Why You Should Visit The Kobe Earthquake Museum Commemorating The Kobe Earthquake of 1995

Why You Should Visit The Kobe Earthquake Museum Commemorating The Kobe Earthquake of 1995

The night of the Earthquake in Kobe 1995, the narrator of the video said she fell asleep next to her sister like she had every night for the last 15 years. She woke up to rumbling in the wee hours of the morning and furniture crashing around the room. Her sister was trapped under debris of their house. When she heard the rescuers searching for them, her sister told her to go first. She managed to get out before the building collapsed completely. She never saw her sister again. The teenager is now a woman and not surprisingly still traumatized by the events of that morning of January 1995 and the Kobe Earthquake in Japan. Her story is one of many told at the Kobe Earthquake Museum. This well planned earthquake museum also explores the causes of the Kobe Earthquake, the effects of the Kobe Earthquake, the responses to the Kobe Earthquake as well as staggering facts about the Kobe Earthquake and its enormity.

What To Expect At The Kobe Earthquake Museum

The great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution is quite the name for the Kobe Earthquake Museum. The spiffy modern earthquake museum Kobe has erected commemorates the tragedy of a short and brutal earthquake.

An artist rendering of the Earthquake Museum Kobe has erected to commemorate the 1995 Kobe Japan Earthquake.

An artist rendering of the Earthquake Museum Kobe has erected to commemorate the 1995 Kobe Japan Earthquake.

The Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum comprises of two buildings connected by a walkway.  After you buy tickets you are told to go to the top floor of the opposite building and work your way down.

Clearly my kids have been in Japan too long because they are walking dutifully along the straight line leading to the entrance of the Kobe Earthquake Museum!

Clearly my kids have been in Japan too long because they are walking dutifully along the straight line leading to the entrance of the Kobe Earthquake Museum!

Among the best exhibits is an interactive video of an earthquake simulation similar to the 1995 Earthquake in Kobe Japan (complete with English translation).  You also walk through a Kobe street that showed how the 1995 Kobe Eartquake affected it.

Then there was a video of the Kobe Earthquake with grainy CCTV footage. You got headphones that translated everything to English  The actual footage  being CCTV footage brings real immediacy to what you see. What you see are actual houses crumpling, bridges falling and trains crashing – the effects of the Kobe earthquake as it was happening.

A diorama showing the effects of the Kobe Earthquake on ordinary houses which crumpled like paper.

A diorama showing the effects of the Kobe Earthquake on ordinary houses which crumpled like paper.

The most sobering realisation about watching the Kobe Earthquake 1995 damage? You can’t  comfort yourself that the footage isn’t real because it was produced through Hollywood magic.

Over the images you hear the memories of the survivors of the earthquake in Kobe 1995. Some examples of the Kobe Earthquake effects on real people:

  • a child being given a teddy bear by the Girl Scouts of America;
  • a letter pinned to the front door by a son living in Osaka who rushed down to see if his parents were safe;
  • a husband who fell asleep downstairs in th family home remembering the wife who died sleeping in their bedroom; and
  • a family who survived with the only damage to their home being a set of broken golf clubs.

Overall we thought the message of the Kobe Earthquake Museum was uplifting. This disaster happened but the 6000 people who perished in the Kobe Earthquake in Japan will not be forgotten or have died in vain.

Some Interesting Facts about the Kobe Earthquake of 1995

A listing of the Kobe Earthquake facts show the severity of the catastrophe. The Great Hanshin Earthquake was short and catastrophic.

  • Over 100,000 buildings collapsed during the Kobe Earthquake.
  • The Kobe Earthquake death toll was 6,000 people. Another
  • In the Kobe Earthquake 1995, 27,000+ people were injured.
  • Although lasting only 20 seconds, the Kobe Earthquake magnitude registered 7.2 on the Richter scale.
  • There were 35,000 people pulled out by rescuers from damaged buildings.
  • Just as devastating 1995 Kobe Earthquake itself, the post-earthquake fires raged out of control. These fires hampered the government responses to the Kobe Earthquake,
  • The 1995 Kobe Earthquake caused $132 billion worth of damage.
A diorama of a refugee center for the survivors fo the Kobe earthquake in Japan.

A diorama of a refugee center for the survivors fo the Kobe earthquake in Japan.

People did not feel the responses to the Kobe Earthquake by the Japanese government were adequate. The Kobe 1995 Earthquake facts show:

  • There were 300,000 survivors who had to be rehoused temporarily thanks to all the Kobe Earthquake 1995 damage.
  • One of the primary effects of the Kobe Earthquake for the survivors was coping with utility services being cut off.
  • After the Kobe Earthquake responses focussed on rehousing people. There were 1153 centers created to house the thousands of refugees who were left homeless after the Kobe Earthquake in Japan. Many of the refugee centers were converted from schools.
  • Many of the older refugees just couldn’t cope with the change of routine and inconvenience that resulted from the 1995 Kobe Japan earthquake. For example, we heard the story of a grandmother who refused to eat because the washrooms were unclean in her opinion.
The Kobe earthquake responses to the 1995 Kobe Earthquake included encouraging people to get back on their feet.

The Kobe earthquake responses to the 1995 Kobe Earthquake included encouraging people to get back on their feet.

Kobe Earthquake Causes

Of course, the Kobe Earthquake cause is natural and out of human hands.

Earthquakes in Kobe Japan are a result of Japan’s geographic position near fault lines and moving tectonic plates in the Pacific ocean.

On the other hand the Kobe Earthquake effects were magnified by man-made issues.

The Kobe Earthquake Museum did not shy away from the fact that the effect of the 1995 Kobe Earthquake were magnified by overpopulation and over-building. There was such a huge loss of life because Kobe is heavily populated.

Many of the deceased and displaced were older residents who lived in buildings which did not meet the newer Japanese building codes. These buildings followed the regulations from the 1960’s which experts had already proved were inadequate. The new rules which came into force in the 1980’s, however, did not apply retroactively to older buildings.

The Best Bits About the Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum

The Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum is really well laid out and has spacious thought-provoking exhibits about what caused the Kobe earthquake, the effects of the Kobe earthquake on the city and its people and the government’s inadequate responses to the Kobe Earthquake. It’s a beautiful set of modern buildings too.

The gleam of the modern facade of the Kobe Earthquake museum.

The gleam of the modern facade of the Kobe Earthquake museum.

The survivors stories really brings home the impact of what happened during the 1995 earthquake in Kobe Japan. For example  hearing a large number of people were impacted by the Kobe earthquake 1995 damage is not the same as being told even one person’s story. It is the individual stories of loss, resilience and hope that you remember.

The Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum was upfront about the issues that plagued the response to the Kobe Earthquake. It was widely felt that the Japanese government was slow to react and disorganised. Many people spent extended time in temporary housing waiting for their permanent homes to be built.. There were lots of older people who felt isolated  when they were relocated to temporary homes far away from their usual lives.

Considering I find the Japanese to be wizards in efficiency (have you used their trains??), I was surprised by the grumbling. You heard the grumbling at how terrible the FEMA response was to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans but even a country as super organized like Japan can get caught flatfooted in a natural disaster caused emergency.

What The Earthquake Museum Kobe Could Do Better

We felt the Kobe Earthquake Museum would have been better if there were more exhibits written in English explaining more of the Kobe 1995 Earthquake facts.

There’s a film about the earthquake and tsunami that affected Fukushima in 2011.  This film runs every half hour. Although it is another major Japanese natural disaster, this part of the museum feels like an afterthought. The Fukuoka disaster feels disjointed from what the museum is trying to say about the Kobe Earthquake which is the focus of the rest of the museum.

Kobe Earthquake Memorial Park

The Kobe Earthquake Memorial Park is part of Meriken Park in Kobe. After the Port of Kobe was severely damaged, the bit that became the Kobe Earthquake Memorial Park was preserved to show how bad the damage was.

The Kobe earthquake memorial park shows some of the primary effects of the Kobe earthquake.

The Kobe earthquake memorial park shows some of the primary effects of the Kobe earthquake.

Getting to the Kobe Earthquake Museum

The Kobe Earthquake Museum is closed on Mondays (and Tuesdays if Monday is a public holiday).

It is easy to reach the Kobe Earthquake Museum by train. The exit is Iwaya Station on the Hanshin main line  or Nada Station on the JR Line (handy if you are using a JR pass).  Exit the station and go downhill towards the sea and turn right at the busy main street.

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Why You Should Visit The Kobe Earthquake Museum Commemorating The Kobe Earthquake of 1995

Why You Should Visit The Kobe Earthquake Museum Commemorating The Kobe Earthquake of 1995

If you’re heading to Kobe, Japan, one of the best things to do in Kobe is visiting the Kobe Earthquake Museum. This well planned earthquake museum explores the causes of the Kobe Earthquake 1995, the effects of the earthquake, the responses to it as well as staggering facts about the Kobe Earthquake. Check out a few useful info about the museum + tons of interesting facts. #kobe #japan #kobeearthquake #earthquake #museum.

If you’re heading to Kobe, Japan, one of the best things to do in Kobe is visiting the Kobe
Earthquake Museum. This well planned earthquake museum explores the causes of the
Kobe Earthquake 1995, the effects of the earthquake, the responses to it as well as
staggering facts about the Kobe Earthquake. Check out a few useful info about the museum
+ tons of interesting facts. #kobe #japan #kobeearthquake #earthquake #museum.

This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them at no extra cost to you. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.

 

Why You Should Take Your Older Children To Visit The Children’s Peace Monument at Hiroshima

Why You Should Take Your Older Children To Visit The Children’s Peace Monument at Hiroshima

The city of Hiroshima in Japan has the sad honour of playing testament to the horrors of a modern warfare. Unlike Bayeux in France which was spared devastation during World War II by the tactical thinking of the British Allied forces, a large chunk of Hiroshima was explicitly flattened by the American military to bring Japan to its knees. The Hiroshima Memorial Park commemorates the area where the atomic bomb was dropped during World War II. Any Hiroshima walking tour of the park brings home the fact that thousands of children died on the site – a fact hammered home by the evocative Children’s Peace Monument.

Facts About Hiroshima Pre A-Bomb

The area that covers the Peace Memorial Park was a densely populated area prior to the A bomb. In fact, the busiest area in downtown Hiroshima, the neighborhoods had over 1700 households and almost 6000 residents. The city of Hiroshima itself had about 350,000 residents, including Korean and Chinese nationals and  a couple dozen American prisoners of war held at the nearby military jail.

In addition to the residents, there were thousands of others who were unfortunate enough to be in the area when the atomic bomb was dropped at 8:15 AM on August 6, 1945. These were citizen volunteers and junior high school students who were demolishing buildings.

A clock marking the time the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima – 8:15 AM.

These mobilised students were creating a fire wall with the expectation of future bombings on the city. The Americans had helpfully told the Japanese that bombs would be coming without actually pointing out that it wouldn’t be the usual type of bombs.  The demolished buildings would be a bulwark against the ensuing fires future bombs would cause.

A panoramic view of the density of housing in Hiroshima pre-Atomic bomb.

It’s hard to know how many people died in that atomic blast because the city’s records were also decimated. It’s estimated that 140,000 people died between the bomb exploding in August 1945 and the end of the year. Even the Hiroshima aftermath has been lost in the ashes that make up the Hiroshima park.

Fun Fact!  The oleander is the official flower of Hiroshima because it was the first plant to bloom again after the A-Bomb was dropped.

Three days after the Hiroshima sites were bombed, the Japanese city of Nagasaki was also targeted. Japan announced its surrender on August 15, 1945.

5 Interesting Hiroshima Bomb Facts

  • The Hiroshima Bomb, nicknamed Little Boy, was created with 141 lbs of Uranium of which the critical damage was caused by only 0.7g of Uranium. The Little Boy nickname came from the movie, The Maltese Falcon.
  • You hear about “Hiroshima Shadows”  – the ashes of people and objects permanently burned into the ground because of the intensity of the Atomic bomb blast.
  • American propaganda at first claimed there was no radioactive poisoning after the Hiroshima bomb was dropped.  This claim even appeared in mainstream publications like the New York Times.
  • As much as 25% of the people who died in the Hiroshima aftermath could have been of Korean descent. As many as 3 million Koreans were living in Japan during World War 2 to help ease the acute labor shortage. The records are murky because many of the Koreans were undocumented prisoners of war and/or sent back to Korea after World War II.
  • The monster Godzilla was spawned as a result of the Hiroshima bombing and was a metaphor for nuclear war.
Did you know? Lucky Kyoto had a narrow escape because it was on the original list of cities to bomb but an American cabinet member insisted Kyoto be spared because he had spent his honeymoon there.

A monument at Hiroshima memorial park

Hiroshima Memorial Park

The Hiroshima Memorial Park contains monuments such as the Children’s Peace Monument and museums such as the Hiroshima Peace Center Memorial Hall.

Hiroshima Dome

The Hiroshima Dome is all that exists of an exhibition center that was located on the site – similar to the Javits Center in New York City or Olympia in London. It was given UNESCO world heritage listed status in 1996.

The Hiroshima Dome was pretty much the epicentre of the atomic bomb but somehow parts of the structure managed to survive.

