Haute Hakone

Posted by on Oct 21, 2011 in Kanagawa, Travel Volunteer Journey | 5 Comments
Haute Hakone

First of all I should make it clear: I don’t have to write this. I mean, no one has told me to write it, and I’d probably ignore them if they did.

Secondly, you need to know about Gora Kadan, which might sound like a second division Romanian football team, but is in fact a premier league ryokan. I say it’s just a ryokan – a traditional, furniture-light Japanese hotel – but that’s like saying Buckingham Palace is just a house. The regal link isn’t pure hyperbole: the main building here was once an Imperial summer house and today forms the centre piece of property as you drive in.

Katy and I have been fortunate that work has taken us to some pretty fancy places around the world. We’ve stayed in many of the “top” branded hotels, and been left disappointed by a surprising number. But along the way, even though we don’t deserve it and certainly can’t afford it, we’ve developed an eye for spotting what’s good and what’s not. In other words, when it comes to this stuff, we like to think we know what we’re talking about.

And we like Gora Kadan. A lot. Everything is as it should be, no expense has been spared. Want to know a wee trick for checking the quality of somewhere that claims to be five star? Check its electrics. See what it does with the lighting: you shouldn’t get a hint of a glare. Or take a look behind the TV and see what’s there. Too often hotels believe that out of sight means out of mind, that attention to detail only goes so far. And it does, to an extent – until you stumble across it. Here, for example, I’ve no idea what the cables are doing, because they’re all tucked away behind a wooden panel. Lovely.

When it comes to luxury accommodation, it’s not the amount of bowing that the staff do, or how often they call you sir or ma’am etc. I know this is a tremendously boring cliché, but it’s the little things that make the difference. Little things like having your towels changed in the middle of the day because you plan to visit and onsen; things like an ink stone and calligraphy set to play around with; things like being asked whether or not you’re comfortable to sit on the floor for a meal (as is traditional) or if you’d prefer a private room with a trench in which to put your legs.

These things aren’t much, financially anyway, but they make a real difference i the overall feel of a place. Combined they can create the illusion that you’re somehow the first person to stay in this room – that you matter. Apple products do this kind of thing very well.

Of course the big, showy things are nice too, the things that couples on honeymoon would kill for, like a private onsen bath resting on gorgeous dark slate, or a secluded balcony with a beautifully tended garden. But you could lose them, and the average guest wouldn’t feel cheated.

Naturally none of this comes cheap. Nothing much does much here in Hakone. This eclectic town is only an hour from Tokyo and perhaps because of that, everything seems just a little more refined and, yes, a little more expensive than any other onsen-town we’ve visited so far.

We had a chance to ponder this at Itoh Dining by Nobu where we were treated to lunch. He gets around, does Nobu (chef Nobu Matsuhisa). We used to look on, salivating slightly, when others were able to visit his grand restaurant in Dubai; once, during a work-trip to Melbourne, I was treated to a lunch at one of his establishments. Unfortunately I was so jet-lagged that I could have been eating a plate of cigarette ash and I’d have been quite content (for the record, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t).

It seems odd that with such a resume the celebrity chef would open here in a town of just 14,000 souls. But the very fact that he has put his name to a restaurant really underlines the fact that the typical visitor to Hakone has a nose for quality and money to burn.

“Those people,” we thought wiping the tomato and Kobe beef gravy from our chins, “Those people and their money. Huh!”








私達はこんなことを、本日昼食にお招きいただいた『ITOH DINING by NOBU』のレストランで考えていた。ドバイにあったNOBUのレストランも人気で、私達にとっては高根の花的な存在だった。一度取材でオーストラリアのメルボルンを訪れた時、そのレストランのお料理にありつけるチャンスがあったのだが、あまりの時差ボケで、一体何を食べたのかほとんど覚えていない・・・。なので念願かなっての来店ということになる。



  1. Karin
    October 21, 2011

    this looks like heaven! Sadly a bit too expensive for my Japan trip next year ;-)

  2. Natalie Neal
    October 22, 2011

    Hakone. A little bit of heaven. One of our favorite places. Next time we visit there we shall enjoy Gora Kadan!

  3. James Mundy
    October 22, 2011

    If only every ryokan were like the Gora Kadan…..actually there are plenty of very nice ryokan in Japan, but usually a bit cheaper.
    I have sent many people to stay there, but never yet stayed myself. You lucky people!

  4. Kitty Ohtaka
    October 23, 2011

    It is a 5 star hotel and the cost is 5 star, too. Once I had a dinner there and was $350 per person, drinks seperate. It has to be nice. I did not get to stay here.
    But, I love to stay there once in my life. Kitty

  5. cdb
    October 24, 2011

    You lucky people you! This would be so nice to go to after weeks of travelling on the road, just to unwind, before going back to our real lives. Blisss…..