Friday 20 September 2013

Yado Kanzan (谷川温泉やど莞山)

We were picked up from the waiting area at exactly 2.30pm by Daisuke-san, the proprietor of Yado Kanzan, and bundled into a spacious car. 

Our drive towards the hotel took a little under ten minutes, bringing us out towards the Mt. Tanigawa Onsen area. Unless you have a car or arrange to be picked up, it's fairly out of the way given the fact that there don't seem to be any buses going in that direction. 

When we first entered, we were greeted by a heady whiff of incense, which was being burned near the entrance by the shoe cabinet. It was a very pleasant smell that managed to be contained within the reception area. 

The sight that greeted us was this vase of flowers, and we didn't realize the lilies were real until we touched them, thinking we'd feel plastic under our fingers given how lush and perfect they looked. 

Even though it still felt like Summer, all the decorations had taken on a decidedly autumnal slant. M wanted to take this wreath of gooseberries back with her, given the brilliance of the golds and vermillions of the husks of the cape gooseberries

During our car journey, Daisuke-san mentioned that his father was a musician who played the Shakuhachi (Japanese Bamboo Flute). We saw this CD in the sitting area off the main reception, but we never got around to asking if this person gracing the cover was his dad.  

It seemed as though we were the first guests to arrive, so we had Daisuke-san's undivided attention for a good half an hour. After settling the necessary administrative procedures like taking down our passport details and ensuring we had Wi-Fi access, Daisuke-san gave us the grand tour. 

We walked down a corridor and Daisuke-san pointed out the dining rooms before we went further on. 

At the end were three onsen rooms - men's, ladies' and the private bath, which could be booked and enjoyed at our leisure. 

Unlike the rest of the baths, whose views are partially impeded by screens ensuring that people on the road can't look in at you, this bath's location affords more privacy, so you can open the tinted windows to enjoy this spectacular view outside:

Daisuke-san explained the booking system to us in great detail - there's a little board out near the dining rooms on which you can book the private onsen in 40-minute slots. The board has little white magnets with part of the room name written on them, and you place your room magnet by the time you wish to visit to indicate that the slot has been taken. Should you want to go again, you can use one of the blue magnets to book your subsequent visits. Since we were the first guests in, we got to call first dibs. M & I took a time a little after dinner, while D used a blue magnet to get a slot the next morning. This was what the board looked like at the end of the night:

Daisuke-san helped us carry our bags up the flight of stairs to the second floor where the rooms were located. On the way, we paused to admire the decor. 

Since we visited during the Tsukimi (Moon-viewing - Japanese version of the Mid-Autumn Festival), there were pieces of art put up in recognition of the event, with rabbits and harvest moons here and there.  

After turning left at the top of the stairs, we walked over to our room, was at the very end of the corridor, on the right. It was called the Ume (Plum) Room, and we had views of the garden outside.  

Before we left for Japan, D had been wondering about the facilities provided at the places we were staying. Since everything was out in the country and seemed fairly basic, he surmised that they'd probably have small, old TV sets, so he was all prepared to watch his Korean dramas on his iPad. When we saw the massive TV complete with HDMI ports, he went "AAAAAARGH. Why didn't I bring my cable?!"

Our room came with an attached toilet, that flushed almost immediately after you got up. It also produced a thick layer of foam that covered everything. I was massively amused by how discreet it was. 

Outside our room was yet another sitting area, with a massage chair and a couple of cushioned stools. To the right of the scene in the picture was a Japanese chess set and a Go set. D initially thought the Go pieces were mints, and I had to stop him from reaching out to eat one. 

D and I found Yado Kanzan while trawling through the internet on places to stay in Minakami. Practically all the reviews were in Japanese, so we Google Translated everything. Even through the confused jumble of words, we realized that everyone had nothing but praise for the food, and just like that we were sold. 

There are only six rooms in the entire compound, and combined with the location of the Yado (Seemingly in the middle of nowhere), it made for a very peaceful stay. 

We lazed around in our room for a bit before we headed out to walk around the neighbourhood, following the map that Daisuke-san provided us with. 

When we got back, it had just gone on 5 pm, and since dinner wasn't going to be until 6.30 pm, we decided to have a bath and freshen up. 

We had baskets containing towels and toothbrushes laid out together with our Yukatas in a cupboard, so we grabbed our stuff and went downstairs. 

The onsen was fairly small but well-stocked with different sets of soaps and shampoos, as well as a number of face washes which we all tried. The pool of water was comfortably warm, so M & I soaked for a long while and let our muscles relax. We were the only ones there, so we went about unhurriedly. 

When we got back to our room, we hung our towels up to dry on the rack provided. 

The reason why we went to Minakami was in hopes of seeing a sky of stars. M & D watched an episode of Hello Japan! where the actresses featured went on a trip up the Mt Tanigawa Ropeway in the evening, where they have star-gazing events up till the first week of October. When we emailed Yado Kanzan to ask if transportation could be arranged to the Ropeway after dinner, we found that it wasn't possible to make it in time. 

Yado Kanzan takes dinner seriously, so we couldn't eat at an earlier time either. What Daisuke-san said in his email was something like this "Why go all the way up the Ropeway, when you can see the stars from near our onsen?" We'd initially wanted to cancel our reservation a month before to stay somewhere that would allow us to go up the mountain in the evening, but in the face of such principles we were suitably impressed and decided to stick with our booking. 

After dinner, Daisuke-san remembered that we wanted to go see stars, so he armed us with a massive flashlight, and gave us instructions on how to walk to the ski slope, abandoned in summer and pitch black, which was the best place to escape from man-made light pollution. D had been checking the weather reports religiously and was excited since it was an utterly clear night, but what we hadn't expected was the glow of the Harvest Moon, which easily outshone most of the stars. Given D's terrible eyesight, he could only make out ten stars in the end. Since we couldn't see much stars, we admired the moon instead, which shone with a vengeance. 

By the time we walked back, it was just in time for M & I to go for our slot in the private bath. The water was much hotter, but since the temperature outside was significantly cooler, it was a good bath. 

We hung around the sitting area where the Wi-Fi signal was strongest, and had a look around the gift shop after the bath. Before we went up to bed, we said goodnight to Daisuke-san. He came out from the reception counter and passed us a wonderfully thoughtful gift of paper place-mats decorated with Temari, the embroidered Japanese balls that are now more a craft than a toy. He'd seen us admiring the place-mats at dinner, and gave us a packet to bring back home. We were terribly touched by the gesture. 

The next morning as we left for our rafting excursion, Daisuke-san passed us more little gifts of potpourri pouches, and called his mother out to see us off after we told him that we'd enjoyed her cooking greatly. It had been such a nice stay.

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