Hiroshima Arch

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial museum has exhibits on the atomic bomb and the Hiroshima aftermath. The Hiroshima Arch located nearby frames both the Hiroshima Dome and flame of peace Hiroshima – a before and after if you will.

The Hiroshima Arch is supposed to provide shelter for the souls of the perished.

The shape of the Hiroshima Arch is supposed to provide a shelter for the repose of the souls of the victims. In continuous operation since 1964, the flame of peace Hiroshima will only be extinguished when the threat of nuclear war is eradicated.

The flame of peace Hiroshima will run continuously until the threat of nuclear war is gone forever.

Children’s Peace Monument Hiroshima

The Sadako Sasaki peace monument is the more well known of the children’s monuments because of its colorful cranes.

The Sadako Sasaki Story

The Children’s Peace Monument commemorates the life of Sadako Sasaki who died of leukaemia after being subjected to radiation poisoning at the age of 2 when the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima.

The children’s peace monument with Sadako Sasaki statue on top.

She wished to create a 1000 paper cranes which in Japanese folklore meant she would have one wish granted. She passed away after having folded 644 cranes.  People the world over have brought paper cranes to honour Sadako Sasaki’s wish.

Hiroshima paper cranes kept near the Sadako Sasaki statue

There is a bell under the Sadako Sasaki statue which you can ring.

The Memorial for the Mobilised Students

The Memorial for the Mobilised Students is another children’s monument is dedicated to the school children drafted into military works who lost their lives in the blast. Children from the age of junior high school were forced into helping the military such as working in factories or demolishing buildings. Of the approximately 8,000 children who were forcibly mobilised in Hiroshima, about 75% of them died in the Hiroshima aftermath.

The memorial for the 6000+ mobilised junior high school students who perished.

Hiroshima Peace Bell

The most famous Hiroshima Peace Bell is near the Hiroshima children’s peace monument. There are other versions of a Hiroshima Peace Bell scattered throughout the Hiroshima Park.

Ringing a Hiroshima peace bell

Hiroshima Peace Center Memorial Hall

Approximately 8200 students from local junior high schools were mobilised to create fire breaks by demolishing buildings. Approximately 6000 of these students died in the atomic bomb blast.

The Hiroshima Memorial Hall has a short documentary paying tribute to some of these students by family members left behind.

For example, one boy talks of running to the blast area to find his 12 year old brother and finding only his brother’s bento (lunch) box still filled with the warm rice that their mother had packed. There was nothing left of his brother. That bento box was taken to their family altar at home in memory of their lost family member.

The memorial for the students who forced into military labor draped with paper cranes of hope.

Many of the parents of these junior high school students could not find their children’s bodies. The young bodies were incinerated in the heat which ranged from 3000-4000 degrees Centigrade.

One of the parents spoke of how proud she had been of her son when he had gotten into his first choice junior high school. Weeks into his new school year which had just started, her 12 year old son vanished into thin air – never to be seen again, but never forgotten.

Hiroshima For Kids

Hiroshima for kids is a walk in the park. Literally.  The Hiroshima Peace Park is beautifully landscaped around the scarred remains of a tragedy.

Figuratively, however the monuments and remains of the Hiroshima sites in Hiroshima Memorial Park are a heavy tragedy to understand. Similar to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Hiroshima Memorial Park is a tragedy of unimaginable scale which needs to be carefully explained so that it is understood. I remember my kids not understanding why Anne Frank had to hide in an Amsterdam attic.

A statue in honour of Miekichi Suzuki who was born in Hiroshima and is considered the father of children’s literature in Japan.

A bit like the 9/11 Memorial Garden, a Hiroshima walking tour meant we could gauge how upset our children were getting and plan accordingly. Actually, having all that life-affirming nature at the Hiroshima park surrounding us helped.

Fun Fact!  The US National Arboretum in Washington D.C. has a bonsai tree that was gifted to the US by the Japanese in 1976 for the bicentennial celebrations. This tree has been around since 1625 and is a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing!  

I visited Hiroshima nearly 20 years ago well before I had kids. This time visiting the Hiroshima Peace Park with kids I was struck by the human toll of young lives. The stories of those innocent children’s lives lost and grieving families really hit home.

Is Hiroshima for kids? Yes, i believe it is. Protecting future generations from the horrors of the past neither erases what has happened nor honors the memories of those who have suffered.

Getting to Hiroshima

Getting to Hiroshima is relatively easy.  The bullet train from Osaka to Hiroshima takes anywhere from 2.5 to 3 hours. Getting around Hiroshima is straight-forward as well. There is a loop bus service that will take you from  Hiroshima train station to the Hiroshima Memorial Park. The distance from the train station to Hiroshima Memorial Park is about 3 kilometres.

Prefer to Have a Tour Guide? Check out these options. 

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Why You Should Take Your Older Children To Visit The Children’s Peace Monument at Hiroshima #Hiroshima #Japan

Discover why you need to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park when you visit Japan
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Why Vintage Japanese Dolls Make Affordable and Cool Japanese Souvenirs

Why Vintage Japanese Dolls Make Affordable and Cool Japanese Souvenirs

When you are travelling in Japan, you see lots of antique Japanese dolls for sale.  These dolls are a relatively affordable souvenir even if they are Japanese porcelain dolls. Sure they aren’t as cheap as a Chinese-made fridge magnet but they are way also way cooler and have a cultural significance.  The most elegantly beautiful vintage Japanese dolls we found were the Hina dolls from the Hinamatsuri festival celebrated on March 3rd every year. Alternatively, the folk art chic of Japanese wooden dolls may better fit your modern aesthetic.

The Hina Dolls

The Hina dolls are associated with Hinamatsuri in Japan, a festival that ensures the healthy growth of a daughter.

Fun Fact! The Awashima Jinja shrine in Wakayama is filled with 1000+ vintage Japanese dolls with the most numerous being Hina dolls.
Japanese antique dolls like these Hina dolls make cool Japanese souvenirs

Japanese antique dolls like these Hina dolls make cool Japanese souvenirs

What is the Hinamatsuri Festival?

The Hinamatsuri festival is a girls’ day celebration on the 3rd of March. Hinamatsuri in Japan is celebrated for daughters until their 10th birthday.

Each family brings out their Hinamatsuri doll set which is a series of dolls placed on a red tiered carpet. Yes, the dolls have a hierarchy too. There will always be a man and a woman on the top tier of Hinamatsuri dolls which is supposed to represent the Emperor and Empress.

At the top of the Hinamatsuri doll set are representation of the Emperor and Empress, representing the hierarchy in society as well.

At the top of the Hinamatsuri doll set are representation of the Emperor and Empress, representing the hierarchy in society as well.

