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Peaceful Relaxation in a Japanese Spa Surrounded by Cedar Woods

Peaceful Relaxation in a Japanese Spa Surrounded by Cedar Woods

Posted June. 01, 2007 03:21,   


I boarded a Shinkansen at Tokyo station, and after passing Takasaki Station, the train entered a tunnel. I thought the high-speed train was passing though a mountainous area. It was inside the tunnel 13 minutes after passing Jomokoken Station. Just before the train exited the tunnel, an announcement was made notifying passengers that the last station, Echigoyuzawa, was approaching.

The famous Japanese writer Kawabata Yasunari wrote in his novel ‘Snow Country,’ “After passing a long tunnel at the borders, Snow Country came and then dark night became white. You too can experience ‘Snow Country’ when you travel around Niigata, where it snows more than 4 meters a year, and sleep at a ryokan, a Japanese inn complete with its own hot springs.

The novel ‘Snow Country’ is set in Echigoyuzawa, which happened to be a name of spa village where Kawabata Yasunari wrote the novel. He liked to write while staying in a ryokan. A ryokan named ‘Takahan’ was the place in which he wrote the novel. It still stands today, but has been remodeled into a hotel. However, the room where he would write is still well preserved on the second floor.

Roykan Ryugon is not far from Echigoyuzawa Station (ryugon is a traditional Japanese Style Hotel with hot spring facilities built upon old Samurai structures). It is located in Muikamachi spa village, a 15-minute drive from the station. The accommodation facility has been in business for 40 years but looks like it has been there for hundreds of years. “The antique look is the beauty of ryugon. With a few exceptions, the ryugons here are more than 100 years old,” said Yoske Sinohara, who oversees the workings of ryugons in the region.

After this explanation, I looked around and found old-style buildings surrounding a garden with a pond, where Japanese cedars stood. The area was in a farming field. If I had not heard the buildings were ryugons, I would have mistaken them for an ancient village. Among them was a 250-year old samurai house owned by a millionaire of the Siojawa village, who used the house to accommodate visitors. The samurai building was a truly memorable sight.

Ryokan rooms show their history. In the middle of a room with a tatami floor was irori, a type of traditional sunken hearth, common in Japan. Outside of it was a pond, trees and garden – a picturesque scene. The calligraphy on the walls was amazing.

The Rotenburo open-air hot spa lay before a backdrop of Japanese cedar woods. Green woods reflected on the water surface, and the clear blue sky and fresh air showed the beauty of Mother Nature at its best. As I stepped into the rotenburo, the essence of Mother Nature reinvigorated my body almost instantly. The only thing I could hear was the sound of the running water in the spa. It was like soothing music.

However, it was not the best I felt from ryugon. This was at the dinner table. The delicious foods prepared by chef with 40-years of experience were to die for. Among the foods was charcoaled fish from the Iwana River. The indigenous foods served were out of this world.

And, adding local wine to the dinner, from some 90 breweries in Niigata – the Mecca of Japanese Sake – eclipsed the Emperor’s banquet.

However, the best of the best was the steamed rice. The best rice in Japan is Koshihikari rice produced in the Unuma region. It is said that restaurants in Ginja, an area famous for delicious foods, use this rice. At the end of the day, you can experience the quintessence of Niigata travel by staying in a ryugon.