New Year at Hosenkaku Ryokan

New Year’s “get-away” was spent at a Ryokan in Beppu. We had a lot of trouble trying to find a place that had rooms enough for our group of 15 people-all family. It was down to crunch time and hubby and I thought that we would have to spend the New Year holidays at home-which would have actually been okay with me because I was still not feeling very well.

Seems like we always end up in Beppu-quite honestly we would have preferred to go someplace else.

The Ryokan was down on the main road near the beach. An older hotel that has been around at least for the past 50 plus years.

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A couple of photos from the lobby. They had the traditional New Year sake barrels displayed.

I decided that I’m going to write a gut-level honest review of this ryokan because it was expensive and all of us really felt that they could have done much better.

The price was 20,000 yen per person/ per night or about $175.00 per person per night. We stayed for 2 nights. Breakfast and dinner was included in the price.

Our large group arrived  and assembled in the lobby. We have stayed at various ryokan in Kyushu and around Japan and most always we are greeted in the lobby by staff  who assist us by giving us a short orientation of the facility and offering help with luggage and such. We got none of that at this ryokan. It had a rather stiff and “business-like” atmosphere. None of the warmth we are usually greeted with.

The usual check-in business accomplished, we lugged our belongings up to the 5th floor and everyone found their rooms. The hallways were dim and drab. Decorated with bamboo poles, rocks and false kawara roofs didn’t do anything to hide the worn carpeting. A quick look around and it was obvious that the place was in need of repair. The hallways were like a maze-twisting and turning with sets of stairs in between them-not very convenient for the elderly who were with us. Especially since there were no railings to hold on to.

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Several halls were completely dark. We weren’t sure if that was because they were trying to save money or because there were no guests staying in those rooms. We were under the impression that they had a full booking. What ever it was, it didn’t do anything to curb the already drab and dull atmosphere.

The rooms were nothing special and they were very dusty and damp.The ryokan website listed room amenities but when we got there things were different. There was no hair dryer or coffee maker. The “free wifi” was too weak to even try and use.  I’m trying to think of something positive to say but honestly the rooms were nothing special. Everyone felt the same.

For breakfast and dinner all guests were served in the tatami – style dining room. When my husband’s family saw the “tables” they were not happy. The ryokan used tiny tray-like tables that most ryokan do not use anymore simply because they are not at all comfortable to sit at-being only about a foot off the floor and a foot and a half wide they really do not lend anything towards having a fun, relaxing New Year’s meal.

I made no comment about the situation- my review is based upon what my husband’s family thought and they are all Japanese-although I agreed with the general consensus.

The meals , although elaborate looking-really were not. The food was mediocre. A mountain of sashimi that was way too much to eat-no one was able to eat all of it.  It got to be kind-of a joke with everyone trying to pass-off their left over sashimi to the person next to them. The “sashimi mountain” seemed to be served with every meal.

The rest of the food was rather tasteless. Dessert was good-a kind of vanilla pudding with a crusty cookie topping but at a New Year dinner it isn’t the dessert everyone looks forward to. The wait-staff seemed overwhelmed and tired and they came across being cold and grumpy.

The children were served fried rice, fried chicken, sausages, salad, cookies and more. My husband commented that he wished he could order a kid’s meal! If my husband makes that kind of a comment then the food must really be lousy.

The first night when we had returned to our rooms the futons had been taken out of the closet and arranged on the floor for us which is a normal event at a ryokan. In the morning while the guests are having breakfast the staff quickly put them all away into the futon closet again…usually…that is. Not at this ryokan though- much to the chagrin of my mother-in-law who was mortified that the ryokan failed at this basic rule of hospitality-especially since it was the New Year holiday.

One of the main reasons why Japanese love to stay at a ryokan is to relax in the wonderful healing waters of the ryokan onsen-or hot springs. I thought well…at least the onsen should make up for whatever was lacking in other areas.

I was wrong.

