The neighbors keep to themselves.

August 15th, 2013, 5pm

It was 27°C. The wind was light.

There is nothing surprising about a Japanese ryokan visit in Hakone. That is, beyond your first adventure — there is nothing surprising, and the experience is seemingly engineered to this purpose.

An hour away, Hakone remains the just-in-reach escape for most Tokyo-ites. It doesn’t require an expensive trip on the Shinkansen, a grueling night bus ride, or transfer-after-transfer of local train hopping and hiking — it only requires a desire to get out of the city that is indicative of those who work too much, and vacation too little. A trip for those bound by the density of Tokyo’s 13 million citizens, who’s gravity demands trips born of brevity — and denies those satellites from breaking orbit.

Hakone-Yumoto Station receives you and other work-weary travelers like a soon-to-be-decommissioned theme park ride. The exits filter you and the others in the direction of various ryokan that litter the valley that houses the station. No one carries more luggage than a weekend of being naked would require.

Those strangers that descended into the depth of Shinjuku Station prior to departure are here with you. It is understood that no real small talk will be exchanged, however if chance should have you arrive in the same musty lobby in a chorus of “irrashaimase’s”, it is also understood that you will soon sit quietly with these people with no more than a small cotton cloth and a bit of hot water between your two bare bodies.

Your room will be much like the last room you stayed in. The furniture is minimal, not for lounging. The floor is tatami, and will become much more inviting after the sweat on your skin is replaced by sweat produced by deep mountain springs rather than the stifling Tokyo-to Lower Atmospheric conditions. The view from the largest central window will not be spectacular, it will be just enough of a reminder of where you are not.

Post-bathing. Post-dinner. Post-Asahi Super Dry. Post-uneaten natto breakfast service. You will rise and bathe again. The strangers who are still strangers, but are naked, are there too, enjoying a hurried bath with the absent-mindedness of a traveler who knows they have to check out soon but are hoping 45 minutes in this place lasts longer than 45 minutes in the city.

Packing happens in a matter of seconds, there is nothing to pack, but the ritual of looking for your belongings comes and goes. You will then look outside your window for the second time, as you have done many times before, and think, “this was a good trip”.

Porter, sophie, Sara, Leia and 21 others said thanks.

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Ryan Ruel

Graphic/Web/UX designer, avid gamer, amateur cyclist & budding CrossFitter from Chicago—living in Tokyo. Full time creative director at Sometimes a designer for

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