Blue. Green. Now how do I create a gradient? I’m adding colours to a cotton canvas, or a traditional tenugui, cloth. There’s a dense air of peace pervading the room, with the only discernible sound being streaming water. The painting materials strewn across the table are a contrast to the artworks and books neatly arranged on the shelves along the walls. I look up, only to see everyone else mirrored in the same attire and completely immersed in their craft. Staff walk by and smile politely.
Kai Sengokuhara feels like an asylum and I mean that in the best way possible. The way one has fantasised about temporal hospitalisation as a means to utter, undisturbed rest. The deep relaxation only achieved through isolation. No? Just me? Perched just outside Tokyo, embedded in the forest away from the main roads, is this refuge that gives you the sense of restful reformation.
The modern Japanese ryokan, Kai establishments are the luxury boutique inns of Hoshino Resorts, each housing hot springs and a design identity unique to the region it’s found in. Positioned in Hakone—a town that boasts over 20 museums including the famous Hakone Open-Air Museum, The Little Prince Museum and The Pola Museum of Art— the creative element of Sengokuhara is very tangible.
All artworks you see furnishing the halls and rooms are inspired by the prefecture and made exclusively for the property. This extends from an earthen wall crafted by Naoki Kusumi, a third-generation traditional plaster artisan, by the entrance hall to the glassware you use and even the room key charms. There is also an exhibition room in the annex building featuring the work of 12 contributing artists from Japan and abroad.
Most would understandably spend a large part of their time here soaking in the onsen. If not the communal gendered ones, the ones in the privacy of your room.
Each Kai onsen differs according to its closest volcanic source. Sengokuhara waters are drawn from Owakudani, which has an acidic pH of 2.0. The guest book in my room informs me that it’s abundant in antibacterial benefits. The thermal analysis and educational breakdowns are accompanied with elegant drawings and genuinely interesting to flip through.
For convenience, yukatas of varying sizes are available to change into and perfectly acceptable to walk around the estate in. It’s a strange sensation showing up to the restaurant with all other patrons dressed alike. Meals are all predetermined, kaiseki style. Not only do they allow a taste of the region, there’s also the opportunity to interact with your food, be it grilling on hot stones or creating your own pancake. And you know what they say about food tasting better when you are involved in the making of it.
But calling the stay a rehab does no justice to the beautiful interior. The wide open views of the natural outdoors (mountains are always a plus) and pleasant amount of sunlight makes sitting at the balcony an activity in itself. The dark tiles inject a sombre tranquillity to the light wood accents. It’s a soul-soothing sight that makes you feel cloaked in comfort. And so I colour on, forgetting the world outside while expressing it on the art before me.
For reservations, call +81-050-3786-1144 or visit Hakone Sengokuhara's website.