The onsen was in bad need of repair. Peeling paint, old, cracked and splintered wood seats and a general lack of real upkeep made the onsen experience at the ryokan super disappointing. The floors were actually dangerous. Many places were covered with reddish-colored mold and very slippery. I had to watch my mother-in-law very carefully because I was so afraid that she would slip and fall. I almost took a spill myself.

My mother-in-law usually loves to take advantage of the rotenburo (out-door pool)  if there is one  but the one at this ryokan was …ridiculous. There were zero privacy screens so anyone in any of the other high-rise buildings in the area had full view of everyone in the out-door pools and, remember in Japan onsen are considered “baths” -we use the facilities naked. Swimming suits are not allowed. Of course men and women are separate (in most places). Needless to say we didn’t use the rotenburo.

Kagami mochi display in the dining room.

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I honestly wanted to post a positive review but then it wouldn’t have been honest. We did not enjoy our stay in this ryokan. Hubby said at the end of the month he is going to start making reservations for the next New Year celebration to make sure we get a decent place to stay so we can really enjoy the holiday. Hotels and ryokan raise their prices almost double for the holiday season! We at least want to enjoy our stay and feel like we got our money’s worth.

 

Anniversary get-away

We usually don’t make a big deal out of our wedding anniversary. A quiet dinner in a nice restaurant is about all we ever really do to celebrate. This year we had such a busy July that we decided to do something really nice for ourselves to celebrate our years together.

Both of us love quiet out of the way places. Little hideaway spots tucked into the mountains are just right for our taste. At first we thought of going to Beppu but we always go to Beppu. In recent years it has gotten so touristy and crowded so we said…nah…not Beppu.

About a week before our anniversary date hubby looked at me over his computer screen and said….”come and look at this”. I crawled over (we sit on the floor here) to his side of the Japanese table to see what it was he wanted me to look at. He had been searching for a roykan (traditional Japanese inn) and found one that looked wonderful. It was located in Yamaguchi prefecture-Honshu. Honshu is the island “above” us.

The bridge between Kyushu and Honshu.

We looked over the photos and reviews together and decided to give it a try.

The drive to Ichinomata Onsen Grand Hotel took about 2 hours. It’s actually a beautiful drive that crosses the Kanmon Straits and climbs up into the mountains and 田舎 inaka (the deep countryside) of Yamaguchi prefecture.

Once you exit the urban expressway in Ozuki, Yamaguchi you drive through a small town for a couple of minutes before you have to take the road that leads up into the surrounding mountains. It’s about a thirty minute drive from town through nothing but rice fields, ancient farm houses and forest. There was literally nothing else around. No shops….definitely no convenience stores..nothing but wilderness and farms. It was perfect!

We both noticed that most of the buildings in the area were ancient looking. We guessed most houses looked at least 70-100 years old. Most were well maintained. There were lots of farm houses with beautiful old barns and out buildings.

We saw the sign for the onsen a minute or so before we saw the buildings tucked into the side of the mountain. There was nothing else around and we knew instantly we made the right choice!

We checked in and the service was awesome with a personalized welcome and short orientation of the facilities. I could see beautiful gardens through the lobby windows.  We were escorted to our room by a lovely young lady who made us feel so welcome.

The view from our room was awesome!

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early afternoon
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twilight

We stood for a long time and just gazed out the window. About an hour later we gathered our bath bags and headed down to the private bath that we had reserved. The onsen is really the attraction of most ryokan. Some have private bath facilities that can be reserved. They are totally private-no one peeks in the windows! There are fences and privacy screens around the private bath and around the shared bath facilities. This onsen does not have co-ed bathing although some of the really old onsen do. We have never visited one and don’t plan on visiting one.

We had the private bath for an hour and we took every second of our allotted time. It was so luxurious! The waters have a high alkaline content and my skin felt wonderful after bathing. I did also enjoy the shared onsen early the next morning. It was very quiet with only a few other ladies bathing at 6:30 am.

The ryokan has two floors and all the guest rooms as well as the Japanese style dining room are on the second floor.  The first floor hosts the onsen, a small coffee bar, lobby, gift shop, restaurant and private bath area.