The Hinamatsuri festival has a macabre origin story. The legend goes that one of the mythical founders of Japan (sort of like Romulus and Remus for Rome) purified himself after visiting the Land of the Dead. This purification used to include human sacrifice. During the Heian period though, ritual purification could be done by transferring your issues to a doll and throwing it in the river or sea.

Fun Fact! The Heian period was named for its capital city which is now Kyoto. The Heian period was a flourishing time for Japanese culture. It lasted from 794-1185

The Nagashi Bina Festival which is more like the Heian period festival of transferring uncleanliness onto a doll is still celebrated in some places, including the Shimigomo Shrine in Kyoto. There is a Nagashi Bina Doll Museum in the city of Tottori.

Hinamatsuri dolls wear traditional outfits from the Heian period, widely regarded as a glorious period in Japanese cultural history.

By the late 17th century, the Nagashi Bina festival transformed into the Hinamatsuri festival which is widely celebrated  today in Japan.

The Hinamatsuri Doll Set

Usually a family gets the first two dolls (the Emperor and the Empress) of a Hinamatsuri doll set by the first birthday of their child. You don’t need to have any more Hina dolls because that is the basic set. The dolls are offered little food offerings and sake. We discovered that Shintoism in Japan seems to love sake offerings!

They Hina dolls are displayed for only a brief time because of the superstition that if you left them up too long they would be responsible for the daughter’s late marriage. Heaven forbid.

You can see how detailed and beautiful a Hina doll can be in this version.

You can see how detailed and beautiful a Hina doll can be in this version.

How many more tiers of dolls you have depends on how much  money you have. A Hinamatsuri set ranges from 5-7 tiers with 15 dolls.

Below is a 3-tier Hinamatsuri doll set which has the Emperor and Emperess and their courtiers and musicians in traditional court dress from the Heian period.

A 3 tiered Hinamatsuri doll set.

A 3 tiered Hinamatsuri doll set.

A Hina doll is expensive to buy new. For example a full 5 tier set of Japanese porelain dolls can cost a couple of thousand US dollars. Usually families pass down the Hinamatsuri doll set from generation to generation.

Why Are Second Hand Hina Dolls Affordable?

You can, however, get a Hina doll fairly cheaply in second-hand stores. Antique Japanese Hina dolls are not bought by Japanese families. Dolls are supposed to take on human characteristics by virtue of looking like humans. It’s fine to inherit your doll from your family members but you will invite bad spirits into your home if you bring a stranger’s Hina dolls into your home!

My daughter thought they were beautiful until she heard the superstition about them having spirits of their own. Then she just thought they were creepy.

HInamatsuri dolls are used in the Hinamatsuri festival celebrated annually in March.

HInamatsuri dolls are used in the Hinamatsuri festival celebrated annually in March.

So there are lots of Japanese antique dolls floating around Japan that no longer belong to a family. It’s not like you can throw them out because that would really bring the reign down the wrath of a Japanese spirit. (Remember the Japanese horror movie, The Ring? No one wants that). So, these Japanese antique dolls get flogged to foreigners who appreciate them for their beauty and don’t have the attendant superstitions associated with them.

I did buy two vintage Japanese dolls before I learned about the legend and my daughter got spooked. Unfortunately, one of the Hina dolls lost his head somewhere in transit. The Japanese spirit associated with my headless Hina doll is probably very annoyed but has yet to pay me a visit. Sort of like the legend of the Headless Horsemen of Sleepy Hollow, he’s probably still out there searching for his head (somewhere in baggage claim).

Kokeshi Dolls

Kokeshi dolls are simple wooden Japanese dolls that originally started in the Northeast of Japan.

Farmers made these Japanese wooden dolls from scraps of wood to wile away the time during the winters. Kokeshi Japanese dolls were probably a good luck symbol.

Fun fact!  Traditionally farmers made and gave Kokeshi dolls to their children to ensure a good harvest.

Then kokeshi dolls got sold as souvenirs to people visiting the onsens (hot springs) in the area in the early 1800’s during the Edo Period. Eventually they also became a toy for children. Sometimes a Kokeshi doll was given to a woman who had lost a baby through miscarriage or abortion.

Unlike the Hina dolls, the Kokeshi dolls meaning were believed to be a good luck charm. They were both a guardian of children’s souls but also able to contain the spirits of ancestors. Personally, I would have thought that was just as creepy.

There is a Kokeshi Museum in Osaki City which has about 5000 Japanese kokeshi dolls on display.

Vintage Kokeshi Dolls

The vintage kokeshi dolls you will find are super-simple. They have a hand-drawn face, no arms and legs, and a floral design on the body. There are apparently 11 different types of Kokeshi patterns which are associated with different onsens. You may find the artist’s signature on the bottom of a Kokeshi doll.

Vintage Kokeshi dolls are handmade so each are different

Vintage Kokeshi dolls are handmade so each are different

Simple as they are, Kokeshi dolls take a long time to make because the wood is left outside to age for up to 5 years. The wood used can be cherry, dogwood, chestnut or Japanese maple. They are always made of wood, hand-carved andhand-painted.

You are basically looking for a Kokeshi doll that is pleasing to the eye. You want one that is not too top heavy and has a nice pattern. We saw some that my daughter classified as having “weird” faces but really it is a personal preference.

Modern Kokeshi Dolls

Modern kokeshi dolls appeared in the 1950’s and are more colorful and artistic. Artists were allowed more freedom to express their creativity unlike in the vintage kokeshi dolls. Also called creative kokeshi dolls, the body is painted wearing clothes like kimonos or yukatas. Unlike the vintage kokeshi dolls, modern kokeshi dolls can be made on special machines (but are still handprinted).

you can see how modern Kokeshi dolls got their style

you can see how modern Kokeshi dolls got their style

Kimmidoll Collection

The Kimmidoll collection takes the modern kokeshi dolls even further away from the traditional types. Inspired by Kokeshi dolls, Japanese kimmidolls contemporary collectible dolls. Kimmidolls are a mass-market approach to a Japanese tradition. They aren’t as charming as a the aged look of vintage Japanese dolls in my opinion but my daughter thought they were super pretty.

A kimmidoll keychain capitalises on the traditional Kokeshi craft.

A kimmidoll keychain capitalises on the traditional Kokeshi craft.

Each Kimmidoll represents a positive characteristic e such as laughter, understanding, love or entertainment. We got our Kimmidoll keychain at Kiddyland, a Japanese toy superstore in the Ometesando neighborhood near Harajuku.

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Hinamatsuri dolls make cool Japanese souvenirs but they do have a creepy legend associated with them.

Hinamatsuri dolls make cool Japanese souvenirs but they do have a creepy legend associated with them.

