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“just about the best rural onsen/ryokan I've stayed in”

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Kurokawa Onsen Okunoyu
Certificate of Excellence
Reviewed December 22, 2009

I've travelled in Japan a great deal, and stayed in a lot of great places over the last 20+ years. This was one of the best.

Let's deal with the negatives first - they're nearly all generic to this type of lodging. You have few choices - you'll upset the system if you arrive outside the window of 3:30-5:30ish, you don't get to order from a menu, and they don't expect you to hang around in the morning (by 10am the staff were already scrubbing out some of the baths). But that's all expected, and to be honest, 18 hours of not making any decisions is very refreshing!

The main outside baths are off-limits to men from 8pm-10pm to give shy ladies a chance, but that means that the guys get a bit of a short straw. The water in the onsen was more lukewarm than most onsens (but if you're not used to onsen baths that might be a plus). That's about it... I'm struggling to think of any negatives.

The service is excellent even by good ryokan standards. For example, they cleared the snow off the rental car for us in the morning without asking. Our server was attentive, pleasant, eager, and although I'm sure he spoke some English, flattered me by working with my ugly Japanese and explaining the words I didn't understand.

The property is excellent. It's a collection of traditional rural wooden buildings, but clearly has been sympathetically renovated and is well maintained (many atmospheric older places are wonderful but rather rundown). The baths are numerous and all interesting. We tried a couple of private baths first so my friends who'd never taken their clothes off in public before could get used to the idea. The main outdoor bath is classic, looking across the small river. We got lucky in that it was snowing (outdoor spring bathing doesn't get much better) although that translated into slippery paths requring a lot of handholding.

Our room was a 12 tatami (I think), plenty big enough for the three of us, a fairly standard, simple Japanese room with a toilet (heated, with cleaning spray), a large tokonoma, and a view across the snowy stream outside. There was enough heating (it was -4 degs outside). We slept wonderfully on fluffy futons with the sound of the stream outside muffled by the snow.

Dinner, served in our room, was a piece de resistance, one of the best kaiseki meals I've had, culminating in grilled fresh river fish, horsemeat sashimi, and boar stew, with some interesting diversions along the way (crab meat with yuzu for example). Spectacular. Breakfast (in a small separate dining room, again Japanese style) was no less impressive, with some interesting twists (a carrot dressing for the salad) and - the first time I've seen this in any Japanese dining room anywhere - a proper espresso machine!

Getting to Kurokawa was a pleasant drive from Kumamoto in a rental car (flew to Fukuoka and took fast train to Kumamoto). "Okunoyu" means the water deep inside, and the onsen is indeed a little remote from the main village, but even so everything's accessible on foot. The village of Kurokawa, although a little self-consciously pretty and obviously dependent on the tourist trade, is well preserved and worth a stroll. On the way back we stopped at a deer farm with an extraordinary topiary collection, an icecream parlour, a kids' petting zoo theme park, and the Suntory brewery for a late lunch and beer. We'd visited the dramatic Kumamoto castle on the way there. Plenty to do!

The Okunoyu staff said they now get quite a few foreign customers, mostly from PRC and Korea, and they were unfazed by us (I'm a Brit, my two friends Chinese Singaporeans). But there were no concessions to foreign tastes apart from the breakfast coffee machine. This is a completely authentic Japanese onsen set in a traditional and well-run ryokan. I can't recommend it highly enough, and if you factor in that your dinner would easily be a $100 ticket in a restaurant, it's good value too. In mid-December it was nowhere close to full, but I'd guess that for much of the year you should book a few months' in advance, especially at weekends. November would be the toughest to book because of visitors coming for the autumn colours.

Go! But don't tell too many of your friends....

  • Stayed: December 2009, traveled with friends
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9  Thank Peter D
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed June 17, 2009

10 minutes walking from the charming Kurokawa onsen resort ( do not be afraid, you may request their shuttle bus to go "downtown" or to/from the bus stop) Okunoyu ryokan is really the ryokan you have always dreamed of : it is a quiet, charming and elegant place where all your wishes will be fullfilled : very large and superbly appointed rooms - do not hesitate to reserve one of their 5 western/japanese combined rooms in the so called new building, with a private outside onsen bath on a large terrace overlooking the river -, two superb outdoor baths, an old hiroki bath and 4 other baths that can be privately used.
The private premisses are great, full of flowers and beautifull vegetation. The food is worth at least 2 stars in the Michelin guide and the service (with little but sufficient English) is impeccable and careful.
We are lucky enough to be able to make comparisons with several other ryokans all over Japan: without any hesitation, this was the best experience we made in five trips !
The pricetag for such a quality is on the high side of course but you will very quickly forget the bill when remembering your stay, back home.
A last advice ? Spend 2 nights at Okunoyu , not only to peacefully and slowly savor everything this ryokan has to offer, but also to enjoy the resort itself , a charming place miraculously preserved from all the aggressions of modern Japanese life.

