HOME Tokyo and Surroundings Kanagawa Hakone / Odawara Matsuzakaya Honten: Inside the Gorgeous 360-Year-Old Hakone Ryokan Inn
Matsuzakaya Honten: Inside the Gorgeous 360-Year-Old Hakone Ryokan Inn

Matsuzakaya Honten: Inside the Gorgeous 360-Year-Old Hakone Ryokan Inn

Date published: 13 November 2023

Matsuzakaya Honten, a time-honored Hakone ryokan with a legacy of over 360 years, epitomizes the essence of “omotenashi,” or Japanese hospitality. Japanese ryokan culture is renowned for its traditional architecture, exquisite decor, unparalleled staff hospitality, delectable cuisine, and rejuvenating hot springs. These establishments have evolved into havens of relaxation and healing, deeply rooted in Japan’s cultural heritage.

Here, writer Miyu Shimada, an experienced tour guide who has explored 150 cities in 50 countries and journeyed extensively across Japan, provides insights into the distinctions between Japanese hotels, inns, and their international counterparts, drawing from her extensive stays at various accommodations.

Table of Contents
  1. Matsuzakaya Honten in Hakone: The Finest in Japanese “Omotenashi”
  2. Must-See Ryokan Culture Experience! Why We Recommend Matsuzakaya Honten
  3. Travel Professional’s Top Points:
  4. Delicious Ryokan Cuisine
  5. Maximize Your Stay and Enjoy to the Fullest!
  6. Things to Know
  7. Top-Notch Hospitality & Ryokan Culture Experience at Hakone’s Matsuzakaya Honten

Matsuzakaya Honten in Hakone: The Finest in Japanese “Omotenashi”

Matsuzakaya Honten in Hakone: The Finest in Japanese “Omotenashi”

Hakone is a popular tourist destination about 90 minutes from Tokyo by train, offering a rich blend of hot springs, cuisine, and natural landscapes.

Matsuzakaya Hoten resides in the Higashi-Ashinoyu area, about 25 minutes by bus from Hakone-Yumoto Station, the gateway to Hakone.

Established in 1662, this historic ryokan celebrated its 360th anniversary in 2022 and is depicted in the works of Hiroshige Utagawa, an ukiyo-e artist from the Edo Period. Spanning the vast grounds of around 13,000 m2, the ryokan comprises 22 guest rooms within six pavilions, 10 of which feature open-air baths. There are also five private open-air bath facilities.

The hotel is surrounded by the rich natural environment of Hakone, boasting a unique hot spring that contains all three major water qualities for beautiful skin, with a gushing flow rate of 200 liters per minute.

The inn also provides warm hospitality, and serves meals inspired by the wholesome offerings of inn towns from the olden days, prepared with modern artisanal techniques and elaborate culinary craftsmanship.

In 2023, the inn was selected as one of the top ryokan of Japan in the Japan Brand Collection 2023 Kanagawa Edition.

Insight: What's the Japan Brand Collection?
  • The Japan Brand Collection, established in 2005, follows strict selection standards curated by experts spanning diverse industries. Its primary aim is to introduce “Japan’s top establishments across various sectors, focusing on regional development” through its magazine and online portal.

Must-See Ryokan Culture Experience! Why We Recommend Matsuzakaya Honten

While there are many ryokan throughout Japan, there are three reasons why Matsuzakaya Honten is especially recommended.

1. You can experience Japan’s top-notch “omotenashi” and “ryokan culture.”
2. Nearly half of the staff are non-Japanese, providing easy communication.
3. It’s all-inclusive, so you can relax without worrying about extra costs.

Each point is described in further detail below.

Travel Professional’s Top Points:

The Atmosphere of a Japanese Ryokan

The Atmosphere of a Japanese Ryokan

Matsuzakaya Honten exudes a stately, captivating atmosphere born from its extensive history. It perfectly embodies the image of a “symbolic Japanese inn,” sought after by many.

You can already smell the aroma of the hot spring as you walk down the approach from the gate to the entrance.

While the building’s interior boasts a consistent high-quality aesthetic, just outside the entrance sits a historic, Western-style lobby, a remnant of having served as a dormitory for the German army during wartime. The lobby is regularly maintained for convenience and comfort, with efforts made to preserve its nostalgic atmosphere while incorporating necessary modifications.

