Ryokan and Onsens
This year Tomoe and I are planning to spend 3 weeks or so in the mountains of Japan. Our focus is to enjoy the best hiking, ryokan and onsens of south/west Japan (Kansai & Kyushu mostly).
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn– and they are fabulous: traditional tatami mats (woven grass), sliding doors, zen-like simple beauty, futon, and fabulous set dinners.
An onsen is a hot-spring… and many of the best ryokan are built on or next to one. It’s hard to do justice to the sublime pleasure of Japanese onsen. I’ve been to a few hot-springs in America… and while nice, they lack the zen artistry of a Japanese onsen.
The water from the hot-spring is typically diverted into multiple baths.. sometimes made of stone, sometimes made of cedar. The bath is usually surrounded by a garden (sometimes a zen stone garden, sometimes bonzai,… sometimes just a stunning view of the mountains). There is a shower room adjacent to the bath… and everyone showers before entering the hot water. A great onsen is a work of landscaping art… in addition to it’s hedonistic benefits.
Onsen are also great social gathering points… with people of all ages enjoying the baths.
My favorite thing to do in Japan is to hike all day in the mountains… then descend to spend the night in a ryokan nestled in a valley or on a hillside,… then soak in it’s attached onsen… finishing the night with a traditional ryokan set meal in our own tatami room.
Many people equate Japan with super-modern mega-cities (of which there are plenty),… but the ryokan/onsen experience is just as quintessentially Japanese… and on the opposite end of the spectrum from the hectic cities.
And so… this Fall Tomoe and I have decided to research and find “the best” ryokan & onsen in Kansai and Kyushu and visit them! Of course it’s a subjective choice.. but it’ll be a marvelous research process!