A JAPANESE HOLIDAY IN A RYOKAN

Dogo Onsen

Dogo Onsen – one of Japan’s oldest hot springs, located in Ehime prefecture. The main building (Dogo Onsen Honkan) is the heart of this renowned public hot spring and is a recognised national treasure. Many other ryokans surround this majestic place. Photo: ©JNTO

Have you ever considered staying at a ryokan (Japanese inn) rather than a hotel the next time you visit Japan? Being pampered by the warm service of a ryokan as you soothe the mind and soul will surely have you hooked on this unique Japanese experience.

Words: Haruka Osoegawa

Japanese people love ryokans. There are still find many ryokans scattered around the nature-rich country towns just outside of the big cities. Spring blooms with cherry blossoms and summer celebrates with fireworks. Autumn brings beautiful autumn leaves and winter greets you with stunning snow. The modern Japanese person will take a few days off work to rest their weary bodies and souls at a traditional ryokan. Time feels as though it slows to a relaxing pace there, something you wouldn’t experience in a big city. Nowadays, the number of visitors from overseas choosing to stay in a ryokan rather than a hotel appears to be gradually increasing.

Ryokans are the best place for overseas visitors to have a truly Japanese experience. But, what exactly is the difference between a traditional Japanese ryokan and a hotel?

In simple terms, the average hotel consists of western-styled rooms with beds for guests to relax. Hotels are focused on protecting the privacy of its patrons with individual bathrooms contained in each room. Furthermore, stepping out of your hotel room in your bathrobe is not exactly commonplace. On the other hand, ryokans are fitted with Japanese-styled rooms and guests sleep on a futon rolled out onto the tatami mat floor. Guests walk around the ryokan premises in their yukata.

An okami-san (landlady) runs a ryokan and the nakai-san’s (maid) job is to carry your luggage to your room, set/ pack up your futon, and bring meals to your room amongst other things. This unique characteristic of Japanese culture, “Japanese hospitality”, can be experienced here first hand.

“Japanese hospitality” is to give guests the utmost best service from the very bottom of one’s heart. Each guest is entitled to the most pleasant of environments. As such, regular visitors to ryokans often feel as though they’ve come home to their “second family”. The effort the caretakers make to meet the requests of every guest is another ryokan charm.

ryokan scenes

Photos: ©JNTO

ONCE YOU’VE DISCOVERED THE PURE CHARM OF A RYOKAN, YOU’LL WANT TO KEEP COMING BACK. IT’S NO WONDER SO MANY PEOPLE ARE HOOKED.

Take timing, for example. Many guests are served dinner at their rooms. After dinner, the nakai-san comes to set up each guest’s futon. The nakaisan will adjust to each guest’s schedule as required in order to carry out this task. Most ryokans are also very flexible when it comes to check-in and checkout times.

Many ryokans also have onsens (hot springs). These are usually common baths separated by gender for guests to enjoy with other guests. Being able to stretch out your arms and legs as you have a good long soak in the thermal waters is a truly relaxing experience. There are also private baths which can be reserved if you wish to bathe without having to worry about others.

Enjoy the pinnacle of service as you dine on delicious foods and bathe in the relaxing onsen. Once you’ve discovered the pure charm of a ryokan, you’ll want to keep coming back. It’s no wonder so many people are hooked.

【Tourist Hot Spot in NAGANO】YUDANAKA SHIBU Onsen-kyo

▶︎ YUDANAKA SHIBU Onsen-kyo

Taking a Dip, Snow Monkey Style

Not far from Shiga Kogen is the Yudanaka Shibu Onsen-kyo. This hot spring destination is formed by nine different hot springs in the Yokoyu River and Yamase River basin in Yamanouchi Town in Shimotakai- gun, Nagano Prefecture. A range of accommodation is on offer, from large ryokans and the latest modern hotels to traditional wooden-style ryokans, and the area plays host to visitors all year round. The hot springs work together on initiatives such as a hot spring touring pass that allows you to enter a selection of public bathing areas throughout your stay, and summer festivals lasting over a month. The town in the hot springs is also home to many foot spas that allow even those not staying at accommodation to enjoy the hot water.

Shiga Kogen


shigakogen

©Nagano Prefecture   ©JNTO

A highland area ranging 1,300m to 1,600m above sea level in height and surrounded by even taller mountains such as Mt. Higashidate and Mt. Yokote. Approximately 20 minutes by car from Yudanaka Onsen-kyo, the area is visited by many after a trip to the hot springs to see the lake here and the alpine vegetation. Take a boat ride on Lake Biwa or Lake Maru, or a gondola lift from Hoppo Hot Springs to the peaks of Mt. Higashidate at 1,994m above sea level.

Info: www.shigakogen.co.jp

Yudanaka Early Morning Markets


yudanaka

©Nagano Prefecture

Every Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 6:30 a.m., the area in front of the Nagano Electric Railway Yudanaka Station transforms into an early morning market where more than 20 stalls sell fruit and vegetables freshly picked that morning. There are fresh vegetables and mountain vegetables, peaches, kyoho grapes, apples, and other seasonal produce, handmade pickles and oyaki dumplings, all at market prices. Talking and interacting with the local stall owners is sure to become a fond memory of your stay.

