Having established itself as a popular tourist hub for ‘Lake Ashi-no-ko’, Hakone-Yumoto Station is perhaps one of the last places anyone would expect to find some peace and tranquility. However, to my surprise, this is exactly what I experienced when visiting the nearby Souunji Temple for a spot of ‘Sado’, (traditional Japanese tea ceremony).
Set within an idyllic cedar grove, this picturesque temple was established over five hundred years ago by the Hojo clan and still has many historical artifacts, including the graves of many former family members. Usually off bounds to casual visitors, this temple boasts an impressive private garden and houses many traditional Japanese style tea rooms, which are only available by prior appointment.
Despite having lived in Japan for many years, I had, up until this point, never tried ‘Sado’. Because of this fact, I wasn’t really aware and couldn’t fully appreciate its cultural significance. Fortunately, thanks to this experience, I am a little wiser and can honestly say that if you haven’t experienced ‘Sado’ then you haven’t truly experienced traditional Japanese culture!
Although there are now an ever growing number of places offering ‘Sado’ in varying forms, Souunji Temple offers a special deluxe version comprising of two tea ceremonies, ‘Koi-cha’ and ‘Usui-cha’ . ‘Koi-cha’ is a strong green tea while ‘Usui-cha’ is a slightly weaker green tea. This tour also includes a traditional Japanese ‘Bento’ style lunchbox, along with a brief tour of the private garden. On this occasion, I was also lucky enough to join the head priest for a morning prayer, (as today was Buddha’s birthday after all!).
Since this is a private temple, there is limited availability and advanced reservations are essential. The cost for this whole course is 30,000 Yen which, when compared to many other places and considering everything that is included is certainly reasonable.
Souunji Temple is about a 15 minute walk from Hakone-Yumoto Station on the Hakone Tozan line which respectively, is a 10 minute ride from Odawara Station. From Tokyo Station, Odawara can be accessed via a Bullet train (35 minutes), or local JR Tokaido Line, (90 minutes)