  • Stayed: May 2009, traveled as a couple
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9  Thank BDurrus
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed January 5, 2008

My husband and I stayed here as our one night of indulgence in a trip that otherwise involved staying in very cheap Ryokan and Minshuku. We had a wonderful time and it was a very relaxing break in the middle of a very busy travel itinerary.

Kurokawa is a beautiful little village in the mountains west of Kumamoto, accessible by bus from Kumamoto or Mt Aso JR stations. A word or warning though: although Kurokawa is primarily a tourist resort town, it is not really compatible with non-Japanese speaking tourists – make sure you have maps and information in advance if you don’t speak Japanese because once you get there it’s hard to improvise.

We stayed at Oko-no-yu Ryokan, which we were able to book online (in English) through the Japan Guest Houses online system. This was a lovely resort and great value for money when you take into account that the room price includes meals and use of the baths. Being able to pay by credit card is very convenient. We were given exceptional service from our arrival and were assigned a Japanese hostess that took care of serving our meals in our room, setting up our futon, and showing us around the resort. The onsen here are fantastic – while we had read that it is a popular practice to wander around the town in your yukata going from resort to resort, the Oko-no-yu had every type of bath that you could ever want – indoor/outdoor family baths (for private use), single sex baths, mixed bathing, riverside bath, cave bath, and cedar bath (you come out smelling great!) and saunas. We were fortunate enough to be there mid week and there were few other guests, so even though I had my reservations about public nudity, we were able to use every bath and not encounter another person!

The meal was the most exotic we had in Japan. It was served in our room by our hostess and consisted of a string of delicacies, beautifully arranged in little bowls. Much of which we could not identify! However there were a few things thrown in that would satisfy the less adventurous – tempura etc. The meal was huge. Breakfast was served in the dining room and was also Japanese-style and very delicious.

The thing that attracted us to Kurokawa is that it is very peaceful and not an overly-commercial tourist place. We had spent a busy 2 weeks seeing the tourist sights and mixing with crowds and this was the break that we needed. We had a wonderful time staying at the Oku-no-yu and would highly recommend it as a peaceful place to experience the Japanese onsen!

  • Stayed: July 2007, traveled as a couple
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3  Thank KellyK79_7
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed December 6, 2007

We used Kurokawa Onsen (the village where the hotel is located) as a base to explore Aso-san and Kuju-san, having driven from Beppu.

Our stay at Okunoyu was very pleasant indeed - idyllic even. The hotel really makes the most of its location in a wooded valley next to a small river. There are onsen (hot spring baths) dotted all along the hotel's grounds along the river, including public and private onsen. There are few things more relaxing than lolling around starkers in a naturally heated pool with the sounds and sights of the wood and river surrounding you.

Our room was a combined Western (meaning Western style beds) and Japanese (meaning a Japanese style dining/living area) affair and was beautifully appointed and comfortable. It included a private onsen on the balcony, although this was rather small (and volcanically hot) so did not distract us from the other onsen at the hotel. Bizarrely the room did not include an indoor shower or bath (you can't wash in the onsen) - as with so many pecularities of life in Japan I just shrugged my shoulders and accepted it as part of their way of doing things.

The food at Okunoyu was about the best I have had in Japan. The beef in particular was beyond compare. For those in need of a top up (and there won't be many of you) there is a seemingly infinite supply of hard boiled eggs straight from the ground in the car park!

Kurokawa itself is a small village consisting almost entirely of hot spring resorts. It feels like somewhere tucked away that you just happened to have discovered, although of course rather more planning went into the stay than that!

  • Stayed: November 2007, traveled as a couple
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3  Thank Mutandis
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed September 20, 2017
Google Translation

Room Tip: 接客のレベルは最低ですが、それを求めなければいいお宿です。
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  • Stayed: September 2017, traveled as a couple
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3  Thank koolmildsmenthol2002
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 30, 2017
Google Translation

Room Tip: 川沿いの部屋が眺め良い
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  • Stayed: August 2017, traveled with family
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1  Thank 昭二 中
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 14, 2017
Google Translation

Room Tip: 一番安い、山側の部屋でしたが、特に不満はなく、アジサイがたくさん植えてあり、アジサイの季節紅葉の季節、それぞれ良いのではないかと思いました。
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  • Stayed: August 2017, traveled with family
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Thank ますみの
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Kurokawa Onsen Okunoyu

Address: 6567 Manganji Kurogawa, Minamioguni-machi, Aso-gun 869-2402, Kumamoto Prefecture
Location: Japan > Kyushu-Okinawa > Kumamoto Prefecture > Aso-gun > Minamioguni-machi > Kurokawa Onsen
Amenities:
Free Parking Children Activities (Kid / Family Friendly) Shuttle Bus service Swimming Pool Wheelchair access
Hotel Style:
Ranked #17 of 52 Hotels / Ryokan in Minamioguni-machi
Price Range: $162 - $491 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)
Hotel Class:3.5 star — Kurokawa Onsen Okunoyu 3.5*
Number of rooms: 26
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Kurokawa Onsen Okunoyu Japan/Kumamoto Prefecture - Minamioguni-Machi

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