Located in Hakone, an hour outside of Tokyo by train, Gora Kadan is a Japanese Ryokan that is a great opportunity for travelers looking to experience Japanese culture and tradition. A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese Inn that has existed since the eighth century. Gora Kadan was the summer villa for a member of the Imperial Family and it does a wonderful job of blending Japanese tradition with some of the more more modern Japanese design elements. We were only able to book one night and designed our whole itinerary around it. I'm so glad we did.
A stay at Gora Kadan is an opportunity to immerse yourself in a completely different set of traditions. For families especially, the experience for kids is amazing. You dress in traditional Japanese Kimono, sleep on tatami mats, enjoy traditional Japanese food and enjoy the hot springs or baths. Our host was remarkably gracious to us - welcomed us with tea, taught the kids the proper way to put on the Kimono (including the socks that work with sandals) and helping orient us to the traditions of the Ryokan.
Traditional Ryokans exist all around Japan but Hakone is one area famous for its hot springs and also close to Tokyo. Gora Kadan has two wells from which mineral rich, hot spring water flows and feeds open-air baths. The minerals contained in the spring water are believed to have healthy qualities promoting general good health, and also, smooth, soft skin. Part of the Ryokan experience is to spend time in the baths.
The public baths have a male section and female section. The “sections” rotate daily because the two areas are slightly different experiences. There is an indoor and outdoor bath, with the outdoor baths set in a remarkably tranquil natural setting. While the experience of a public bath is a bit uncomfortable for Westerners (everyone is naked), it just takes a few minutes to feel at ease.
For those who feel very uncomfortable with the public onsen, the hotel does have a private, family bath. The family bath can be reserved just for your family and it has an outdoor bath and a steam room. It is small but intimate and private and a nice option. We tried the private first because the kids were nervous about the idea of the public but we very quickly warmed up to the public baths and decided we much preferred it to the private.
Image of the public bath photo courtesy of Relais Chateaux
The other reason to go to Gora Kadan (or any Ryokan) is the food. A multi-course Kaiseki menu is served in your room. The dinner is served in courses, each highlighting a different type of Japanese preparation. My son has a severe shellfish allergy and they happily adjusted his menu. Our kids both had the traditional menu but let the hotel know in advance and they can prepare a more child-friendly menu.
The meal is remarkably special in the level of thought and detail that goes into each course. Your host will help explain the different ingredients - most are unfamiliar to Western pallets. She will help you understand what flavors are intended to be together and how to eat the items that are not familiar. The experience is so great. So many different flavors, textures and combinations that will be new to you.
In the morning, your host prepares a traditional Japanese breakfast or you can opt for a Western breakfast. Our kids thought the Western breakfast was perfect for them - a nice combination of the familiar and completely new. My husband and I did the Japanese breakfast and loved the experience.
Gora Kadan is easy to reach located in the town of Hakone, a bit more than an hour outside Tokyo. The destination is excellent for its views of Mt. Fuji, the Hakone Open Air Museum and the famous Hakone Shrine on the banks of Lake Ashi with its huge torri gates.
We would be happy to help you create a Japan Itinerary that includes a stay at Gora Kadan. It is a popular property so be sure to make an inquiry early. We would recommend a two-night stay but if you only have one night I would still make the trip.