There are some places that you are loath to leave once you arrive or cannot help but visit time and again. Yugawara, which is near Hakone in Japan, is one such inviting destination, especially in winter.
The historical seaside town famed for its hot springs is the only onsen resort mentioned in the Manyoshu, the oldest existing anthology of Japanese poems. For Yugawara has long been a favourite haunt of the country’s men of letters. Many literary figures from the Meiji era have also incorporated the scenic onsen town into their works.
In fact, the Manyo Park here has been so popular with literary greats that it has a trail dubbed “Literature Path”, much like Kyoto’s Philosopher’s Path.
Among the many ryokans in Yugawara, Hakuunsou stands out for its tranquil location. Nestled in the forest and bordered by the Chitose River, it is a member of The Ryokan Collection, a consortium of luxury traditional Japanese inns and boutique hotels.
Hakuunsou reopened in 2015 after a revamp and is a haven for weary urbanites. It features 17 rooms and is bigger than your typical ryokan but still manages to offer much privacy. It was only at meal-times, for instance, that I realised the inn was full.
Hakuunsou is designed such that guests in every room can hear the burbling Chitose River. Rooms on the first floor that are closest to the river come with private open-air onsen baths that use water sourced from the hot spring. The open-air hot spring bath is linked to an indoor bath, so you get the best of both worlds.
Guests can also enjoy a good soak at two other baths in the inn. The Suite Private Spa (or do-yu-yu) is a spacious jacuzzi bath that you can reserve for free for 40 minutes per group, while the Sanuki Bath is an open-air public bath.
Breakfast and dinner are typically part of the ryokan experience. At Hakuunsou, the menu changes every month. Fish and shellfish are sourced by free-diving from the neighbouring town of Manazuru daily, while the rice that wraps up each meal is cooked with seasonal ingredients at the table.
Breakfast is of an equally high standard. Meals are cooked to order using fresh local produce. Dashi-maki (Japanese omelette with broth) and chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) are popular items here that reflect the skill of Japanese chefs.
Besides the exquisite meals and relaxing baths, another highlight of my trip was taking an afternoon stroll by the Chitose River. I took a catnap while resting on a rock and woke up feeling rejuvenated. It goes to show the wonders that a peaceful oasis like Hakuunsou can do for the body and soul.
716-1 Miyakami, Yugawara-machi
Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa 259-0314, Japan