When folks come to Japan, they're often hoping to get a unique experience out of their stay. Traditionally, mostly. I think a lot of you want to spend money at an hot spring ryokan (Japanese Inn), and splurge for that private in-room hot spring. Which is fair. Especially coming from North America, this type of accommodation is pretty rare but also fascinating all the same.
But if you've already traveled some, and/or you're into hot springs - but you're looking for a bit of a something more to look forward to when Japan might open its borders to tourists again, here are a few of the favourite places I've stayed at in the past.
(note that this is list is not exhaustive, I have A LOT more places I would love to write about but I don't want this to get too long)
1) Fujiya Hotel
(SIDE NOTE: this is different from the Yumoto Fujiya Hotel)
This is one of those places where I really wasn't sure if I made the right choice in staying at first, and afterwards, still had a bit of mixed feelings about. But I think these thoughts is what makes it kind of top of the memorable list, personally...
This is Fujiya Hotel, in Hakone. Built in the late 1800s, most of the building's structures and rooms were kept in the style of the Meiji Period. A few years back before the hotel's some overhauling, if you had wanted to experience what it felt like to be an aristocrat in the Meiji Era, this hotel would be the full experience of it. The rooms here in Fujiya were probably the cheapest in the Hakone area (where tourists prefer splurging for the hot spring experience, and not a History lesson), but the hotel was elegant right down to its massive Japanese garden hidden away from non-staying guests and exorbitant food options.
But a blast from the past often also means something else...
If it doesn't show in my photo above - yes, it probably was one of the creepiest stays in all of Japan. No, it IS one of the creepiest.
For those of you that get tingly sensations and are hyper sensitive to the "unknown" (yes, this is a nice way of me to refer to our ghostly friends), I think you will understand the feeling of when you enter a building. Your gut just tells you that the place you are entering is absolutely and most definitely haunted. I had this feeling almost the entire time I was here.
Walking down the corridors of this multi-building complex gives me the bejeebies. Even going from the public baths from the B2 floor back up to my room gave me a heart attack, when I ran into a staff member just strolling along doing his job (...or was he a staff member?).
I'm clearly not the only one. There used to be a youtube video that I had watched after my trip of a guest walking the hallways at 2AM, around their "Helen Keller" room.. ominous was probably a huge understatement. This blog is the closest thing I could get to resurface from the dark web. I assure you, those green lights aren't edited (probably from the parking lot like in my photo above).
It is a gorgeous hotel though, no doubt. But one I probably won't be staying in again for awhile.
Iya Valley is located in Tokushima Prefecture, right in the heart of Shikoku Island. I had the pleasure of driving through and staying in this area on my way to Kochi. And it is probably one of the cheapest ryokan stays I have ever paid for during any national holiday season.
For an approximate total of $200 per person, it included both a breakfast (you can have a choice of western or Japanese breakfast) and dinner. Both of which were extremely generous in portions, especially with the nabe we had opted for instead of the usual Japanese kaiseki ryori. The change was made prior to our stay with no extra cost, and they were happy to oblige. The service was also excellent too, which isn't necessary, but always a bonus.
Oh and if you're wonder if that was raw chicken in my first picture... yes, it indeed is.
My first raw chicken experience, and survived it. Definitely memorable, as I lived to tell the tale after all!
Included in that price too is your own private in-room outdoor bath with a full view of Iya Valley, and a sizeable, newly renovated room.
That's not even the best part! It's selling point is the other outdoor hot spring baths with access to some walkable parts of the valley, accessible via a cable car that's available to staying guests only. It's also completely self-operated and unmanned, which means you get to play with all the buttons to your heart's content, just like I did in the video below (Baby Yoda would be pleased!).
Iya Onsen Hotel was and still is, hands down one the most tranquil, most affordable and best ryokan I've ever stayed at. Definitely come and stay if you can!
Chorakuen is an ryokan in Tamatsukuri Onsen up in... Shimane Prefecture (I wasn't sure if it was Tottori or Shimane for a second there). I don't suppose you have heard of Tamatsukuri Onsen unless you've done research into Shimane or live there, but it is an onsen town that's decently known to a number of locals. It's quite small, and not much to write home about, but this establishment is a bit different from its brother and sister ryokans nearby.
Other than the history behind it, this ryokan has an open air mixed gender bath. It does say that is it the biggest of its kind in the country, but my boyfriend and I kind of have questions about it... I mean, yeah it is pretty damn big. And we definitely haven't been to one this size that's both outdoors AND mixed gender. So maybe?
The website has pictures of their bath, so you can be the judge of it yourself.
But yeah, let's talk about this mixed gender bath. It's not exactly something you can readily find nowadays, since most ladies don't peruse the mixed side in my experience. But as someone who goes to hot springs a lot with my significant other, and gets bored easily, being able to stay together without paying extra money is fun for us. The good thing at Chorakuen for the ladies is that, even if you get shy, they provide a slip-on robe thing for you to wear - and for the men, some filmsy disposable shorts (which is a bit pointless because the men's change room can be viewed from the bath??). Because of this, it attracted a lot of couples during our stay, and everyone seems to just be enjoying the company and relaxing.
The bath is also only opened to staying guests at all times of the day, so the bath never really gets overcrowded.
The catch though? This was probably one of my more expensive stays.... but there are cheaper options in the town. It just means you will not be able to peruse the biggest mixed gender bath in all of Japan, unfortunately.
The town itself is very quiet and unique though. If you like quiet, off-the-beaten-path type onsen towns, I do recommend Tamatsukuri Onsen.
4) Mizno Hotel
Mizno Hotel (or Mizuno, probably more correct in Japanese terms) is what I think people would consider a Boutique Hotel. It's not a ryokan by any means, and let me just put it out there - it is probably one of the most expensive stays I've splurged for in all of my travels here in Japan. I also splurged on this during New Years, making this effectively (to some of you), a very stupid idea.
But 99% of the time... if you pay for something here in Japan that's not within your normal price range, they often deliver and make up for it in services or some kind of amenities.
And heck yes do they deliver!
I mean, otherwise it wouldn't make this list right? I mean, yeah I guess splurging and going broke is definitely memorable, but that's not what you guys are here for - especially if you've made it this far down the blog (a round of applause please!!).
But this is what I splurged for on New Years:
A completely unobstructed view of Mount Fuji and Kawaguchiko on a winter's day. Admittedly, I did have a bit of buyer's remorse when I first arrived at the hotel, since it was particularly cloudy that day. But the next morning, we were rewarded with sunshine and absolutely gorgeous views. I would 100% do it again.
The food here was exceptional. It was easily one of the best hotel meals I've had in terms of taste, presentation and overall execution and service. I which I had more pictures to show, but this was the only one I still had on me. Excuse my dumb face.
Definitely memorable and worth the money!
And that's it, folks. Those are my crème de la crème stays here in Japan. What are some of your favourite Japanese stays? Tell me in the comments or tweet me at @monochromic!
Speaking of accommodations, check out another one of my blogs on another one of my unique stays on Rabbit Island (Okunoshima) if you haven't already.
Thanks for reading!