Info: www.info-yamanouchi.net

Shibu Hot Spring Public Bathing Area Tours


hot-spring

©Yamanouchi Town   ©JNTO

With more than 1,300 years of history, the public bathing areas of Shibu Hot Springs have been carefully tended to over the years by the local village people. While public baths are usually only open to local residents, those who stay at accommodation can enter the bathing areas for free by borrowing the wooden keys (hot spring touring passes) at their place of stay. Each of the nine outdoor baths possesses its own special properties.

Info: www.info-yamanouchi.net

Jigokudani Yaen Koen


jigokudani

©Yamanouchi Town   ©JNTO

One of the hot springs in Yudanaka Shibu Onsen-kyo, Jigokudani Hot Springs is home the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park that cares for wild Japanese monkeys (Macaca fuscata) and allows visitors to come and see them as well. The sight of the monkeys taking a bath in the hot springs here in winter is renowned overseas as a hot tourist attraction.

Info: http://jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp

Fruit Picking


fruit-picking

©Yamanouchi Nagano Prefecture

Orchards in Kitashiga Kogen offer the chance to try picking local specialties such as cherries, blueberries, grapes, apples, and more. The melted waters of the snow, high in minerals, combine with the large difference in temperature between the daytime and nighttime to create produce that is strong in flavor and sweet to the taste.

Info: www.info-yamanouchi.net

After cycling from Hiroshima, why not travel around Shikoku?

ehime-dogo-hot-springs

Dogo Onsen, one of the most famous onsens in Japan.©Ehime Prefecture / ©JNTO

The shape of this island somewhat resembles Australia, and the word ‘Shikoku’ translates to 4 (shi) provinces (koku). Shikoku thrives with beautiful nature and culture that has been protected over generations, giving visitors a feeling of comfort and well being. If you’re travelling to Tokyo or Kyoto to sightsee from Hiroshima, how about visiting the four provinces, Ehime, Kochi, Tokushima and Kagawa, as you travel across the Shimanami sea road into Shikoku?


EHIME

Abundant with historic sentiment

ehime-taimeshi

Fresh Bream is used abundantly in Taimeshi ©Ehime Prefecture
©JNTO

Ehime, the birthplace of wellknown poet Shiki Masaoka, is filled with places that will bring out your sensitive side. Here you can see traditional houses lined up along the streets, experience the culture of atmospheric towns such as Uchiko, or visit Dogo Onsen, one of Japan’s landmark hot springs. Dogo Onsen, which was first mentioned in an eighth century poetry anthology, is one of the oldest onsen in Japan.

Relax your mind and body as you feel the nostalgia of traditional Japan. Seafood is a big part of the cuisine in Ehime. You should try ‘Taimeshi’, the local cuisine made up of sea bream sashimi placed over sea bream infused rice. Mikan mandarins are also well known in Ehime, and there are even places where you can enjoy mikan picking.


TOKUSHIMA

Hidden beauties surrounded by nature

awa-odori

Awa Odori Festival is held every year around August ©TokushimaPrefecture
©JNTO

down-river

Going down an exciting river is definitely worth trying ©TokushimaPrefecture
©JNTO

The magic of nature can be seen and enjoyed all throughout Tokushima, from the Naruto Whirlpool in the Seto Inland Sea to the secluded Oboke and Iya valleys, located deep within the mountains. If you have time to go sightseeing, staying a few nights in Oboke to soak up the forest atmosphere is highly recommended.

You can also experience river-rafting down the Yoshino River in the Oboke valley while admiring the surrounding mountains. During the summer month of August, you can also see the traditional Awa Odori Dance Festival that is held in the city.

Dancing together with the children will definitely become an everlasting memory. In the simple town of Iya, located deep within the mountain, you can learn how to make Iya Soba from the locals and taste the traditional flavour in the process.


KOCHI

Where nature and humans come together

kochi-castle

It is enjoyable to walk around Kochi Castle  ©JNTO

chinka-hashi

The clearest stream in Japan, Shimantogawa  ©JNTO

Kochi, which faces the Pacific Ocean, is where many leaders of Japan such as the Shishi political group and Ryoma Sakamoto (who was very influential from the end of
Edo period to the Meiji Restoration) were active in the development of Japan. Their lasting effects can still be sensed through the nature and people. Why not visit the Shimanto River, known as ‘the last clean river in Japan’. The reflection of the surrounding mountains and clear blue sky will take your breath away. For sightseeing, Kochi Castle and the Sunday Markets are highly recommended.

In summer, you can see many dancers partake in the Yosakoi festival. Sawachi cuisine, consisting of fresh sashimi and sushi, and lightly roasted bonito cooked in bundles of straw, is just one of the exquisite foods you can sample.


KAGAWA

Experience the art of this ancient province

ritsurin-koen

The Kaede Gishi area of Kuribayashi Park  ©JNTO

Kagawa, located in the northeast of Shikoku, is known not only for being a prime location for filming domestic movies, but also for its artistic and romantic feeling. On the island of Naoshima, which can be accessed by ferry from the major city by Takamatsu, many art works by leading current artists, such as Yayoi Kusama,
can be seen around the island. Right now, the ‘Setouchi Triennale’ international
art festival is under way. It will run from spring through to autumn (4 November) across the Setouchi islands, starting with Naoshima. On Shodo Island, there is a sand island (Angel Road) that can only be seen twice a day in low tide, making it
popular among couples who see it as a sacred spot. In Kagawa, you can try the famous sanuki udon for just a few hundred yen. One taste and you will be hooked.

sanuki-udon

Sanuki Udon  ©JNTO