The entrance to the private bath and onsen area.

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The hallway leading to the onsen and private bath area and the relaxation room between the men’s and women’s onsen.

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total serenity

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the small coffee bar and lobby across from the gift shop

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side view of the gardens

Our dinner was brought to our room. What a wonderful treat! The photo shows only part of what was brought in! The entire table was filled with little dishes and such. It was more food than we could even eat.

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We are definitely visiting there again. As a matter of fact we already have plans for late October. We won’t be going alone though. After telling family about the ryokan it was decided that father-in-laws birthday will be celebrated here. I’m sure the autumn season will be lovely !

Be sure to click on the link to the website as there are more photos there.

What an awesome and out of the way place…a little slice of heaven!

Well the weatherman hasn’t announced it yet but I have a hunch we are already into the rainy season. I mean-when it rains more days than not and it’s around that time of the year you can fairly well assume that the rainy season has come.

I think when you become a gardener you notice these things more.

Some plants are enjoying the rain and some aren’t. Oh well.

Mother’s day came and went. My allergies have been bugging me so I didn’t have a good day-I would have rather stayed home and rested but hubby wanted to take me somewhere so we ended up down by the seaside. This isn’t too far from us. We stumbled upon it about two years ago while out on a drive. Very different scenery from what I see everyday.

That didn’t help much as it only reminded me of Saipan which reminded me of the kids and grand-kids which reminded me that I miss them. I guess it was time for a good cry anyhow and the beach is a fairly good place to cry.

After a time of letting it all out….hubby managed to get me laughing again. Honestly-I don’t know what I’d do without him. I’ve never met a kinder man. He always seems to get me back to what’s important which is just what he did that day. And like he always does he got me to thinking about my blessings-of which I have more than I can even list.

I sit here in my little writing nook next to the bay window. I love these days…rainy. The heads of Mrs. Umbrella’s roses hang heavy. Her garden has become a bit unruly since she left. Oh, I didn’t tell you? Two winters ago it was terribly cold and she took a fall in her home. For those that are new “Mrs. Umbrella” (not her real name) was my 83 year old neighbor. She was quite spry and lived alone but after she fell her son, a doctor, decided that she should not live alone anymore so he packed her up and moved her to his home. I heard she is quite happy.

She was an avid flower gardener. Early in the morning I could hear the squeak of her garden tap along with the bumping of plastic watering cans. There was not a leaf out of place in her little pristine little yard. Her daughter comes over once and a while to care for the house and the garden but it has largely gone wild.

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I rather like it though.

The once rail thin rose bushes are now bursting! Stick straight hedges have curves and little flower beds are havens for all sorts of self-seeded beauties. It rather matches my little cottage garden now. I’m sure Mrs. Umbrella would be horrified but ….it’s as if the little garden is joyful now that it has been set free from rigid lines and strict cleanliness.

I can almost hear the flowers giggle.

A few days ago I was out in my own garden and I peered over the wall to see at least five cats strolling, laying and frisking about Mrs. Umbrella’s garden. They looked as if they were having the time of their lives! That would never happen if she was there.

I don’t hate cats but I’m not really fond of them either. They dig up my seedlings and poop in my garden. In the summer if I’m not diligent at scaring them away I can barely open my windows because it smells so bad. When they saw me watching them the whole lot of them stopped and stared at me. We looked at each other for a long while…..I’m secretly glad they have someplace else to “go” now.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about this blog. I want to write more but sometimes it’s a real effort to come up with “new, fun and exciting posts”….I mean-life is routine no matter where you live. Contrary to popular belief foreign wives really aren’t perpetual tourists.

So I’ve decided to take a new approach and just write…about whatever because- writing helps me.

The blog look has changed again-It’s okay…you can roll your eyeballs. I liked the other look but honestly-I didn’t feel like it entirely fit my personality which is kind of quirky and laid back. Not ever too sophisticated.

I like doo-dads and fun happy things…so this fits..for now. It’s also foreign-wife “writerish”.