Have you ever heard the Japanese word satoyama? It describes an area where people have long coexisted with nature, living in harmony with the mountains and forests that surround them. The UN's 10th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10) brought such places to the forefront in October of last year with its Satoyama Initiative, a proposal designed to protect these rapidly vanishing locales.
The Kiranosato ryokan gives guests the rare opportunity to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of an authentic satoyama only two hours outside of Tokyo on the Izu Plateau. The proprietors will even pick up guests alighting at the Izu Kyuko Line's Izu-Kogen Station. From there, it is a short five-minute drive to the ryokan. When I reached the main building, two rabbits were lazily munching on some grass, and a squirrel was gnawing on a Japanese citron. I wasn't in Tokyo anymore.
Kiranosato rests amidst approximately 21,818 square-meters of pristine woodland, rice paddies and farms. The fish swimming in the lake. The babbling of the brook. The rabbits awaiting my arrival. I took both a deep breath of the fresh air - and a moment to appreciate the serene countryside.
Autumn colors still stained the surrounding foliage. It was mid-December, though the fields and farms were bare, I could imagine the seasons changing: Cherry blossoms unfurling as the villagers planted rice in the spring. The same villagers picking the same rice after it has grown ready for the fall harvest. Traditional pottery still thrives here, too. Guests can try their hand at creating their own masterpiece at the authentic kiln used at the ceramics studio. (It takes about 2 month until a piece is finished. The studio is closed on Thursdays.)
Four different buildings dot the premises of Kiranosato. All guestrooms have a bed, though bathing facilities vary: In order to make the most of the shared onsen, most guestrooms offer only a shower -- no bathtub -- except for those that have an open-air bath.
Standard Japanese/Western-style Room （Main Building）
This is the main building's standard Japanese-Western style room. It features a tatami area and a separate space with a twin bed.
Superior Japanese/Western-style Room （New Wing）
The hilltop villa houses modern Japanese-Western style rooms. These rooms feature a massage chair by the terrace and a luxurious shower where fine droplets of water rain down from a shower head located directly above the guest.
Japanese-style with Twin Beds and Open-air Bath （Annex）
These rooms have open-air baths filled with fresh spring water. They also feature a porch and traditional Japanese decorations.
This is a single room with a big bed. There are both Japanese and Western style rooms, and these are the only guestrooms to offer Internet access.
This time around, I stayed in a Western-style single room on the second floor. The refrigerator contained complementary mineral water and oolong tea. Cups and glasses were arranged on the table along with coffee beans and a mill. There is never a thirsty guest at Kiranosato.
Kiranosato has two types of onsen, each with an alkalinity of PH 9.0. The belief that these waters can soften and smooth skin earned it the nickname, "The Beautifying Onsen." The large shared bath area has an open-air bath, separated by gender, and a ceramic bathtub for individual use. There is also a dimly lit room where guests can sprawl out and rest in the warm water, as well as a sauna and other facilities. Guests will not go wanting for onsen while staying at Kiranosato.
Three types of reservable baths sit atop a small hill near the larger shared bath area. No reservation is required as long as they are not in use. Whether surrounded by bamboo or borne out of rock, each bath has its own distinct qualities.
Both dinner and breakfast are served in the restaurant. For dinner, I was given a choice of rock-grilled meats or seafood shabu-shabu. As the restaurant you will dine at differs depending on the meal selected, couples or groups are recommended to choose the same dish.
Since I was traveling alone, I was ushered to a place at the counter facing the large window. First, the hors d'oeuvres paraded on stage. Raw fish, boiled and stewed delicacies, fried foods... all of the items featured local seafood and other ingredients chosen at the peak of freshness.
Next, the rock-grilled meats entered the scene via a large plate piled high with beef, pork and various vegetables. Everything was cooked on the hot plate right in front of me, and the beef was so tender it virtually melted in my mouth.
Breakfast also brings with it a choice of Japanese or Western cuisine.
Since last night's dinner was so scrumptious, I went with the Japanese option. The abundance of dishes - combined with several servings of rice - left me completely satisfied.
To visit Kiranosato is not like traveling to big cities such as Tokyo, Osaka or even the historic old capitol of Kyoto. To visit Kiranosato is experience rural Japan, to stay in a traditional Japanese resort ryokan, complete with the air of rest and relaxation that it embodies. Though I was born and raised in Tokyo, the trip to Kiranosato reminded of when I would play amidst the fields and the tomato patches during excursions to my mother's home in rural Nagano.
Check-out is at 11:00 a.m. After breakfast I returned to my room and started packing. The air of nostalgia still lingered, and I could not help feeling a little sad to be leaving so soon.