The fireplace in the lounge, with flickering flames providing warmth and comfort.

These authentic Japanese-style guest rooms truly embody the essence of a traditional Japanese ryokan.

The long hallway to the guest rooms is equally charming, evoking the sensation of strolling through a lush, green forest.

The fragrance of incense wafting through the hotel and guest rooms offers an additional layer of relaxation for the mind. Sourced from a renowned Kyoto incense shop, it's also a popular choice for guests as a souvenir.

A Warm Welcome Full of Japanese Heart

A Warm Welcome Full of Japanese Heart

Guests are courteously greeted by staff upon entering and exiting the facility. On this occasion, we were warmly welcomed and guided by Lin, a staff member from Vietnam.

Check-in at the lobby, which has a stylish, modern ambiance. At this time, you will be asked to fill out a guest card, book your meal times and private baths, and receive a briefing on the facility. Formerly a dance hall, the building has been remodeled to resemble a Western-style building from the Meiji Period.

As a welcome service, guests are offered a set of confectioneries from the Meiji Period with a choice of tea or coffee. This alone evokes the feeling of a long-standing retro cafe with a delightful atmosphere.

Here are the three choices. The type of yokan varies with the seasons. On this particular day, it was kanten (agar) crafted in the likeness of autumn leaves.

We were given the option to choose what we wanted, so we went with a Japanese-style sakura-yu and monaka. In Japan, during cherry blossom season, pickled cherry blossoms are used in sweets and Japanese cuisine. Sakura-yu is prepared by pouring hot water over them.

The monaka is a confectionery that included the outer layer and red bean paste packaged separately, offering a nice, crispy texture once you sandwich them together and enjoy. This moment brings a sense of complete relaxation after the check-in process.

Women also have the option to choose their favorite pattern of yukata, in addition to those already available in the rooms.

Because of the expansive layout of the building, the staff will assist you in finding your room, as well as the other facilities such as the dining area, lounge, and bath. According to Lin, many guests have admitted to getting lost within the building, as it’s so much bigger than they expect it to be!

Ample Space and Facilities to Relax and Immerse Yourself in Japanese Culture

While the lobby and guest rooms indeed offer relaxation, there are many other facilities and services available, allowing guests to lose track of time and unwind.

This is the terrace, another place to chill out as you enjoy a cup of tea or sake while admiring the view from the large windows.

The spacious lounge boasts expansive windows overlooking a Japanese garden, decorated with elegant calligraphy and large sofas accessible 24 hours a day. It’s the perfect place to escape life’s daily hustle and bustle, unwind with a drink, read a book, or get lost in thought.

Here is the lounge (free space) with a sunken hearth.

There are also old-fashioned Japanese toys and games, including Go, Kendama, and Othello. Whether chatting by the hearth or having fun with the toys and games, guests will feel as if they have traveled back in time to Japan of a century ago.

Matsuzakaya Honten, with its extensive history, is decorated throughout with valuable furniture, photographs, documents, exhibits, and ornaments, just like a mini-museum!

There’s also a valuable mirror on display, once used by Emperor Meiji himself.

Exceptional Customer Service by Hospitable Staff

Exceptional Customer Service by Hospitable Staff

Having stayed at numerous accommodations previously, the staff here displayed an exceptional level of customer service. From the moment of arrival, their welcoming words, genuine smiles, and overall demeanor leave an instant impression.

The staff are courteous yet not overly formal, creating a sense of warmth and familiarity, even for guests staying here for the first time.

“Amongst all our lodging facilities, Matsuzakaya Honten is most frequented by guests from overseas. Although we don’t offer any specific promotions, guests are drawn in by positive reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations from those who’ve previously stayed here. About half of our staff are non-Japanese, enabling us to offer explanations in English and Japanese, along with their native languages. I believe what foreign guests appreciate the most is our ability to convey Japanese hospitality to them, even in English,” says Fumie Makino, the proprietress.

“The genuine dedication of our staff is really encouraging. As the proprietress, I am consistently supported by their eagerness to assist customers. Many of our patrons come back again and again because they look forward to speaking with our staff. For that, I am truly grateful.”

Ms. Makino’s words exude a palpable sense of trust and camaraderie between the staff, and it was clear that this has directly influenced the quality of their service and hospitality.

