[Hotel Review] Zenkoji Temple's Jizo Matsuya Ryokan (松屋旅館) - Vikingess Voyages

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

[Hotel Review] Zenkoji Temple's Jizo Matsuya Ryokan (松屋旅館)

One of the most popular things to do for visitors to Japan is to stay a night at a traditional Japanese ryokan hotel. The ryokan hotels hold a long history in Japan that goes back as far as the eighth century, and with all of the ryokans having their own unique style and history it is definitely one of the most extraordinary things you can experience as a foreigner in Japan. When my friend told me she wanted to visit me in Japan the first thing I did was to search for potential destinations not too far from Tokyo where I could show her the special atmosphere you only can find at an old ryokan.
Above: Jizo Matsuya Ryokan seen from the temple street

Our choice landed on Nagano, a city made known worldwide through the 1998 Winter Olympics, and more recently for the famous bathing monkeys of Jigokudani. While Nagano also offers great outdoor activities like skiing (see: HakubaShiga-Kogen, and Nozawa Onsen) or hiking (Kamikochi) our trip this time was focused on getting some relaxing time in a traditional ryokan hotel.
Jizo Matsuya Ryokan immediately attracted my interest with the picture of a large Jizo statue in front of the ryokan’s main entrance. Although ryokan hotels usually have a touch of traditional Japan I found this feature highly unique. After reading a bit about the history of the ryokan I learned that the main hall of the famous Zenkoji Temple (善光寺)  now situated just down the street used to stand at the very spot of Jizo Matsuya Ryokan before it burned down 300 years ago… Needless to say, I was sold.

The reception was located on the first floor of the ryokan hotel, and stepping into the room was just like threading into an old Japanese home. There were various traditional items on display in the reception area including daruma dolls and collector's badges from the Nagano Olympics.

Above: Lounge on the first floor

Above: Free coffee and tea in the lounge
In the lounge next to the check-in counter guests could enjoy complimentary beverages including coffee and tea. After check-in and a warm cup of coffee, it was time to go to our hotel room.
The first thing that met us when we entered our guest room was the fresh smell of the tatami mats. In traditional Japanese ryokan hotels it is common to sleep on mattresses on the floor, but as the mattresses usually are prepared during dinner time you'll have the large space ready to enjoy a cup of Japanese tea and a wagashi snack before heading out for sightseeing.

Above: [Left] Bathroom [Right] Yukata and amenity bag

Above: [Left] Toilet [Right] "Otohime"

This was what the room looked like when we came back from dinner. The table had been moved aside and the mattresses had been prepared nicely for us:

We had dinner included in our stay, and at dinner time we came back to the ryokan from our Zenkoji Temple sightseeing and were guided by the ryokan staff to one of the dining halls on the first floor. The dinner consisted of local ingredients, but we also noted that some of the dishes were not common in Japanese ryokan cuisine. Rather, it seemed that they had made some efforts to include a couple of small dishes with a taste catered to foreign visitors.



One of the really special things you can experience at a Japanese ryokan is to soak in a hot spring, onsen. The onsen at Jizo Matsuya Ryokan was one of the smaller ones I've experienced so far in Japan, but for my friend, it seemed to be perfect as a first onsen experience. She had been a bit nervous about sharing a bath with strangers, but since this was a smaller ryokan we were lucky and could use the onsen all by ourselves.

For those visiting an onsen for the first time, here is a couple of rule of thumbs to keep in mind: 
- Always wash yourself before entering the bath
- Many onsen don't allow people with tattoos
- Wearing swimsuit is a no-no in most Japanese onsen. Although the baths are generally separated by gender you'll have to accept sharing bath butt naked with potentially a whole bunch of strangers. If you're not comfortable with that you better aim for a smaller ryokan like this one or pay a little bit extra to stay at a ryokan with private baths in the bedroom/ ryokans with a private rental of onsen rooms available.

What to do

One of the best things about staying at this ryokan was the proximity to the Zenkoji Temple. As mentioned the location of the ryokan used to be where the Main Hall of the temple was located before it burned down to the ground 300 years ago, and the street the ryokan is located on is bustling with small stores catering to the many visitors to the temple.
I'll be back with details from out Zenkoji Temple visit in my next post. In the meantime, here is a cute dog for sale in one of the stores by the ryokan. As you might now this year marks the year of the dog according to the Chinese zodiac, and here in Japan you can also find lucky items with dogs in many of the stores selling souvenirs etc.

What do you think of this hotel? Please let me know in the comment session below.

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- Anette

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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

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About Me

Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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