Ryoken: Beniya Mukayu

Posted on October 14, 2016

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One of my friends who used to live in Tokyo told me that to stay in a ryokan is almost essential when visit Japan for the first time, but that the ten course Kaiseki menu can be a bit too much after a night or two. If not for your belly, for your wallet. We hadn’t quite realized this and made it three, oops (don’t repeat our mistake, it’s a waste).

We chose to have our ryokan experience at the upscale Beniya Mukayu in the small town of Kagaonsen, between Kyoto and Kanazawa.

Pick a good ryokan and the kaiseki meals are incredible. And not only the food. Every serving dish is chosen especially for the food it presents, fresh leaves and flowers adorn each item. It’s beautiful, from start to finish. These three meals were some of the best we will have in our life.

img_0154Every aspect of Beniya Mukayu has been designed with Japanese minimalism. Perfectly placed items, no more than needed. Almost bare but the tiniest of details – a cushion, a vase, well placed book – make each space what it should be.

It’s so perfect that it freaked me out a little to begin with. It’s a movie scene in a thriller, you know the kind where everything is serene and ideal, you’re just waiting for something to happen….

But it didn’t. Every time anything was moved out of place, someone miraculously appeared to right it. A member of staff saw my husband walking around barefoot, horrified, she ran off and came back 20 seconds later with comfortable slippers for him.

img_0152The town sits on a hot spring and it’s used to relax and heal. At the ryokan each room has it’s own hot spring bath on the balcony, and there are communal baths (separated by sex) for the hotel with two baths and a sauna in each. I actually preferred the baths at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo as they were more luxurious, but I loved having our own private bath to relax in at the end of the day.

img_0137The town is small and is used to resident os Beniya Makayu wandering around in kimonos. There is a small outdoor hot spring where you catch tourists and locals soaking their feet, and a larger public baths (always separated by sex) in the square. In it’s heyday, there were plenty of ryokan here but most have fallen to dereliction, which is such as shame. On the top of the hill above our ryoken we discovered a deserted hotel. It had old dusty furniture, a few smashed windows with ivy lacing it’s way inside. But you could see it’s former glory with giant windows allowing occupants to gaze into the green valley. It seems such as waste that it has been left to diminish in this way.

We popped into the town a couple of times to explore and have lunch. It was nice to be away from major cities and get a feel for real life Japan, although language barriers were sometimes a little challenging.

img_0172Beniya Mukayu has been in the family for generations. The couple that run it now are involved in the day to day running, and their son works in the restaurant. The owner trained to be able to offer his guests the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. It was wonderful to see this done with an authentic ambience. We had considered booking a tea ceremony in Kyoto but see that they are touristy. In typical Japanese fashion some tea masters train for 20+ years and will still tell you that they ‘have a lot to learn’. I was starting to love the Japanese quest for perfection.

The owners wife has trained as a yoga teacher and offers a relaxing class at 7.30am each morning. It’s an ideal way to start the day.

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Posted in: Asia, Destinations, Japan