I hope it’s ok to sneak in one last post about our Japan trip we took back in December because onsen (hot spring) vacations are a unique and very Japanese way to experience the quieter side of Japan (previous Japan post here). Having experienced the fast-paced, densely populated Tokyo for a number of days before heading to the onsen, getting away from the city and slowing down was a welcome change. Traveling does remind me how differently people live and how we all get used to different “norms.” I think it would take me quite some time to get used to the fast pace of Tokyo. Traveling also reminds me how very much alike we all are, we all can appreciate the need to unplug, slow down and appreciate nature.
Onsen trips are a very common way that Japanese people take vacations. There is an experience that’s just right for everyone and at every price range. However, since there are so many, finding the right one could take a little time. Rakuten Travel can help you find what you are looking for if you can narrow down what area you want to stay in. If prices seem high to you, many of the prices include dinner and breakfast. So, it’s important to read the fine print because if you factor in the meals with the price of the rooms (and use of the onsite onsen), the per person price can be very reasonable. If you are near Tokyo, I highly recommend the city of Atami, which has over 40 resorts to choose from. Atami, a seaside resort town, is about 2.5 hours away from Tokyo by train (less than 1 hour by shinkansen), so this is a popular getaway destination for people who live in Tokyo. Atami used to be a big attraction back in the day, however, although still bustling, it has quieted down. Atami is located on the Izu Peninsula in the Shizuoka Prefecture and this town is found on the steep slopes surrounding Sagami Bay. The name “atami” literally means hot ocean since it is famous for its onsen hot springs. My mom explained that this type of getaway is a typical vacation for many Japanese people where the objective is to relax and soak in the onsen, then enjoy the meals provided at the resort. There were 9 of us traveling (5 adults, 3 kids and 1 teen) and my mom booked all of us a night in Hoshino Risonare Resort in Atami for our family vacation. She chose this hotel because of the closeness to Tokyo and because it was highly recommended for kids. This hotel was perfect to keep the kids and adults happy!
Before we arrived in Atami, we took a side trip to Yokohama (just one hour southwest of Tokyo) where we explored the largest Chinatown in Japan. We locked our suitcases in the lockers at the Motomachi-Chukagai Station and made our way on foot to the Yokohama Chinatown which was only a few minute from the station exit. We had lunch at a restaurant known for their sholompo (a dumpling with soup in the middle), but there are many, many places to stop and have a bite to eat. My little 4-year-old niece sat there and ate one sholompo after another the entire lunch, I honestly don’t know how her stomach fit all that food. We strolled through the main streets of Chinatown after lunch, passing by the the many restaurants and stores. This was a highlight for the girls because the stores sold everything panda, which they thought was just too cute. Then it was back to the train station to collect our luggage and travel the rest of the way to Atami.
Hoshino Risonare Resort
At the train station in Atami we ended up taking two taxis to the hotel because we didn’t want to wait for the hotel shuttle which comes only at certain times. It was during this taxi ride that the driver told us that the sunrises in Atami were magical and that they turn the sea a deep orange (sunsets, not so much). When we arrived at the Risonare resort we were greeted by a hotel attendant who guided us through the check-in process and poured us some tea (and juice for the kids). I can sooo get used to Japanese hospitality, they really went above and beyond here. This hilltop resort has amazing panoramic views as was evident when we walked into the lobby. In the lobby there is a climbing wall that the kids were enamored with. Unfortunately, you have to sign up for the climbing wall, and the sessions were filled for the day (we still had the next day). However, no worries, the pool was still open, so the kids quickly changed into their bathing suits and shepherded my poor sister-in-law to watch them. It felt like there was no shortage of activities to keep the kids busy, a big plus in my book. My parents and I relaxed and enjoyed the view from the room. Eventually, my parents went to soak in the onsen (perfectly timed before dinner) and I enjoyed the open air bath tub in the room with a view of the ocean. Afterwards we all dressed in our yukatas (casual kimonos), which are provided for you in your room, and headed down to dinner at our assigned time.
The room felt like a modern seaside hotel room, but with a Japanese flair. My parents slept on futons which the hotel employees set up in the tatami room in the evening, so 4 people slept in “a room” very comfortably, even spaciously.
The buffet dinner was delicious with many varieties of food. Of course, the seafood was the star of the show, but the steak, which they flash cook in front of you at the steak station, was amazingly tender and flavorful. I went back to the buffet too many times to count, but I always came back with one more bowl of sashimi (thank goodness my daughter didn’t seem to notice all the empty bowls piling up next to her). The younger kids seemed to really like the french fries, kids will be kids!
Breakfast was another extravagant buffet meal.
The hotel offers several activities (for a fee) including mikan gari (tangerine picking). Our activity coordinator, aka ‘mom,’ signed us up for this, so after breakfast we took a 25 minute shuttle ride to a tangerine orchard where we were allowed to pick and eat as many tangerines as we wanted. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to pick the tangerines to take home, which was probably a good thing because I don’t know how we would have fit it into our luggage. However, before we returned to the hotel we were given a small bag of tangerines to bring back with us. This experience has me dreaming of growing my own tangerine orchard in my very sloped backyard, if only I can get such a yield. I can imagine for a Japanese person who lives in a city like Tokyo and doesn’t have a backyard to grow things, this is pretty special.
My mom went first thing in the morning to reserve time for the climbing wall, so all four kids could barely contain their excitement to get on that wall. I got some very interesting pictures of them in the strangest poses! The instructor, Katsu, spoke English and knew exactly how to make it fun and challenging for them. Although the sessions were only 15 minutes, it was plenty of time for each of them to enjoy climbing up many times.
In the back of the hotel is an area where there is a ropes course and a tree house. This looked like fun, but something else we needed to sign up ahead of time. There is a short hiking trail along the hillside, not very long, but good enough to get some hill workout.
One last look out the lobby window and we were off. As you can see the clouds were forming and we were lucky to not get rained on so far.
As we were sitting comfortably at the JR station platform waiting to take the train back to Tokyo, the rain started coming down hard. A couple of hours earlier and we would have been soaked while tangerine picking. Traveling in December, you have to be prepared for all types of weather – which we weren’t at all. We took this trip the Wednesday before Christmas and noticed that the resort was not at full capacity. I think that would all change on Friday when it was the beginning of the national holiday. If you plan to travel in Japan, make sure to plan to travel around the national holiday times (not during if possible), it makes traveling so much easier. Although we took our onsen vacation in December, we’ve taken them in all the different seasons including the hottest part of summer. Surprisingly, soaking in the onsen during summer has a cooling effect on your body. Enjoying an iced cold beer after a relaxing soak is for me one of life’s greatest pleasures. Aaaah….. Take an onsen vacation to unwind and experience the wonderful, slow-paced side of Japanese culture.