There’s something about the welcoming atmosphere of a traditional Japanese inn that makes you feel instantly at home, even if you’ve never before been there. That’s certainly the case with Hanakanzashi, nestled in the hot-spring (onsen) resort of Dake Onsen in Fukushima Prefecture. Established 130 years ago and attractively decorated with antiques, flower arrangements and crafts, it’s under the able guardianship of proprietress Akiko Nihei, likely to greet you and guide you to your room. On the way you’ll notice an attention to detail you won’t often find in larger properties, from the row of flowers in bamboo holders that unexpectedly grace a corner to the kimono on display that changes with the seasons.
“Dake Onsen is 1,200 years old,” said Nihei. “Three years ago we had no foreign tourists, but now three percent are foreign, mostly tour groups from China and Taiwan and mostly in winter.”
In other words, in contrast to destinations like Tokyo and Kyoto that have long been popular with international tourists, Dake Onsen attracts mostly Japanese visitors, making it a good choice for those seeking a less hectic and more authentic experience. Furthermore, Tohoku, the vast and largely undeveloped region comprising Fukushima and five other prefectures on the northeastern end of the main island of Honshu, offers room rates that can be up to 30 percent cheaper than those in Kyoto. Keep in mind, however, that while rates for a ryokan may at first glance seem expensive, they include both breakfast and a kaiseki dinner fit for an emperor.
With only eight rooms spread along rambling corridors, Hanakanzashi is also able to provide the ultimate in omotenashi, a hospitality unique to Japan in which the needs of guests are anticipated and quietly attended to, often before guests even realize they had any. Each room is unique, from tatami rooms with futon beds laid out by staff while you’re off having dinner to those with beds for Western-style comfort. Three rooms have private rotenburo (outdoor hot-spring bath), though there are also nice, public hot-spring baths separated for men and women.
“Our water is one-hundred percent onsen, with no additional water added,” said Nihei. “It’s acidic, which is rare in Japan, and is good for skin, rheumatism, and other things.”
The cuisine stands out, with dinner consisting of various dishes exquisitely prepared and artistically presented, served in your own private tatami room with a choice of dining at a table or in Japanese fashion on the floor. Although meals change with the seasons, dishes may include grilled oysters, various sashimi, tempura, local fruits and vegetables, abalone cooked at your table, Fukushima beef and other fare. Local sake is also available, including choices like those from Daishichi Sake Brewery, famous for using the ancient kimoto method for brewing saké that makes it comparable to fine wine.
Facilities and amenities include a souvenir and crafts shop, a tearoom offering herbal teas, a reading room with a small library, free WIFI and free shuttle service from Nihommatsu Station, about two hours by train from Tokyo Station.
Dake Onsen lies at the foot of Mount Adatara, which not only provides Dake Onsen’s thermal water and the clear, mineral water conducive to great saké, but also offers skiing and hiking. In spring, the resort is known for its many cherry blossoms.
Hanakanzashi Ryokan, Fukushima
1 Chome-104 Dakeonsen, Nihommatsu
Fukushima 964-0074, Japan
tel 81 243 24 2110
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