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Where To Stay in Osaka Japan: A Room With A View at the Marriott Miyako Hotel For Modern Luxury

Where To Stay in Osaka Japan: A Room With A View at the Marriott Miyako Hotel For Modern Luxury

When I was in Japan on tour in 2010, I felt like I was 30 years into the future. I love technology and they are so advanced with their phones, computers, everything.

– Soulja Boy

When we were searching for where to stay in Osaka Japan, we were not short on options. We were searching for cool and modern Japan  as well as Osaka accommodation for families with a bit of style and luxury. There would be plenty of traditional places to stay elsewhere on our 2 week trip in Japan. Thanks to being the second biggest city in Japan, you will have your pick of places to stay in Osaka, including many  5 star hotels from the major hotel brands. We specifically wanted an Osaka hotel near a JR station because we were using our stay in Osaka as a base to explore other places in Japan. Our choice of the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel also made my architecture-obsessed son happy because it is located in the tallest building in Japan. So would we say the Marrott Miyako is a recommended hotels in Osaka including for families? Read on and find out.

First Impressions of the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel

My first impression of the Marriott Miyako Hotel was that it reminded me of the skyscraper hotel in the 2003 Lost in Translation movie with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen. It’s striking, glossy and glamourous. The impeccably groomed receptionists are lined behind glossy long white lacquered tables. The lights of Osaka glimmer in the double-height windows. You definitely feel the sense of being small in a big city.

The reception area of the Osaka Marriott Miyako

The reception area of the Osaka Marriott Miyako

The service though added warmth to this glossy white space. Everything was organised and our room keys given to us in a jiffy. A smiling receptionist took us to our room on the 51st floor. My son was delighted – he adores skyscrapers and we had never stayed on a floor this high before. At check-in you get some freebies for staying in the tallest building in Japan, such as a discount coupon to use at the department store in the building and free passes to the observatory in the tower.

The view from the Marriott Miyako Hotel at sunset

The view from our room at the Marriott Miyako Hotel at sunset.

Family Accommodation in an Osaka 5 Star Hotel

We had a double bedded room (with queen beds) which was a good size in terms of Osaka accommodation for families.  The fancy toilet was a separate room from the  bathroom sink, bathtub and shower area.  Good thing because my kids were completely fascinated with the toilet controls and spent inordinate amounts of time in there.

Our fabulous bathroom at the Osaka Marriott Miyako hotel.

Our fabulous bathroom at the Osaka Marriott Miyako hotel.

I loved the bathroom because it is in a style usually found in high-end Japanese design. The bathtub is in a separate glass enclosure with the walk-in shower. You have all the benefits of a large walk-in shower without the water splashing everywhere.

There is a seating area, a workspace area and the usual amenities of bathrobes, a safe and mini fridge. What was extra and really nice were the Japanese pyjamas. Not only were they super comfortable but it meant that we could save our own pyjamas for later in the trip.

Style at this Osaka 5 Star Hotel

The Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel is glossy and modern. The lobby on the 38th floor is a cavernous open-plan space with double height ceilings and windows. The area is slightly subdivided with a separate gift shop and restaurant area. The middle of the floor though are bar areas. A musician plays in the evenings which is nice if you want to chill out with a drink.

One of the bar areas in the lobby

One of the bar areas in the lobby

The rooms are comfortable and cozy in feel though. It’s got a minimal of clutter which I appreciate. We bring our own clutter to hotel rooms!

There were definitely elements of Japanese traditional style at this hotel. For example, I loved this piece of pottery which incorporates the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi (the idea that imperfect is perfect). My daughter wasn’t buying it though. She thought maybe the potter had broken it and was trying to cover it up. Such cynicism.

Wabi Sabi (Imperfectly perfect) pottery at the Osaka Marriott Miyako

Wabi Sabi (Imperfectly perfect) pottery at the Osaka Marriott Miyako

Ambience of the Tallest Building in Japan

The ambience of the tallest building in Japan is definitely straight out of Lost in Translation. Giant windows overlook Osaka as it sprawls into the horizon. Fifty floors up, the people and trains below don’t seem quite real. Little toys scampering around.

Tub chairs in the lounge which overlook the Osaka city skyline

Tub chairs in the lounge which overlook the Osaka city skyline

By the way, how can this hotel be located in the tallest building in Japan? With a skyscraper geek in our family, he was only happy to educate us.

Well, technically the Tokyo SkyTree is taller but it is deemed the tallest structure in Japan. Most of the Tokyo SkyTree is unoccupied and serves as a broadcasting tower for the Tokyo metropolitan area. It’s as famous a Japanese sightseeing destination as the much smaller Eiffel Tower knock-off, the Tokyo Tower.

That leaves the Abeno Harukas building in which the Marriott Miyako Osaka is housed as the tallest building in Japan. It has 6o floors which are separated by function:

  •  the 2nd to the 14th floor is the main branch of the Kintetsu Department Store and the largest department store in Japan;
  • the 15th to the 37t floor is office space
  • the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel occupies the 38th to the 55th floor
  • the top floors have an observation deck and restaurants
No matter how slick, of course the Abeno Harukas building had a kawaii mascot

No matter how slick, of course the Abeno Harukas building had a kawaii mascot because … Japan.

By the way, we used our free tickets to the observatory in the Abeno Harukas building but can truthfully say the view from our room was just as good!

The view from our Osaka Marriott Miyako Osaka at night

The view from our Osaka Marriott Miyako Osaka at night

The Good Bits of the Marriott Hotel in Tennoji

What were we looking for when we were choosing where to stay in Osaka? A Convenient Osaka accommodation for families in a 5 star hotel with a bit of style.

There are plenty of cozy seating spaces in the open plan lounge area

There are plenty of cozy seating spaces in the open plan lounge area

Convenient Location

In terms of convenience, we really wanted an Osaka hotel near a JR station. I love Osaka for its food and fun but we knew we would be using Osaka as a base for a few days to explore other places in the region. This Osaka 5 star hotel is wonderfully located above a major transportation hub. At the end of a long day, we could drag our weary bodies straight upstairs to bed from the train station downstairs.

Amenities on Your Doorstep

Having the Kintetsu department store downstairs meant that we had quite a few options for breakfast and snacks. They have a GREAT food hall which we loved. Did I mention that my children are completely addicted to Japanese candy and sweets?

The giant train station complex meant there was lots of good shopping options, for both food and other supplies we needed..

There  is a separate convenience store which is pretty upscale for the people who work in the offices  from which we got dinner once. Of course you will need to take multiple elevators to get to it from the Marriott Miyako hotel.

The Marriott Branding

The Osaka Marriott Miyako is part of the Marriott brand and so part of the Starwood Group. You know how much I love the Starwood Group for both great hotels, excellent service and a fabulous rewards program.

We didn’t partake but this hotel does do afternoon tea.

