Ryokan lifeUnazuki, Japan
Yuki, a middle-aged Japanese lady beautifully attired in a traditional kimono, shows me to a tatami-matted room and pours a green tea. I open paper-screened sliding doors to reveal a second and then a third room both with sweeping views of snow and mountains.
It is my first stay in a Japanese ryokan (traditional hotel) and I’ve landed on my feet. Ryokan Enraku is an upmarket, four star hotel found in the onsen resort village of Unazuki, in the snow-stacked mountains of central Japan. I’m told the Emperor of Japan once stayed here. Perhaps in this very room. The room's spaciousness is enhanced by an adherence to minimalist design: a small painting on one wall, a ceramic vase and a small table and chair dominate the clutter-free space. I slip into a yukata gown and wooden sandals and descend seven floors to an outdoor onsen by a burbling river. I strip down, wash off the travel grime and join a naked Japanese man in the steaming hot spring. Eye contact is avoided. It doesn’t seem a good time to practice my stunted Japanese, so we sit in silence. The stream burbles, the hot spring steams, tension evaporates.
When I return to my room a futon mattress covered in a thick doona has been laid out in its centre. I relax into a massage chair and watch dusk creep over the cold mountains, anticipating dinner. Soon Yuki knocks at my door and guides me to an elaborately laid-out dining area. The food arrives in small, artfully-presented servings: tuna sashimi with boiled down sake, bonito flakes and pickled plum, charcoal-grilled Zuwai crab, grilled himi beef, crab porridge and seasonal pickled vegetables. It is the most exotic meal of my life and it ends, appropriately, with a firework display outside the hotel.
- Many rooms include private open air bath
- Onsen access
- Free Wi-fi
- Refrigerator in rooms
- Free shuttle from train station (5 mins away)
- Most staff speak some English
- Valley/gorge views
Rooms start at US$450 per night in low season (winter).
Rates include breakfast, dinner, use of onsen facilities and free shuttle to/from local train station.