Ryokan ‘tour’ of Toyama

If you had read our journalog of the road trip in Toyama, you might have seen a quite a few references to the Ryokans we stayed. Now you should also have noted that we did not put any details into the journalog about the places we stayed except for the hotels – specifically that one night in Takaoka at the budget inn (super hotel).

So what’s about this separate handprint story on a Ryokan tour?

Well first of all, while we had written quite some about hot springs and the experiences of bathing in them, we had not focused on the inns where many of these bath houses are located. It is true that many bath houses can be public ones, catering to any walk-in customer (except those with tattoos…), so need not be an inn.

On this road trip around Toyama though, we checked ourselves into three Ryokan inns. And while we paid what seems to be a rather high price (at >¥20,000/night), the essay below will demonstrate that it is not only money well spent but also experiential.

Small family sized Ryokan

iso-no-ne-himikko-locaionOn the first day of our drive, we had set out from Toyama city and headed to the Amaharashi coast. You see, we were looking for beautiful views of the Tateyama mountain range that separates Toyama prefecture from Nagano. And figuring that we would not like to pay for a more expensive inn for the night, we had determined to stay in Himi, a town further up the coast.

Suan had looked up the internet and found this small inn (8 rooms only). If one were to look it up in Google, the inn would simply be referred to as ‘simple hotel with bathhouse & dining’. This would be Iso no Ne Himikko, our abode for the night.

Indeed the inn was simple. But it seemed to have been recently refurbished, and despite being smallish looking had commanding views of the coast. Costing us ¥21,800 for the night, it had a hot bath which was – rather hot. Probably at the higher end of the temperature scale. When Mel was in the men’s bath, there was a man who seemed to be checking (and bathing) in the facility. He kept knocking on the gauges. Though Mel tried to converse to find out more, nothing came out of it. We concluded he could be an inspector. You know, there are strict regulations to operating a hot spring bath house.

Our room did not face the sea, which obviously one needed to pay extra for. But the window did afford a partial view of the water… but by the time one checks in and finish bathing (twice for Suan), it was already dark since it is winter. So nothing is lost it seems.

Dinner was actually rather sumptuous, as the slide show will attest. Can you imagine how many dishes have to be washed every day?

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A Ryokan of simplicity

seaside-matto-locationWhile we decided against staying in a Ryokan in Takaoka, we did experience a hot bath there too. It was none other than in the budget Super hotel! Yup, you read right. Even the budget hotel has a mineral hot bath…

Prices for hotels in Kanazawa city was steep. It appears to be the place for many tour groups to stop, perhaps on the way to Shirakawa to view the thatched roof houses. Coupled with the fact that hotels don’t normally have thermal waters for their hot baths, we decided to stay further afield even though our plan was to explore the castle that lies in the heart of the city.

Thus the second Ryokan we stayed on this journey was not neat Kanazawa but in a township called Hakusan. Again this inn is located by the coast. Actually within a park. The Seaside Matto (¥21,200/night) could have been part of a chain. One thing to note is that the hotel rooms do not have an en-suite toilet. So if you happen to wake up in the middle of the night to relieve yourself, then the common toilet it is. The room is rather spacious, but surprisingly they is no turn down service. One shall have to DIY – ie to lay out your futon on the tatami mats…

But what was a serious plus was the bath. And this was an experience like no other. Because our skin felt so smooth after the bath it seemed a waste to apply moisturizing cream on it! And we didn’t.

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Dinner was no less sumptuous than our first night, and there seemed to be a theme – fish. Sashimi, grilled, fried, steamed, or boiled (self service) in a mini hot pot. It was an incredible way to end the evening.

Large Ryokan “hotel”

kureha-heights-locationAfter clearing the snow off the car, we had spent the day in Kanazawa strolling the castle and walking the Omicho market. But it was time to return to Toyama. We were determined to have one final Ryokan experience. This time, we chose one that overlooked the city – Kureha Heights. Actually the full name of the Ryokan hotel has the word ‘resort’ in it. And note that we say hotel.

Because it is one.

Suan has found this place and managed to place a booking on its Japanese website. So we got it ‘cheap’ at ¥21,296/night.

If you were like us – curious cats, then you’d know that we walked the length and breadth of the hotel. We found mahjong and karaoke rooms, private dining halls and recuperating quiet rooms replete with the latest massage chairs… kureha-resort1and the seniors who were there did not refrain from using the facilities. Then there were the revelers who left in the evening in a drunken stupor… kureha-resort2Now they also said that one can view Toyama city from the hotel. Well, that’s true. The seaside view that is – though we were looking for the view of the – guess what? Tateyama range!

kureha-resort3The bath house is large, probably because it is open to the public as well. In fact, it has high ceilings and glass views of the city (seaside panorama), spread into three indoor pools. The single outdoor pool is a short walk outside and the view no less spectacular. It has to be noted that when Mel went, the bath house was very crowded. Not so much for Suan lucky her!

Being a hotel in essence, the dinner was not as sumptuous as the previous nights heheh…

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Still, don’t you think the presentation is still fabulous?

Conclusions

This is one journey where we’d recommend those who are seriously in love with Japan and its culture to consider wandering out to the Ryokans. It does not have to be the fancy ones in popular places such as Hakone or Kuratsu… and for sure it is not only on driving journeys that one can find an affordable yet good Ryokan. With the Shinkansen and extensive rail network, most major towns can be easily reached.

We witnessed folks being taxied to the Ryokan from the train station in all of the places we stayed on this occasion. Many a time the transfer is complimentary, so one does not need to pay extra. All you have to do is ask. Don’t speak or write Japanese? No problem. Just email them in English and they’d usually go the extra mile to have it translated.

Most importantly if one books with these Ryokans, it is mostly on an honor system. They do not require nor place a charge on your credit card to confirm booking. You turn up as booked and make payment when you leave. So if you happen to book direct with them, do us a favor – don’t renege and “spoil market” as we’d say.

February 2017

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