An All-inclusive Stay So You Can Enjoy to the Fullest

The accommodation plan at Matsuzakaya Honten is all-inclusive, something of a rarity amongst ryokans. The price covers all meals, including breakfast and dinner, the drinks (including alcoholic beverages) in the lobby lounge, as well as the public and private baths.

The free drink bar space by the front desk is stocked with juice, soft drinks, tea and coffee, alcohol, and snacks.

You can drink as much of Kanagawa’s local sake (Japanese rice wine), sours, beer, and wine as you like. Guests can freely enjoy Kanagawa’s local sake, sours, beer, and wine from 3-10 PM and 7 AM to noon in public spaces like the lounge and terrace. (Note that these drinks cannot be brought into the hot springs or guest rooms.)

During check-in, guests can reserve one of the five private open-air baths, available for unlimited use during your stay as long as they are not already booked by other guests.

Unlike the guest room baths and large public baths, private baths allow guests to relax while enjoying views of the vast sky and mountains, all from their own personal space. It’s also great for guests with tattoos, which are unfortunately not allowed in the large baths.

Facilities & Amenities With Everything You Need!

Facilities & Amenities With Everything You Need!

Rooms provide ample space and a relaxed Japanese design. The kotatsu, a traditional Japanese fixture that provides warmth from the feet up, is a traditional Japanese winter custom. Recently, they have been used less and less, even within Japanese households, so many locals are delighted to find them here.

Bedrooms are separate for a more comfortable stay. (For groups of 3 or more, there is futon bedding provided in the Japanese-style room.)

Compared to accommodations abroad, Japanese lodgings offer a full range of amenities. And the amenities provided here are perfect! Combs, razors, toothbrushes, cotton, cotton swabs, and more. There’s even a hair tie for bathing, ensuring a hassle-free stay even if you come empty-handed.

The provided soap, shampoo, and conditioner are sourced from Sensatia Botanicals, an organic cosmetics company, and are conveniently-sized and travel-friendly.

Basic cosmetics and skin care products such as face wash, milky lotion, and body cream are also available, as seen here.

In the closet, you’ll find a yukata, suitable for use as pajamas, along with an obi, socks, and a “yukago”—an easy-to-carry basket designed for carrying your toiletries to and from the bath. Everything is provided for your convenience, so don’t worry about bringing your own!

There’s also a coffee machine, tea, and refrigerator at your disposal.

On the table you’ll find original Matsuzakaya nuts and tea, a special welcome treat customary in Japanese ryokans.

The wooden speakers have also been well-received, offering great acoustics for guests to enjoy their favorite music and feel more at home during their stay.

A Unique Hot Spring in an Open-Air Space

The bath space and the quality of the hot springs themselves come highly recommended. Including the hot springs available in some of the rooms (varies by room type), you can enjoy distinct hot spring experiences, whether in the communal baths or private baths.

The Gongen-yu large bath was renovated in February 2023, retaining its quaint ambiance while being transformed into a cleaner and more comfortable space. The wood-grained interior is soothing, with expansive windows allowing in plenty of sunlight for a bright and airy environment. Note that the large public bath is a privilege reserved solely for hotel guests.

In addition, the private bath “Man’emon-no-yu” was completed in April 2019, and is the only private bath available for day-trip visits for non-guests.

All hot springs at Matsuzakaya Honten, including the large communal baths, private open-air baths, and guest room baths, feature 100% free-flowing natural springs (no heating, watering, or circulating), so you can immerse yourself in the continuous flow of natural hot spring water.

(*Day Trip use: 8,800 yen per room / 1-2 guests / 120 minutes; 60 min. bath + 60 min. relaxation time in lounge.)

The source of Matsuzakaya Honten’s hot springs, Ashinoyu Onsen, boasts a history dating back over 1,260 years, and stands as the sole area in Kanagawa Prefecture designated as a National Resort Hot Spring Area (a hot spring area deemed perfect for recreation for their expected benefits). This hot spring is exceptionally rare, as it encompasses all elements of the “three major kinds of hot springs for beautiful skin.”

Sulfur components tend to render the water cloudy, strong-smelling, and potentially irritating. However, the water here is clear with a subtle, balanced sulfur aroma. Even minimal contact with the water leaves skin feeling moist and smooth!

