asked what type of rice it was. The staff replied that they actually mixed several variations of rice together, producing the scrumptious "Fukuzumiro Original Blend." After going back for several more bowls of this exquisite concoction, I found myself starting the new day as I had finished the prior: perfectly contented.
In preparing for my trip to Fukuzumiro, its status as a "Cultural Property of Japan" made me think it may be more museum than ryokan. I wondered if I would be walking on eggshells the entire time, instead of tatami. However, after relaxing in the hot spring, savoring the succulent meals, and most memorably, being warmly welcomed by the kind and caring staff, I left completely satisfied. As I headed back toward the station, I was already pondering who I would bring with me next time, and exactly when that would be.
* A basic stay includes two meals: dinner and breakfast.
Japanese-style Room (Garden Side)
from JPY 23,400
Guests staying here can enjoy the quiet serenity near the garden. A reasonably priced plan that only includes breakfast is also available.
Japanese-style Room (Mountain Stream Side)
from JPY 40,200
Guests staying here can enjoy the sound of the rushing river beyond the trees.
Japanese-style Room with Hot Spring: Sakura 2
from JPY 57,000
This spacious room is the only one in Fukuzumiro featuring a hot spring and toilet.