We didn’t partake but this hotel does do afternoon tea. I did wonder what New York Breakfast tasted like – caffeine, bagels and lox?

The Great Bits of the Marriott Miyako Hotel in Osaka

What would I consider some of the extra add-ons that go above and beyond in terms of staying in an Osaka 5 star hotel?

Exceptional Service in a Medical Crises

We were very grateful to the Marriott Osaka Miyako Hotel manager for finding us an English-speaking doctor in the middle of the night. One night our son felt ill  because his ear hurt. Although he has had ear infections before, they have never occurred while we were away from home.

The concierge desk of the Osaka Marriott Miyako hotel.

The concierge desk of the Osaka Marriott Miyako hotel. I really had the impulse to peel that ‘paper’ off the wall every time I saw it.

My husband and I were in a bit of a panic about finding an A&E in country where we didn’t speak the language. My husband’s first reaction was to suggest that my son was just being dramatic and he could just power through the pain. I was not happy with that decision as the whimpering got progressively worse..

The manager at the hotel sorted everything out for us in an hour after our phone call to him.  He put  my husband and son in a hotel taxi to a hospital together with a note to the hospital explaining the circumstances in Japanese. My son was seen by an English-speaking doctor who prescribed antibiotics for a definite ear infection. My son felt better the next day  and I felt immense superiority in being right.

Excellent Location

I was looking for a good Osaka hotel near a JR station. The Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel is actually located above the massive JR Tennoji station as well as Osaka Obenabashi station for the private Kintetsu railroad.

This simplified map shows where Tennoji is in relation to the Osaka loop line (photo credit: JR Rail)

This simplified map shows where Tennoji is in relation to the Osaka loop line
(photo credit: JR Rail)

Tennoji JR station is one of the main stations in Osaka and is served by several JR and Osaka subway lines.

  • With your JR pass you can go directly from Kansai  International Airport to Tennoji JR station in half hour  on the Haruka Express or 45 minutes by the Kansai Airport Rapid Service.
  • We used the Kintetsu train from Obenabashi directly to Mount Yoshino.
  • You can go directly from Obenabashi to Mount Koya, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of Japan’s holiest places.
  • You can take the JR Yamatoji  line from Tennoji Station directly to Nara in less than an hour depending on what type of train you take.

On the JR Osaka loop line, you can use your JR pass to get around large parts of Osaka without paying extra for the Osaka subway. For example, on the loop line you can get to Osaka station and then change for a train to Himeji.

You really are spoiled for choices for transport links around and out of Osaka.

What Left Us Underwhelmed

In such a tall building, the elevator banks are a bit confusing to negotiate. It took us a while to figure them out, such as the floor we needed to get off to go directly to the JR station. The elevators themselves are speedy but different sets of elevators serve different floors.

We ordered room service once. For a simple meal of Onigiri (Japanese rice rolls) and Miso Soup, it took close to 45 minutes to deliver.Maybe they had issues navigating all those elevators too!  It’s the sort of thing you can get in a Japanese convenience store much cheaper and much faster.

On that issue of laundry, the costs are sky high. We thought very briefly about sending some items for cleaning but balked when the cost of laundry for a pair of socks came out to about $10. Instead, we just went out and bought 3 pairs of new socks for $10.

Plenty of champagne to pop as you would expect of an Osaka 5 star hotel.

Plenty of champagne to pop as you would expect of an Osaka 5 star hotel.

Our Opinion of the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel

I can definitely say the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel is our recommended hotel in Osaka, and not just because the manager got us out of a tight spot. We loved the location, the convenience and the uber-cool feel of it. Our other hotels in Japan were more traditional in feel which is what you would want in the historic areas of Kyoto and Kanazawa. In the brash neon glam of Osaka, the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel perfectly captures the modern city glamour of Japan.

Check out the great TripAdvisor reviews that the Osaka Marriott Miyako hotel received from other guests.

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Sparkling chandeliers inside and sparkling city lights outside

Sparkling chandeliers inside and sparkling city lights outside

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Why You Should Make Time To Take A Tokyo To Nikko Day Trip

Why You Should Make Time To Take A Tokyo To Nikko Day Trip

Tokyo is an exhausting city which is why it’s always good to leave it for short breaks. In addition to our day trip to Hakone, we went to Nikko, a UNESCO World Heritage town set in the mountains north of Japan which is home to one of Japan’s most famous shrines. Although going from Tokyo to Nikko by train takes a mere 2 hours, it feels a world away. It was great to get some fresh mountain air and walk around without dodging people and cars. We highly recommend that you take a Nikko day trip to recharge your batteries and to explore an area that is very important to Japanese people.

Tokyo To Nikko By Train

Getting from Tokyo to Nikko by train is very easy. There are 20+ shinkansen (bullet trains) that go from Tokyo station to Utsunomiya station. Then you take a local Nikko line from Utsonomiya to Nikko station which takes about 40 minutes. The waiting time between the Shinkansen and the local Nikko line can be anywhere between 10 minutes to half an hour. Overall, the trip can take up to 2 hours.

Another one of the kawaii cardboard cut-outs that are all over Japan.

We went from Tokyo to Nikko using our JR Pass. It was all straight-forward and the entire trip was covered by the JR Pass. When you exit from the Shinkansen, follow the signs (in English) marked for Nikko. In addition, there are little monkeys on the floor showing you the way to the local Nikko train.

Nikko train signs lead you to the local train

The Nikko station itself is tiny. It does have a good tourist office but the lines can be long. Just go to the train ticket office and get a Heritage bus ticket. You can either get round-trip or one-way. Alternatively, you can walk 40 minutes up to the shrine. We split the difference and took the bus uphill and meandered downhill at our own pace..

Why You Should Make Time To Take A Tokyo To Nikko Day Trip

Why make time to visit Nikko from Tokyo and how to get there

One Day in Nikko Sightseeing

Nikko Sightseeing must include the Nikko Heritage sites. No two ways about it, they are the stars of the show. In addition to Nikko’s heritage sites though, there is nature to explore in the form of Lake Chuzenji and waterfalls. We are city people at heart though and we opted to explore the charming town of Nikko.

What to Do in Nikko: Heritage Sites and Nature

If you don’t achieve temple/shrine fatigue by the end of visiting Nikko’s heritage sites, you are a superstar.

Rinnoji-Temple

Rinnoji-temple is undergoing renovation which has been ongoing for a couple of years. It is dedicated to the Buddhist monk who introduced Buddhism to Nikko in the 8th century.

It was believed that a dragon on the ceiling of a Nikko temple protects the building from fire.

Why the monkeys everywhere? Because Nikko is where that famous saying “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” comes from. It’s a word play on the Japanese word for monkey and is supposed to help children learn Buddhist principles.

