During our week in Hakone, we were staying at a hotel in Naka-Gora, so we decided to spend a day checking out the town of Gora.
We walked down to Gora Park, which is a quaint French-styled landscape park, just a few minutes stroll from Gora station. Entrance to the park is around 500yen (for adults), but if you have the Hakone Free Pass, it is free! And we like free.
Gora Park was established in 1914, and has a large and lovely rose garden, as well as two huge greenhouses containing a collection of tropical plants and flowers. The park is built on quite a steep slope on the side of Mt Soun-zan, which allows for some very grand views of Hakone but do mind your step as the red-bricked paths can be slippery!
The children had such a ball, exploring the park! The winding maze of paths were such fun to wander down, as there is always something interesting to discover around each bend.
Up though a little stone pathway, we came across the Haku-undo Tea Garden, where one can experience a traditional japanese tea ceremony. As this is a very serious event which the little ones will probably fail to appreciate, we decided to give it a miss and continue exploring the rest of the park.
We soon found ourselves at the centre of the garden, where there was a beautiful, sparkling fountain flanked by two little cafes, Tea Room Pic and Hot Take Out. By this time, the kids were pretty tired, and thirsty, so we decided to take a break at Tea Room Pic, which serves hot meals and tasty desserts.
At the Tea Room Pic, I decided to be extravagant and treat myself to a very special Mt Fuji cake. This was a very delicious cake that was so fancy, it even came with a certificate of authenticity.
You may remember seeing this cake in my Finding Mt Fuji vlog – but for those of you who have no idea what I’m going on about, there was a special ‘Hakone Sweet Fuji Autumn 2013’ trail where, for a limited time only, you could eat your way across Hakone at tea houses and cafes located at popular tourist attractions. Each of these places served up specialty desserts shaped like Mt Fuji, and a limited number of these desserts were available each day.
The highlight of our trip through Gora Park was at a stop the Gora Park Crafthouse, where (for a reasonable fee) one could try out some of the different crafts under the watchful eye of in-house artisans and bring it home as a souvenir. The crafthouse offers four different types of hands-on workshops: glassblowing, pottery, glass-etching and dried flower arranging.
Unfortunately, the glassblowers studio was shut that week, so I decided to let the children try their hand at glass-etching instead.
At the glass-etching studio, one could choose to use two different methods to achieve similar results: traditional hand-engraving or abrasive sandblasting. As hand-engraving glass is time-consuming and requires precision, we decided to go for the more child-friendly sandblasting method.
This was actually a fairly simple project for the children to complete on their own with minimal intervention. They applied vinyl stencils to the glass surface, and then covered the rest of the glass with masking tape. The glasses were then placed in a sandblasting chamber and treated to a bath of sand and pressurised air, which gave the glass a pretty frosting.
Little E and J were so pleased with their handiwork! I just know that they will treasure these glasses for years to come. (If the glasses look familiar to you, it may because you recognise them from this vlog!)
After this, we left the park and wandered down towards Gora Station, passing by some very cute little shops on the way.
There is a very popular restaurant near Gora Station, the Rikyu Tonkatsu, which serves only one dish – pork tonkatsu (a breaded deep fried pork cutlet) using prime cuts from the Kagoshima Korubuta (also known in the western world as the Berkshire Black Pig) which is purported to have beautifully marbled and succulent meat.
The elderly couple that run this tiny little restaurant are obviously very proud of their tonkatsu, which is reputed to be the best in Hakone, and they only open twice a day for around two hours each sitting. There is only room for ten people at the restaurant and they do not do takeaway, so if you have a large party travelling with you, make sure you get there early, or you will probably be turned away.
The restaurant also does not accept credit cards, so make sure that you bring enough cash with you, as the meal will probably set you back about 2400yen a head (but it is absolutely worth it!).
Most of the restaurant is taken up by the spotlessly clean kitchen, with bar seating (no high chairs here!) which leant us the opportunity of watching the chef, formally dressed in a tie and gleaming white chef’s coat, at work.
First, he brought out a huge plate with thick pink slabs of pork sirloin piled high on it. Then, he carefully breaded each one with flour, egg and breadcrumbs before lowering them into a deep fryer.
Not a single spot of oil landed on his white coat, and he fastidiously wiped down all the surfaces with a clean cloth.
His wife bustled about in the background, preparing generous portions of cool fresh salad, crunchy pickles, smooth white tofu sprinkled with spring onions and bonito shavings. We each had a bowl of very tasty tonjiro soup which had tiny little black mussels and mushrooms floating in it.
Finally, the main course was ready and all ten hungry customers (who were watching the chef’s every move with mouths watering) were served around the same time.
The tonkatsu was tender and juicy with a thick, crispy layer of breadcrumbs that provided just the right amount of crrrrrunch. When I bit into the meat, it was like a taste explosion in my mouth. The entire restaurant elapsed into reverent silence as every customer quietly savoured their meal.
The children went completely nuts over the tonkatsu and J was even able to finish a whole slab pork sirloin all by himself (a feat in my eyes, as I was struggling to finish my own portion).
Afterwards, stuffed to the brim full of tonkatsu and rice, we waddled home slowly for a long and relaxing soak in the hotel onsen!
A lovely, lovely end to a lovely, lovely day.