I grew up in the great outdoors of the Southern base of Mount Yatsugatake, at an elevation of about 1,400 meters. When in the midst of nature, the five senses are sharpened and frequently stir the heart. You could say this is the place where I learned the importance of coexisting with nature; through the branches and leaves rubbing against each other, the chirping of birds, the sound of the wind, and the changes of the seasons. Perhaps that is why when I return to Japan, I tend to stay not only at my parents’ house, but also in places with an abundance of nature. Japanese inns or ryokans are often such places. This is because ryokans are healing spaces that make good use of what nature has to offer. Such as the use of natural light, the kaiseki cuisine that allows you enjoy the four seasons, the smell of tatami mats, alcove decorations, and hot springs.
During the off-season this year (2019), I visited the Akazawa Onsen Resort in Izu Kogen, Shizuoka Prefecture. Attracted by the description, “only 15 rooms on a vast site, all with an open-air bath made of hinoki cypress, a masterpiece of Japanese architecture,” I headed for my destination, Akazawa Geihinkan. The Ryokan is located about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Tokyo. As I parked inside the large gate of the inn, I was greeted by staff who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. The check-in went smoothly and had a cup of fragrant tea while gazing at the Japanese garden spread out before me. At this point, I felt as if I had been spellbound by the tranquility of the place. The artifacts displayed in the corridor leading to the room added color to my mind.
As soon as I entered the room, I took a dive onto the Japanese Futon spread out on the tatami platform. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction flooding over me. Suppressing my desire to slumber, I changed into a yukata and went to the main bath… “Wow! The bathhouse building is a true beauty of Japanese architecture, with a comfortable high ceiling. One side of the entrance is open and integrated with the garden outside, giving a feeling of openness like an open-air bath. The bathtub has different levels. At the front it is waist deep while at the back it is deep enough for a standing bath. This allows you to take a long relaxing bath while adjusting your body temperature. While enjoying the pleasant breeze, I looked at the soothing green leafs in the garden, imagining the four seasons. “I want to again!”
Dinner was served in a private dining room overlooking the garden. The meal was prepared by making the most of the fresh seafood from Sagami Bay and seasonal ingredients. The utensils and decorations were also carefully selected to enhance the dishes. All the ingredients, from the appetizers to the mizugashi (jelly based desert), played a leading role in the dish. Japanese Kaiseki is a dish of hospitality, where you can savor the beauty of the four seasons with all five senses. It became an unforgettable memory for my taste buds.
Surprisingly, although this ryokan is supposed to be fully booked, I did not see any other guests and rarely saw any staff. It feels like staying in a private villa with a resident butler. When I came back from the massage room after a walk, there was a rice ball on the table “For the night.” I was speechless.
The Akazawa Geihinkan facility is produced by DHC, a cosmetics and supplements company. DHC cosmetics and drinks are provided free of charge when you stay at the hotel. In your room, you will find actual cosmetics to take home. Guests staying at the Guest House can also get free tickets to the ocean-view baths at the adjacent Akazawa Onsen Resort. Moreover, there is a private bowling alley free of charge, so you can enjoy the spa resort to the fullest the next day.
The inn is a true paradise, where you easily can forget about your cell phone or TV. The environment stimulates the five senses instead. It is a place of “reflection and tranquility.” Next time, I would like to stay a little longer.
Japanese inns or Ryokans are healing spaces that make good use of what nature has to offer.旅館は自然にあるものをうまく利用して作られている癒やしの空間。