What’s your idea of paradise?
Mine varies. Sometimes its a white sand beach with glass-clear waters. Sometimes its just home with hours of uninterrupted Korean dramas on video. But here, in Japan, there is a really special spot that comes close to paradise.
It had everything – a comfortable ryokan, not one but eight baths for bath-mad me, and as always, throw in great scenery and mouthg-wateringly good food. Pretty darn close to paradise in my book.
On hindsight, it would have been best to spend another extra night in the area and soak the time away in Yarimikan’s eight enticing baths. But then, hindsight is always 20/20 vision isn’t it?
Set deep into the Okuhida, the Yarimikan Inn is listed as one of Japan’s secluded hot springs by the Japan Association of Secluded Hot Spring Inns. I guess what this means is that the ryokan is remotely located (read: hard to get to), usually traditional with several years of history and maintains the old onsen ryokan traditions, has natural hot spring water (important fact because as I understand it, not all onsens are created equal – some just use piped hot water and not natural mineral springs bubbling from the source), and is usually in an old building.
It’s the sort of place I really enjoy. Remote, nowhere near the city, set in lovely natural surroundings, and with enough baths for one to stay naked and soaked all day.
To me also, the best ryokan experiences are the ones which are most atmospheric – set preferably in natural surroundings – better still if the buildings are original and old. I go for small and intimate anyday over sprawling big onsen hotel complexes.
The Yarimikan Inn, with only about 16 rooms, fits the bill. The building is also an old manor house, dismantled and then rebuilt in its current location.
Making the journey there is also part of the fun. Just like the Honke Bankyu in Yunishigawa Onsen which I visited last year which entailed a two-hour train journey and a 1-hour bus ride to access, the Yarimikan Inn is at least an hour and a half by bus from Takayama or a nice car ride in.
By the time we got down the mountain, it was past 5pm. With dinner scheduled for 7pm, we barely had time to sample all of Yarimikan’s baths. The ryokan helpfully provided a map – yes a map – to help us find the way down to the river to the various baths.
Most of the baths were rotemburo (outdoor) and well-placed beside the rocky banks of a river. Several were private baths which had a simple booking system. Just turn the wooden tag on the door to indicate that it was in use. Some were by the river side but screened from public view by wooden fences, others were in constructed sheds. Some were made of stone and others of cedar and one even had a swing and a slide! Ooh kinky… except I can’t imagine the trauma of my butt sliding into painfully hot water at top speed!
The eight baths were like a giant onsen playground to us and KH and I spent an hour gleefully hopping from one bath to the next. We had the whole place to ourselves and never ran into any other bathers, not even on the paths outside.
Some were konyoku (mixed bathing) and while ladies could wear a modesty towel, the men could go totally in the buff. Definitely not for the onsen virgin or anyone squeamish about nudity. However, the konyoku bath provided a rare opportunity for both KH and I to enjoy onsen together.
The one at Yarimikan which we both tried together was empty though – pity, that would have been interesting for me to report on (all in the name of experiential true travel writing of course. I do this so you don’t have to. Right?)
Note also that the outdoor baths tend to be quite open with only several large rocks to hide behind. Other than those, anyone on the opposite bank of the river could quite easily see all. While I was happily soaking, one bus-load of tourists and a handful of construction workers were my audience. So I guess I have a bit of an exhibitionist streak I suppose.
The food at Yarimikan was also good. While we didn’t understand half of what we ate, the staff really tried their best to describe the food. But hey, good food is universal in appeal and surpasses all language barriers. Fresh from the baths, feeling warm and relaxed and hungry, the food looked inviting!
As always, the food was prettily presented in bite-size morsels. These little ‘bites’ though, do add up and before dinner ended, we were stuffed.
Dinner ended on a sweet high – a bright yellow moon of yuzu sorbet with a dollop of cream:
Makes me happy just looking at this again…
The night was not over yet and we headed for the only indoor baths Yarimikan had. These were segregated by sex. But we didn’t use these, reserving them for the next morning.
The day ended as it always did during the trip in Japan – skyping the kids in Singapore. No internet in the room but we plugged it in a small alcove in the dark lobby while the rest of the ryokan slept.
In the darkness, so many thousands of miles away, the children’s voices came on. We were tired after a long day but even hearing them for a few minutes perked us up and linked us back to where real life went on.
Thanks to technology and progress, we could hear about their day and savour all the details – right down to the fights and squabbles and triumphs, minor and major, of their day.
I remember travelling to Spain and Portugal more than 10 years ago. Those were the days of accumulating heavy coins and squashing in phone boxes, ears glued to sticky phones and communicating across the static. We could not call everyday back then too. But today, the family is really just a skype call away.