One of the essential experiences, for all those who travel to Japan and have the option to do so, is the stay in an authentic Japanese inn, known by the name of Ryokan.
Created in the form of spacious areas without partitions, the rooms of these elegant lodgings offer floors covered with the traditional “tatami”, made with rice straw, have little furniture and sliding doors called “shoji”. All this, together with other good elements of the tradition, endow these spaces with an undeniable charm.
Often and for more enjoyment and interest, the ryokan take advantage of the proximity of thermal springs for their creation, serving as spas where travelers can relax and benefit from the effects of one of the natural treasures of the Japanese country.
There is a good number of ryokan throughout the country, with different prices and qualities, but few reach the level of exquisiteness offered by the Kayotei (かよう亭). So we have experienced it, and so is also affirmed by the prestigious travel guide Lonely Planet, where this establishment is recommended as one of the four best ryokan in Japan.
The hotel, which takes care of every possible detail, has only 10 suites and is located in the small town of Yamanaka – especially valued for the wealth of its thermal waters – accessible from the nearby and touristic Kanazawa through a JR train. The journey takes only one hour, and, once at Kaga Onsen station, the ryokan is less than 20 minutes away by taxi.
Surrounded by the presence of generous trees, the entrance to the Kayotei is an indication of what awaits inside. With impeccable attention, the friendly staff introduces us to a unique and unrepeatable experience, suitable for those seeking a pleasant and relaxing cultural immersion.
In the surroundings, you may visit the spectacular Ayatori Hasi Bridge (Cat´s cradle), designed by Ikebana master Hiroshi Teshigahara, and the beautiful Kakusenkei walk, where you can find the Basho-do, a hut in homage to most famous Haiku poet of the Edo period, Basho, who visited Yamanaka and enjoyed its natural wealth.
The pleasure of an “Onsen” overlooking the forest
For the Japanese, the culture of bath is part of their lifestyle and represents something different than what is common in the West, where it is generally a tool for personal hygiene. There is, however, a certain worship of this practice in Japan, both at home and in public baths, with the final purpose of purifying the body and mind.
The perfect place to enjoy this custom is without a doubt an “Onsen“, a word that designates the thermal waters of volcanic origin and the traditional baths that take advantage of them, often located in places of considerable beauty.
Such is the case of Kayotei, where there are several options to enjoy this pleasure, both in the company of other guests, in the common area, and in the privacy of the suite, where the enjoyment of the sensations that these waters transmit, combined with the views to a majestic forest, is frankly unparalleled.
Ingredients for the soul and the palate
As with any cultural immersion, the food is an essential part of the experience, and especially so in this charming hotel. Thanks to the know-how of chef Yutaka Ebihara and sous chef Noya Yamazaki, Kayotei offers a culinary experience that represents an interesting stroll through numerous local and organic ingredients, where their health potential is taken into consideration and treated with as much respect as the exuberance of the flavours.
To such an extent it is so that many guests return repeatedly to enjoy the chef’s seasonal creations in the respected Kaiseki-Ryori Kaga-Style cuisine, as well as for his popular breakfast, named “the best breakfast in Japan” by writer and culinary specialist Osamu Takahashi.
A complete experience: Local artisans and producers
To improve everything described, there is a project that differentiates Kayotei from any other Ryokan, which I find truly fascinating. As a result of the vision and work of the talented Jiro Takeuchi – who manages the Kayotei and with whom we had the pleasure of spending a pleasant day -, there is a respectful and positive collaboration with numerous artisans and local producers. Besides providing the hotel of organic food and craft creations of great value, they kindly open the doors of their studios and workshops for guests to visit.
In this way, while staying in one of the best ryokan in Japan, you have the option to visit the work space of varied craftsmen and know, first hand, the creation process of disciplines such as the “Washi” or Japanese paper, tatami or porcelain and wood utensils, as well as discovering the work of artisan production of sake, soy sauce, tofu or the “Wagashi”, a type of Japanese sweet, among others.
In our case, we had the honor of meeting the brilliant Munetsugu Tanaka (above), a charming and fun farmer who grows the exquisite organic rice we later tasted at Kayotei. Convinced of the benefits of avoiding pesticides, Tanaka began his laborious project more than twenty years ago, with a curious method that uses ducks to feed on pests. His work is meritorious and infrequent in Japan, where less than 2% of the rice comes from organic agriculture.
We also visited the fascinating studio of a young and talented wood turner, Yasushi Satake, who continues with the family tradition of creating lacquer products of the highest quality and beauty. We may publish a reportage on the visit, in the future.
If you have time and want to try a local restaurant, a great option is Enuma Station, in Kaga, where chef Kuchide Kayuzuki and his lovely wife offer an exquisite menu with local ingredients, in a quiet and very pleasant atmosphere.
Text and Images © Nano Calvo
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