My wife and I stayed at the Yarimikan from 24 - 25 Feb 2009. We drove a rental car from Takayama Station. It can be a little tricky to find, as the turnoff for the ryokan came immediately after the exit from a road tunnel near Shin-Hotaka Onsen. But once there, the cares of the world seemed to melt away magically. The place had a wonderful traditional feel, and yet its amenities were very modern. One thing that struck us as we entered the front lobby was the sound of trickling water everywhere - the ryokan had piped in cold mountain (spring) water and the sound of water gurgling in the lobby was pure zen. Not only that, water from the hot spring at 65 degrees celsius was also piped into a stone basin, in which eggs were cooking (onsen tamago).
You would be immediately struck by the lack of those garish vending machines that plague so much of the Japanese landscape and cityscape. Instead, the ryokan prides itself on not having any vending machines on its premises - truly bringing its guests back to yesteryears. But do not fret - if you crave for a cold drink, you can buy a can that has been chilled by the cold mountain water that I mentioned earlier - we didn't try the drinks, but I bet that drinks chilled by natural refrigeration tastes better than those from a vending machine!
The first order of the day was to be welcomed by the inn assistant around an irori (hearth) set to the side of the lobby. Some Japanese would be helpful, as not many inn staff speak English. After being served tea and a sweet, we were shown to our rooms, which was quite spacious by Japanese standards.
The highlight of our stay must undoubtedly be the ryokan's onsen baths. There were 4 family-style baths to choose from - all outdoor baths. What you had to do was to flip the sign on the door from "Unoccupied" to "Occupied" and the bath was all yours - no reservations needed, no time limit. One of the baths had a jacuzzi, another had a swing and a slide! Obviously for the younger guests, and the young-at-heart. But be warned, the water falling from a height into this latter bath was VERY, VERY hot! In addition to the family bath, the ryokan had 2 mixed outdoor baths, 1 outdoor bath for ladies only, and one foot bath. We had a chance to try one of these mixed baths in the middle of the night, at 4am! (Yarimikan’s baths are open 24 hours a day for guests staying overnight) The experience was nothing short of ethereal. Steam from the hot water wafting gently into the cold winter night, stars blazing overhead, and the sound of the creek bubbling not more than 20 metres away. At that hour, we obviously had the whole place to ourselves! My wife, who was squirmish about going into the mixed bath, enjoyed herself immensely.
Yarimikan is truly a deserving member of Japan’s Hidden Hot Springs Association. The outdoor rotemburo were rustic in a charming sort of way – there were no tiles or other modern accoutrements in any of the outdoor changing or soaking areas– the baths were simply hewn from rock, stone or wood. I simply loved this marvelous juxtaposition of almost raw natural beauty set amidst the rarefied elegant confines of a luxury accommodation.
Before I forget, I must also rave about the shampoo and conditioner provided at the common bathing area. It's a brand called Ba-Yu (horse oil) - we went shopping for the hair products in Nagoya, but unfortunately could not find it – anyway, my wife and I agreed that it made our hair the softest and the most manageable possible! I think we could have easily shot hair commercials after we had used the Ba-Yu shampoo and conditioner (or perhaps it was the magic of the onsen water, we don’t know). As you might have already guessed, I am absolutely, totally, hopelessly in love with the baths.
Most ryokans in this part of the woods require guests to take up a dinner and breakfast meal plan. At Yarimikan, they sincerely believe in overfeeding their guests. We were served the largest Japanese meal we ever had in our lives. We counted something like in excess of 10 courses, and just when we thought we were nearing the end, the waitress brought out yet another dish! Hoba miso (miso paste grilled on a magnolia leaf over a charcoal brazier) is a specialty of the region, and so is Hida beef (try the beef sashimi served at dinner!). We also feasted on mountain vegetables (another regional specialty!), tempura, dobin mushi (teapot soup), a chawan mushi like steamed pudding, but made from mountain yam and sukiyaki… My wife doesn’t take beef, and it was my fault that I hadn’t informed the ryokan beforehand, but they managed to scrounge up some chicken sukiyaki for her, a gesture which was much appreciated.
Breakfast was mercifully a simpler affair, with the usual grilled fish, miso soup and rice. The egg dish turned out to be eggs cooked in hot spring water. The ryokan also served handmade tofu, which was velvety and very nice. Guests were given a serving of juice from an apple-like fruit, which we later found out to our utter surprise, costs 3,150 yen for 1.5 litres from the ryokan souvenir store. [No wonder they were so stingy with the servings!] The juice is supposed to promote beauty and health, but beware, I bet that the little servings they give at breakfast were a teaser to entice one to part with some more cash at check-out.
Check-in was at 2pm and check-out at 11am. This was very generous by Japanese standards. By the way, accommodation rates per person started at about 16,000 Yen per person, which I thought was not a bad deal considering the many wonderful memories this stay will have in my heart.
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