Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Iwanoyu at Seni Onsen, Suzaka, Nagano

Hubby and I dated for years before we got engaged. When we did, we spent our engagement on opposite sides of the planet. He was finishing up his master's, and I was a lost JET in the Japanese inaka. We signed our marriage certificate on his graduation day, had a backyard bbq with just our immediate families, and called it a day. No wedding. No honeymoon. No regrets. We've been traveling together everywhere since.

This past May was our 10 years wedding anniversary, and we finally decided we would do something special. We both love onsens and ryokans, and so hubby bought a book detailing 60 of the best onsen ryokans all over Japan. Now let's be clear: there are hundreds, if not thousands of onsen ryokans all over Japan. These 60 onsen ryokans are special because their baths are of natural sulfur hot spring water, and of course because of excellent service, food, and facility. 

We knew we didn't want to go too far out to Hokkaido or Kyushu. After having picked out a dozen contenders in the nearby Yamanashi, Nagano, etc., we went with Iwanoyu (岩の湯) at Seni Onsen (仙仁温泉, not sure if this is an area or town name), in the city of Suzaka, Nagano.

We liked the photos we saw in the book. We liked that the ryokan has 5 private baths at no extra charge (if it's open, you go in, lock the door, and it's yours for however long you want!), in addition to the usual separated men and women baths, each with indoor and outdoor pools. The extra icing is a famous large "cave bath" for adventurers who like to explore. We liked that the kaiseki meal was described as one of the best around. It was really the food that sold me, surprise, surprise ^.^

Here's the wagashi and matcha we were served upon checking in.

It was early April when hubby picked up the phone and called, anticipating the Golden Week rush in early May. What do you know, they were booked solid until the second week of June! We were shocked, but June was still better than nothing. The man on the phone said to hubby, "We'll have a nice room for you." And that was that. We didn't tell him it was a special occasion. He didn't tell us about this "nice" room or how much it would cost. Hell, he didn't bother asking for any kind of deposit as some places do, or even a credit card number to secure the booking. Crazy! Only in Japan, I tell you, only in Japan.

Anyway, we arrived on the second week of June not knowing at all what to expect. Thinking back we really should have googled the place, but our minds were set after reading the entry in the book. Holy hell, we got there and realized they gave us one of the two best rooms in the entire place! 

We stepped into the genkan (above) and had to pick up our jaws before taking off our shoes. The room was huge: 2 tatami rooms + small living room + small study + separate bathroom and toilet + backyard complete with porch! It was meant for families or larger groups of guests but somehow the ryokan gave it to just the two of us! O.o You bet I took a sh*t load of pictures, which I'll post in multiple parts because there are just too many!

Here's the kitchen-less kitchen area that was actually larger than my then-apartment's kitchen!

Here's the bathroom (toilet was in a separate room) that we never used, because we spent all our time in the private baths and the cave bath.

Just look at all this space and remember that space is a luxury in Japan. I know it doesn't look at all big from the pictures, but we definitely won some serious lottery there!

Here in this closet was our yukatas. 

Here's the living room and view of the tatami rooms from the living room.

Backyard and porch, which was hubby's favorite part out of the whole thing. The vast majority of homes in Tokyo don't have such thing as a back porch, much less a back yard.

Even better was that the backyard had a creek with a mini waterfall and stone lamps. Right out of those mangas, animes, movies, I tell you!

When we came, every single room was booked--we knew because came dinner time, all the (private) dining rooms were occupied with names outside their doors (the ryokan doesn't serve any meal in-room, be it dinner or breakfast). And yet the place was so enormous we could count on one hand how many other patrons we stumbled across. It was dead silent the whole time we were there!

There were many nooks, crannies, hidden rest spots, tucked away libraries, and yet the whole ryokan was spectacularly well-maintained. Every single piece of furniture was unique and special, and no two was alike. We spent our late afternoon and early evening exploring the place, and even then I'm pretty certain we missed quite a few spots as we were rushing to beat the sunset.

Many more photos to come in Part II!

Here's a mini write-up of Seni Onsen Iwanoyu from the New York Times.


Citrine said...

Ahhh, I want to live in a place like that (no onsen needed) just those bamboo and interior just brings out my inner peace (which I really need at this time of the year).

Happy Anniversay!Now you need to put some then and now pictures of you two, for science.

D. said...

Hey Citrine,

Thanks so much ^.^ I'll have to dig through some photos and find old ones to post.

If I remember correctly, the hostess told us this entire place was once a private residence (for some crazy rich folks, obviously...) but was converted into an onsen ryokan some times in the 80's. And having lived in the Japanese countryside myself, I can attest that due to more land space in the countryside, some Japanese homes DO come with the whole works (tatami and wood floor interior, backyard with bamboo groves, koi ponds, zen rock gardens, creeks, waterfalls, stone lamps, you name it!). They're just not as fancily furnished, or as vast and sprawling like this ryokan, that's all. But yeah, folks are dead serious about the whole inner peace and serenity thing.


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