Monday, September 23, 2013

A 355 Year-Old Inn in the Mountains of Japan

Mark and I both hit the wall yesterday. We walked up the two miles or so to the shrine to the first Tokugawa shogun, and the place was crawling with people - and it was only 9:00-9:30. As we were walking down the billion steps to the actual final resting place, I said to Mark, "I've hit the wall." His response was that those exact words had been on his mind when I said it. We had had enough of visiting temples and shrines. And particularly enough of dealing with hordes of other tourists. We went back to our hotel, picked up our bags and got on a train bound further up into the mountains to where we had planned to stay our last three nights in Japan.

Famous bridge in Nikko. At one time, only the Shogun or the Emperor could cross this bridge.

That morning, before leaving our hotel room, in the process of making sure I had everything, I opened the desk drawer and this sight greeted my eyes.

Opening the front cover, I saw this message:

Japan's answer the Gideon Bible Society (which places Bibles in hotel rooms across America; and if you're in a Marriott Hotel, you might also find a copy of the Book of Mormon). It is actually a cool book because the left-hand pages are in English, and the right-hand pages are in Japanese. Assuming that they operate on the same basis as the Gideons, we gladly accepted their book.

Our trip up to Yunishigawa Onsen (hot springs resort) involved taking a local train an hour further up into the mountains, then boarding a bus for a 30-minute drive to our ryokan (Japanese inn). I had read about this place on TripAdvisor, and it sounded like it would be a cool experience: staying in an inn that had been built in 1666 and was associated with one of Japan's most important old clans. 

As it turned out, it met our expectations and more, except that hardly any English is spoken here, and it's out in the middle of nowhere. But we're getting by and enjoying our experience. We did, however, change our travel plans: we had intended to spend three nights here, but we will only spend two; tomorrow morning, we are heading back into Tokyo to spend our last night there.

Our room is incredible. A corner "suite" that overlooks the stream below, it is by far and away the most luxurious place we have stayed on this trip.

This drum is hit five times after guests check in, on their way to their room

Our suite even has its very own massage chair

The water in the stream is crystal clear

The (somewhat blurry) view from our window

We enjoyed the hot springs baths - both the one indoors and the outdoor one that overlooks the river. Then it was time for cocktails. We have had some issues with ice during our travels, but this place was very accommodating. They don't have ice cubes, however; they have ice balls.

The highlight was the dinner. Guests wear their yukatas across the bridge pictured at the start of this post, then are escorted to their dining area. Many guests gather around pits in a large hall, but we somehow scored our own private dining room. Perhaps they just wanted to isolate the gaijin from the Japanese.

I'm just going to include pictures of dinner, no commentary, because the Internet here is driving me crazy. WiFi is only available in the lobby, and even then I've had to walk around at times to get a better signal.

Walk across the bridge

Our server spoke some English. She was funny and very helpful.

Let's just say that dinner was quite an experience. The menu is on the paper.

The steak grilled on this "hotplate" (there's a flame underneath) was our favorite part of the meal.

A selfie before heading back down to the onsen

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