This article is about the Japanese inn Yakushi Onsen Hatago. Click here to book a room at the inn
Earlier this month, I had the pleasure to take a trip out to Gunma Prefecture to stay in the wonderful ryokan Hatago. We arrived at the ryokan just before lunch, and were greeted warmly by the staff. We hadn't eaten yet, and the first thing the staff did was take us to the soba noodle restaurant at the first courtyard near the entrance.
Soba, So Good...
We tried some of the delicious soba noodles with tempura - my favourite was the asparagus - and there was even some ice cream for dessert. The little twiglets sticking out of the ice cream were actually dried soba! The soba noodles are made freshly on the premises, and we were informed by the manager that guests can also try making the noodles themselves here.
After lunch, we moved to the courtyard and waited there, as we had been informed that there would be a mochi rice cake making event starting any minute. While I was waiting for the event to begin, I took a look around at some of the old-fashioned Japanese toys they had on display. I found one of my favourites, which is called a kendama in Japanese. It's a simple toy that is still very popular with young children today. And, I, happen to be a master of it...
And then, all of a sudden there were a crowd of people in the courtyard and the mochitsuki rice cake making event was about to begin! First of all, guests from the audience were invited to come and beat the mochi with the mallet. It all happened with a brilliant rhythm to it, and everyone seemed to know what they were doing.
After everyone had a go at striking the mochi, the guys in charge set about dividing it up for the spectators. They worked quickly and efficiently and separated the mochi into smaller portions. One part was dipped in a daikon radish and soy sauce flavour, while the other was dipped in kinako soy bean powder.
Time to Explore
Feeling extremely stuffed from eating too much rice cake, we were then taken on a small tour around the complex. The ryokan has amassed a wealth of antiques and curiosities, which it has kindly put on display for guests to peruse at their leisure. Included are exquisite tapestries, historically given as part of a dowry, made from a similar process to icing designs on cakes. As well as this, there is a large collection of funadansu which were special safe boxes for belongings, designed to be carried on ships.
After being shown around some of the indoor areas, I was free to wander the outdoor areas and snap some photos of the wonderful greenery.
The grounds were quite expansive, and there was certainly a lot to see and do. There were a number of spots throughout the enclosure where guests and visitors were free to sit and relax while taking in the lovely mountain scenery.
As well as the beautiful scenery outside, there were also a number of old-style buildings open to be explored on the inside.
As the afternoon was drawing on, we made our way down the hill to the main building which is exclusively for the use of staying guests. In front of the main entrance is a courtyard, and the double doors of the main building. The old doors in use are originals, but they have been refitted to open like automatic doors when the button has been pushed. Interesting to see the original intricate designs immediately situated next to modern technology!
Walking through the double doors, one is immediately faced with the reception area. We were greeted kindly by the staff who took our bags and our details and then ushered us in towards the lobby lounge area to take a seat. As we were making our way through the lobby, the first thing that struck me was the wonderfully smokey smell that filled the room. This was being given off by the kettles that were boiling away on the irori traditional hearths. The water was being boiled to make tea given to the guests as they arrived.
As it was such a nice day, we made our way through the lobby and sat and waited outside on the balcony while sipping on an ice coffee.
After we were ready, the maid showed us to our room...
The staff had kindly dropped our bags off in the room, and we were now free to take a look around the inn. I took a quick look out of the window and spotted a waterfall down below. I decided to take a look at the baths.
The inn has a number of hot spring baths, as well as the takimi (waterfall view) open-air bath, there are separate baths for men and women, as well as private baths to rent. There is also a foot bath which guests are free to use at any time.
After exploring every nook and cranny of the inn, it was time to eat. We made our way to the dining area and were seated in a private dining area. We tucked into a large meal consisting of multiple courses, beginning with light appetizers and progressing on to fish and meat cooked on an open hearth called an irori. An enthusiastic waiter cooked and served the food to us while he told us about some of the history and culture of the local area. His stories ranged from his daily life, to the other onsen in the nearby area that we should visit, as well as the animals that he sometimes saw out in the wild near his home. I felt like my mind was as full with funny stories as my belly was with food.
We went back to the room to find that the staff had laid out our futon for us while we were having dinner. We changed into our yukata and went off to take a bath. I tried all of the baths that I had seen earlier that day, as well as the open-air bath on our balcony. It was bliss...
Tired and happy, I drifted off to sleep that night on my soft and comfortable futon
Waking up early the next morning, I raced down to the open-air bath with a view of the waterfall. Sitting in the bath looking out at the early morning view, I lost track of time completely. I must have been in the bath for about an hour! I rushed back to my room to get changed and head for breakfast. The evening before we'd been given the choice of Japanese-style breakfast or Western-style. My colleague had gone for Western, and I'd chosen Japanese, so we would be able to see both.
All in all, it was a memorable experience, and one that I hope to have again!