Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on December 2009
When the young Sennosuke Yamaguchi took part in one of Japan’s early diplomatic missions to Europe and the US, the experience left him brimming with ideas. In 1878, the Keio University graduate established the Fujiya Hotel, the country’s first Western-style hotel, in the resort area of Hakone. Its name was taken from the Japanese word for wisteria, fuji, but the characters were later changed to those of the iconic peak that can be seen from the forest trail behind the hotel.
The Fujiya has seen numerous changes since then. A fire in 1883 consumed the original structure, and the main building dates from 1891. It survived the Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and would be joined over the years by a number of annexes with quaintly charming names like the Restful Lodge and Flower Palace. The hotel’s interior has been spared the blights of modernism, retaining a distinctly old-school feel. The bar is pure ’30s chic, with a good selection of whiskeys and wines to enjoy as you pull your best Bogart impersonation.
The Fujiya sits atop Miyanoshita onsen, and all its rooms get hot spring water delivered straight to their bath tubs. The same waters are used to heat the floor of the impressive dining rooms, as well as the hotel’s indoor pool.
Such is the history of the place that it even has its own museum, where you can see over a century’s worth of guestbooks, as well as pictures and signatures of famous visitors. John Lennon, Albert Einstein and General Dwight Eisenhower all stayed here at some point, while then-Crown Prince Hirohito was responsible for the establishment of the hotel’s Sengoku golf course, as he wanted to enjoy a royal game during his visit. These days, it’s also open to commoners.
The Fujiya Hotel is currently offering a discounted rate of $131 per night to holders of foreign passports. Email email@example.com for details. The hotel can be reached by bus from Odawara and Hakone Yumoto stations (get off at Miyanoshita Onsen), or by taking the Hakone Tozan Railway to Miyanoshita station. The combined trip from Shinjuku takes two-three hours, depending on the connections. The Hakone Free Pass (¥5,000), which covers the round trip and can be used on several train lines, bus routes, ferries and cable cars in the area, is good value.