August 2017 - Vikingess Voyages

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sightseeing in Shikoku: Kazura Basket Weaving and Soba Making at Experience Atelier Tsuzuki

10:37:00 PM

If you have the chance to travel around Tokushima and are looking for some unique cultural experience to try out along the way then a stop at a vine weaving experience might be a fun option for you. The vine tree is known in Japanese as "kazura", and is particularly known in Tokushima as an important material used for everything from weaving baskets to making great extension bridges.
During my recent trip to Tokushima and Iya valley we stopped by Experience Atelier Tsuzuki (the full Japanese name is 祖谷めんめ塾 古式そば かずら工芸 体験 都築) where we had the chance both to weave our own basket using local weaving techniques as well as making our own soba noodles.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Sightseeing in Shikoku: The Kazurabashi Suspension Bridge of Iya

8:00:00 AM

Tokushima Prefecture in Shikoku is an area blessed by lush green nature and picturesque valleys. While the prefecture is struggling with a declining population resulting in abandoned villages and schools closing down there are still areas in the prefecture that are benefiting from the quiet natural surroundings that have lead to an increase in visiting tourists from near and far, and one of the popular places to visit is the Kazurabashi extension bridge in Iya, which is one of only three remaining suspension bridges in the area.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Shikoku: More dolls than people!? The Scarecrow Village of Nagoro

9:42:00 PM
Tokushima Prefecture is situated on the Shikoku island, and as many rural areas in Japan the small prefecture is struggling with a decreasing number of people who can sustain the local community. I recently had the pleasure to travel around Tokushima (you can also check out my post about my visit to the Iya Valley or an abandoned school made cafe) and in this post I'll introduce the village of Nagoro, a place where the vast majority of the inhabitants are dolls.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sightseeing in Shikoku: The Abandoned School Cafe Haretoke (ハレとケ珈琲)

8:00:00 AM

As many other rural areas of Japan the Tokushima Prefecture is struggling with the side effects of an aging society. Surrounded by nature the number of people is steadily decreasing, leading to abandoned villages (or villages with more scarecrows than people) and empty buildings. During my recent trip to Tokushima we stopped by a school that closed down some years ago and that has been turned into a posh cafe drawing tourists from near and far.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Traditional Lodging in Japan: Top 10 Japanese Ryokan Hotels chosen by Experts Part 2

7:34:00 PM
This is part two of my post about Japan's top ryokan hotels, based on the annual award  “Top 100 Hotels & Ryokans Voted by Industry Professionals” (プロが選ぶ日本のホテル・旅館100選) for 2017 presented by the Ryoko Shinbun (you can find top 1-5 here). The list includes the best of the best when it comes to Japanese omotenashi service, cuisine and overall hotel atmosphere, and provides some excellent alternative for those out there who want to experience a truly outstanding Japanese ryokan. Please keep in mind that, as mentioned in the previous post, some of these ryokan hotels are mainly catered towards domestic guests, so some of them might not be accustomed to welcoming foreigners who don't speak Japanese. If you don't speak Japanese you might want to choose one of the hotels where they have English-speaking staff available. 

Without further redo, here's top 6-10:

Yamagata Prefecture is famous among tourists for among other things the hot spring area Ginzan onsen, the Mount Zaō ski resort and the annual August festival hanagasa matsuri (花笠祭り) held in Yamagata city.

Number 6 on the list of Japan's best ryokan hotels you find Yamagata's Hotel Koyo, a ryokan situated about 10 minutes by train and bus from Yamagata station. The easiest way to get there is to take the train to Kaminoyama Onsen Station, and from there you can take a shuttle bus to the hotel.
Hotel Koyo is known for its delicious Japanese food, outdoor rotenburo hot spring with marvelous view of Mt. Zao, Japanese style rooms with private onsen baths. However, the hotel doesn't have an English page and doesn't seem to sell their rooms actively towards foreign guests so it is uncertain how used they are to foreign guests.