The 3 monkeys plaque at the Nikko Shrine

Toshugu Shrine

The Toshugu shrine is in honour of Ieyasu Tokugawa, who unified the country under shogun leadership ending years of battling warlords. His grandson built this shrine and clearly he wanted everyone to know his grandpa was THE MAN.

The purification area before you enter the Nikko Toshugu Shrine

The Nikko Toshugu shrines are unlike anything we had ever seen in Japan. Because it is. Usually shinto shrines have plain aesthetics but the Toshugu shrine is more like Chinese temples. More is simply not enough.

The warehouses that store the costumes for the annual Nikko festival

The rooftops at the Nikko Toshugu Shrine complex nestled in the trees.

The 5 tier pagoda at the Nikko Toshugu shrine

Nikko National Park

Nikko National Park is considered one of Japan’s most scenic areas – mountains, waterfalls and lakes. It’s free to enter the park and the temples and shrines are technically within Nikko National Park.

The Shinkyo Bridge in Nikko National Park

Things to Do in Nikko Town

We had great food in Nikko at a Japanese restaurant that looked a bit tattered. The walls were covered with post-it notes from all around the world so we knew we had stumbled onto a winner. Hippari-Daku is casual, great for kids and serves yakitori and beer.

A nikko street lantern with dragons

The town is charming with lots of little souvenir shops, eateries and vintage shops. We found some great unusual souvenirs which were cheaper than anything we could find in Tokyo or Kyoto.

An antique samurai helmet in a store in Nikko – yours for 800,000 Yen (about $8,000).

It’s great for browsing with friendly locals. My daughter pronounced the crepe she had from Marion’s creperie one of the best crepe she’s ever had and she is a bit of a crepe connoisseur.

Giant tori gate at Nikko National Park

Why You Should Make Time To Take A Tokyo To Nikko Day Trip

Why You Should Make Time To Take A Tokyo To Nikko Day Trip

Why make time to visit Nikko from Tokyo and how to get there

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Why We Loved Our Hakone Onsen Day Trip to Kowakien Yunessun (And You Will Too!)

Why We Loved Our Hakone Onsen Day Trip to Kowakien Yunessun (And You Will Too!)

During our two week trip to Japan, I was thwarted from visiting a Japanese onsen (hot springs) spa town favored by people in Kyoto by a child with an ill-timed ear infection. In Tokyo, however, I knew that the nearby Hakone hot springs were famous, too. Our last full day in Japan, I arranged a Hakone onsen day trip for my family to the Kowakien Yunessun hotel and spa complex. This Hakone onsen theme park is famous for its specialty baths (such as the green tea spa bath and the red wine spa bath). Moreover, unlike traditional Japanese onsens, the Hakone Kowakien lets you wear swimsuits and has has a family-friendly area with water slides and play areas. There are plenty of things that you can do with children in Hakone and this hot springs theme park is definitely something they will enjoy.

The outdoor pool at Kowakien Yunessun onsen

Why We Loved Our Hakone Onsen Day Trip to Kowakien Yunessun (And You Will Too!)

The Kowakien Yunessun Complex

The Yunessun onsen is a huge Hakone onsen hotel complex nestled in the mountains. I was worried sitting in the bus en route to Yunessun that I’d miss it. I needn’t have worried!

The Kowakien Yunessun complex is ginormous.

The Kowakien Yunessun complex is ginormous.

You should note that this Hakone hotel in Kowakien has hotel rooms and restaurants separate from the Yunessen onsen restaurants. If you are staying at this Hakone onsen hotel you don’t have to worry about Hakone onsen day-trippers taking over all of the hotel space.

Available to both the Hakone Hotel Kowakien guests and hot springs theme park guests, there is a giant gift area in the hotel where you could buy all types of Japanese souvenirs.

Of course, Yunessun has kawaii mascots  that greet you throughout the complex and also provide plenty of photo opportunities.

The cutesy Yunessun mascots

The cutesy Yunessun mascots

Once you pass into the Hakone onsen theme park area itself, you can buy/rent swimsuits, caps, towels etc. We chose to rent towels but did not rent the brown robes. We did see people wearing the robes over their swimsuits but it is definitely not customary or required.

NB – You will not be allowed into the Yunessun Onsen if you have tattoos.  The Japanese frown upon tattoos because they have been traditionally associated with Japanese organised crime (Yakuza).

The Swimsuit Area at Yunessun Onsen

The Hakone Kowakien Yunessun bills itself as a onsen theme park primarily because it has several hot springs facilities catering for children (such as water slides and a water play area)

Who Goes to the Hakone Onsen Theme Park?

We saw lots of families as you would expect. The majority were well-behaved Japanese children with some foreign families in the mix.

The children are allowed to use floaties and pool toys at this Hakone hot springs theme park. We did not find the Kowakien Yunessun spa particularly busy when we went. It is a huge space and can cater to large crowds.

What Is Available At Kowakien Yunessun?

The facilities are extensive and spread out over inside and outside.

Indoors there is a main pool and a small toddler water play area besides this pool.

The main indoor pool at Kowakien Yunessun

The main indoor pool at Kowakien Yunessun

Yunessun Hakone has 3 restaurants in the hot springs theme park. The food is a lot like other theme parks you can go to – nothing special and geared towards child-friendly dishes. After all you are not at Yunessun for the food.

  • There is a poolside Japanese fast food restaurant.
  • Upstairs there is a snacks and crepes restaurant. It serves kid-friendly stuff like Japanese curry rice, corn dogs and crepes. To drink, you have a choice of sodas as well as  bubble tea and Asahi beer!
  • Upstairs there is a fancier all you can eat restaurant. It’s got beautiful views and you need to wear house slippers.

As you would expect from a Japanese place, there are vending machines galore. You can pay for the items with your wristband.

Changing Rooms at Hakone Kowakien Yunessun

The changing rooms are segregated by gender.  Children over the age of 7 are not expected to be in the opposite gender’s changing rooms.

The very brown Kowakien Yunessun locker room

The very brown Kowakien Yunessun locker room

The lockers and general furniture are a sludge brown color. The lockers are closed with a wristband that also serve as your ticket to buy items at the Yunessun Hakone. At the end, you return your wristband and settle up your account.

The lockers and changing rooms are kept immaculate by cleaning staff. We did not find puddles of water on the floor which is always a problem with locker rooms in a thermal spa.

The Decor at Hakone Kowakien Yunessun

Kowakien Yunessun is decorated with a sunny Meditteranean theme with blue skies and white puffy clouds on the ceiling.  The walls are painted to remind you of a white village a la one of the Greek islands.