The white sand-like particles in the hot water are called “yunohana,” the source of the skin-beautifying elements.

Lin explains: “If you don’t know what it is, it may look like debris at first (laughs). But rest assured, it’s a beneficial component of our hot spring water, so there’s no need to worry!”

Feel free to ask for the staff’s recommendations on how to use the hot springs!

Delicious Ryokan Cuisine

Delicious Ryokan Cuisine

Along with the hot springs, one of the best parts of staying at a ryokan is the food! The menu draws inspiration from the food served at Hakone inns during the Meiji Period, a time when the region first opened its doors to the outside world. Packed with nutrition, these meals are designed to help guests recover from travel fatigue.

Dinner is the Shukuba Kaiseki, a traditional meal tailored for travelers. Amongst the favorites are the locally-sourced Ashigara beef and kettle-cooked rice, carefully selected by an expert in rice.

The Seasonal Vegetable Tempura Assortment is exclusive to the Matsuzakaya Honten within Kinnotake Group as a special add-on dish.

Breakfast introduces a unique concept - the “traveler’s breakfast” designed to kickstart your journey. It’s a hearty breakfast featuring nutritious and easily digestible barley rice, a generous bowl of kenchin-jiru, and various fatty dried fish, including horse mackerel and golden-eye snapper sourced from nearby waters.

The dining area is a semi-private space, where guests can dine without concerns about their surroundings.

For larger groups, families with children, or those who just want more privacy, there are also fully private rooms available upon request.

Maximize Your Stay and Enjoy to the Fullest!

Maximize Your Stay and Enjoy to the Fullest!

While lots of sightseeing spots surround the inn and the Hakone area, we highly recommend maximizing your stay at Matsuzakaya Honten by enjoying their amenities right up until check-out!

Inside the building, a number of relaxation spaces await, from uniquely-themed lounge areas to tranquil after-bath spaces, to the cozy guest rooms. Embrace the moment and indulge in the experience, allowing yourself the luxury of time without the rush.

Things to Know

Things to Know
Here are some useful tips when staying at Matsuzakaya Honten
  • Hakone is a popular destination for Japanese and international tourists, especially during peak seasons like autumn foliage and cherry blossom viewing. To avoid missing your ride due to full buses, consider boarding from the first stop, such as Odawara Station, Hakone-Yumoto Station, or Hakone Port, as overcrowding might limit access from later stops.
  • The temperature in the Higashi-Ashinoyu area is about 7°C cooler than the temperature around Hakone-Yumoto Station, so be prepared! While indoor areas may indeed be warm, outdoors can be much colder than expected.
  • If you have any specific needs or requests, it’s advisable to consult with the staff in advance, especially regarding food allergies or preferences. Be sure to discuss these details when making your reservation.

Top-Notch Hospitality & Ryokan Culture Experience at Hakone’s Matsuzakaya Honten

Matsuzakaya Honten offers an authentic Japanese atmosphere, impeccable service, rejuvenating hot springs, and delicious meals, embodying the very essence of a traditional Japanese ryokan stay. But beyond this, you’ll find their hospitality to be unparalleled, with unmatched warmth and comfort that make it an amazing retreat you’ll want to revisit again and again. So immerse yourself in the finest ryokan experience, and create new, long-lasting memories at Matsuzakaya Honten.

Facility Information
  • Number of rooms: 22 total
  • Hours: Check-in: 3 PM / Check-out: 11 AM.
  • Rates: 34,250 yen (per person / per room occupancy 2 persons on weekdays)
  • Matsuzakaya Honten
    • Address Ashinoyu 57, Hakone, Kanagawa, 250-0523
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Kowakidani Station (Hakone Tozan Railway)

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Written by:

Miyu Shimada

Miyu Shimada

Miyu is a travel writer and tour conductor with over a decade of experience in developing educational content for working individuals. She has a passion for exploring new cultures and has visited more than 150 cities in around 50 countries. Her goal is to sample great food, experience nature, enjoy historical sites, and bathe in hot springs around the world. Miyu left her corporate job to pursue her passion for travel and now spends over 100 days a year abroad while working as a writer. She promotes the joy of travel, the beauty of Japan, and the diverse cultures of the world by traveling to different parts of Japan and collaborating with inbound tour operators and fellow travel writers. On X/Twitter: @myuu_works.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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