The Kowakien Yunessun Mediterranean decor

The Kowakien Yunessun Mediterranean decor

Confusingly, you are greeted upon arrival by Japanese staff with leis and other props for a photo opportunity to pretend you are in Hawaii.  The photos were quite steep to buy (1200 yen) and so we didn’t bother with the photos.

Ironically, the Yunessun setting in the mountains of Hakone is pretty beautiful in itself. Not sure why the Japanese need to pretend they are in Hawaii or in the Mediterranean.  The large glass windows overlook dense forest-filled mountains of greenery. In Autumn, when the foliage turning colours of intense yellow, red and green, the view must be stunning.

The Different Pools at the Hakone Hot Springs

In addition to the main pool, inside the Yunessun Hakone complex there were quite a few specialty pools – a sake spa pool, a red wine spa pool, a coffee spa pool and a  green tea spa pool. Sake is a Japanese rice wine but processed more like the brewing of wine. There is real sake, red wine etc poured into these pools but I wouldn’t recommend drinking from these spas.

The sake pool at Kowakien Yunessun

The sake pool at Kowakien Yunessun is drip fed sake regularly.

The coffee pool really smelled like coffee but the other specialty pools smelled mostly like chlorine.

The Kowakien Yunessun coffee spa pool

The Kowakien Yunessun coffee spa pool

Dr Fish is a fish pedicure pool where fish eat the dead skin of your feet, We tried this for the first time because it only cost 100 yen per person and lasted 5 minutes. I didn’t like it  because I am really ticklish. Children from the age of 3 are allowed to use the fish pedicure pool.

Outside there is a small hot tub area and a large pool with a waterfall leading to an internal grotto. Having only heard about Hugh Hefner’s famous pool grotto at the Playboy Mansion, I can only imagine this grotto is what it looked like.

There are 3 water slides as well as a water play area for younger children. The play areas are all set up so that parents can sit in the hot tubs and still watch their children.

The Kowakien Yunessun outdoor slides

The Kowakien Yunessun outdoor slides

Other Kowakien Yunessun Amenities

In the relaxation area, there is a large tatami mat area with low tables with picture windows overlooking the mountains. With sockets on the walls, its a nice area to hang out in. We saw families playing cards, napping and generally chilling in the relaxation area.

Next door to the relaxation area there is a massage area. The booking system seems pretty informal and I had no problem getting an appointment.

The little old Japanese lady who did my massage spoke limited English. Yet, she was WAY stronger than I expected. I opted for a shiatsu massage (without oils) and I felt pummelled like a piece of meat. Especially after the hot water easing my muscles, the massage was exactly the icing on the cake I needed but it did remind me of a quote from one of my favourite movies set in Japan.

I was feeling tight in the shoulders and neck,  and so I had a shiatsu massage in my room… And the tightness has completely disappeared and been replaced by an unbelievable pain.

– Bob Harris from Lost in Translation (2003)

Mori No Yu – The No Swimsuit Area

For me the highlight of the Hakone Hotel Kowakien experience was the traditional Japanese onsen, i.e., the no swimsuit area called Mori No Yu. It was quiet, peaceful and beautiful!

Unlike other thermal spas like Therme Wien in Austria, Yunessun seemed pretty relaxed about taking photos in the swimsuit area. I did not, however, feel it appropriate to take photos in Mori No Yu. So here’s a photo from the Yunessun website:

The Mori No Yu Traditional Onsen

The Mori No Yu Traditional Onsen (Image Credit: Yunessun)

The Showers

Like all traditional onsets, you need to scrub yourself down before getting in the pools. There are lots of showering cubicles both inside and out the secluded Mori no Yu area.

The Pools at Mori No Yu

I did not find Mori No Yu crowded (about 20 women) and usually I had a pool to myself. It was mostly Japanese women – maybe they cleared out when the foreigner came in?!

In the women’s area, there were 2 large indoor pools (one stone, and one wood) and 4 outdoor pools landscaped into the rock and 3 small tubs. The rock landscaped pools even had stone beds that let you lie down and relax.

I thought the small tubs were perfect for one person stretching out.  It was like having a hot tub in a beautiful Japanese garden with mountain views.

Separately there is a large rock pool with milky blue water which reminded me of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland.

I had to rely on my husband and son for their opinion of the men’s side of Mori No Yu. They said there were about the same number of men on their side too. They had 3 large pools both indoor and outdoor but had many more smaller tubs.

The Ambience at Mori No Yu

The atmosphere was peaceful and quiet (except for the slightly overloud tinkly music played over the loudspeaker). Some mothers were there with their little daughters but it was still peaceful and quiet.

Unlike western hot tubs, there are no age restrictions for children to use the hot tubs.  Onsens are part of the Japanese culture and children are introduced to onsens early.

Locker Rooms at Mori No Yu

The locker rooms are similar to the Kowakien Yunessun locker rooms in that they are sludge brown color and work on a wristband system. You can just use any available locker and take the wristband.

Other Amenities at Mori No Yu

There is a little cafe, a tatami relaxation area and a massage area in Mori No Yu, too. So you don’t need to buy passes to both Kowakien Yunessun and Mori No Yu to have access to these amenities.

Buying Passes To Hakone Hotel Kowakien

You can buy passes to use just the swimsuit area (Kowakien Yunessun) or the no-swimsuit area  (Mori No Yu) or both. We chose combination tickets in the hope that we could convince our kids to try out the traditional onsen. My son went with his father into Mori No Yu but my daughter flat out refused to strip in front of strangers.  Sort of like the holy water baths at Lourdes, she was not to be persuaded from her opinion.

Transportation to Hakone Kowakien

From Tokyo, our Hakone onsen day trip was easy to organise.

Since we had our JR Passes, we took a Shinkansen from Tokyo station to Odawara station. From Odawara you can take the Romance Car or the bus. We opted to take the 45 minute bus ride (Bus H, Lane 3) through the mountains. The bus stops right outside the Hakone Hotel Kowakien spa stop (helpfully also called Kowakien).

Returning, we took the same bus from outside the Hakone Kowakien Yunessun. There is a doorman who will help you get on the right bus.

Our Opinion of Hakone Kowakien

We loved our Hakone onsen day trip to Kowakien Yunessun. I’m not convinced by benefits of the specialty baths such as the green tea spa or the red wine spa. I’m a big fan of traditional thermal baths so am a bit boring in that respect. But it is always fun to say you bathed in a green tea spa!

outdoor onsen with tub for washing

Why We Loved Our Hakone Onsen Day Trip to Kowakien Yunessun (And You Will Too!)

It was the perfect relaxing end to a busy two week trip to Japan. In fact, the kids had wanted to return to the Hakone Open Air Museum which is only a few minutes away from the Kowakien Yunessun.  The lure of relaxing in the hot springs of the Hakone onsen theme park proved too strong and we were pretty happy to just hang out as a family.