Recommended for foreigners: Uncertain

Address:  5-20 Hayama, Kaminoyama, Yamagata Prefecture 999-3242

With its location in the center of Japan Gifu has long been an important crossroad between the east and west of the country. Gifu is a landlocked prefecture most famous for the UNESCO World Heritage Site mountain village Shirakawa, and other popular destinations include the city Takayama (known as "little Kyoto") and Gero Onsen hot spring area also known as Bijin-no-yu, or “baths of beauty.” .
Gero Onsen Suimeikan is situated in this popular hot spring area, and at the ryokan hotel you can find 3 great onsen baths. The main onsen bath on the 9th floor is open 24/7 and offers a stunning view of the outside nature. Guests can choose between Western and Japanese room types after their own preference.

Staying guests can enjoy cuisine made by vegetables grown locally and handpicked by the hotels' chefs. The ryokan hotel also has a variety of restaurants and bars that can accomodate those who want alternatives to the Japanese meal. The ryokan hotel's helpful English speaking staff will also do their best to make sure that you'll have a memorable and relaxing stay.

Recommended for foreigners: Yes!

Address: 509-2206 Gifu Prefecture, Gero, Koden, 1268

Kagoshima Prefecture has played an important role as an international trading port with connection to the West going back to the 16th and 17th century. The city of Kagoshima has become known as the "Naples of the Eastern world" for among its beautiful bay location and the proximity to the characteristic Sakurajima volcano. 
Ryokan Ibusuki Syusuien is the first of two ryokan hotels in Kagoshima to make it on the comprehensive Top 10 ryokan list. The ryokan is a green getaway with its elegant Japanese garden, but it also provides great access to the sea with only five minutes walk to the beach. One of the things visitors praise the most is the ryokan's luxurious dining with high quality breakfast and dinner served in private rooms. In fact, while the ryokan is ranked number 8 on the comprehensive Top 10 list it makes it all the way to the top of the Cuisine category. You can also get some fun cultural experiences at the ryokan; they let you rent accessories that go with your yukata robe, such as the characteristic Japanese umbrella, a weaved basked for your belongings and outdoor sandals so that you can stroll outside in the traditional outfit as well. The ryokan offers pickup service from the station, but the walk along the shoreline from the ryokan to the station is apparently also a great experience.

Recommended for foreigners: Yes!

Address: 5 Chome-27-27 Yunohama, Ibusuki, Kagoshima Prefecture 891-0406

Yamanashi Prefecture is a popular destination for those who want to see/climb Mt. Fuji. There are also many activities visitors can take part in, such as a visit to a safari park, hiking in the nearby mountains or paragliding with Mt. Fuji in the background.
Hotel Kaneyamaen is one of the best ryokans you can choose if you want to enjoy a majestic view of Mt. Fuji right from the window of your own room. The ryokan has traditional Japanese style tatami-mat rooms with private baths, so for those who can afford the luxury this would definitely guarantee a lasting memory from Japan. The ryokan is also renown for its delicious kaiseki meals with around 10 different small dishes served one by one and which could provide a total new tasting experience for those unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine. This is a ryokan that can be enjoyed to the fullest in all four seasons with a large and elegant Japanese garden. Every evening visitors can experience a real Japanese taiko drum show, and the ryokan hotel even has its own little festivals held throughout the year!

Recommended for foreigners: Yes!

Address: 6283 Kamiyoshida, Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture

Kagoshima Prefecture is the only prefecture that has more than one ryokan hotel that made it to the Top 10 list. For those of you visiting the southern part of Japan (Kyushu) you might want to try out a night at each of them and find your favorite!
Ibusuki Hakusuikan Ryokan is situated by the coast, and offers high floor Japanese style rooms with sea-view for those who appreciate a spectacular view of the surrounding nature. This is a ryokan perfect also for those who are traveling with kids, as the children can enjoy the pool and the adults can relax in the hot spring onsen. The ryokan also offers a sand spa for those who want an alternative to the regular onsen. At the ryokan you can enjoy delicious cusine such as shabu-shabu hotpot and fresh sashimi. At the ryokan they are used to attending to foreign guests, and have English, Chinese and Korean speaking staff ready to assist you during your stay.

Recommended for foreigners: Yes!

Address: 12126-12 Higashikata, Ibusuki, Kagoshima Prefecture 891-0404

That's all the top 10 hotels chosen by The Ryoko Shinbun! In addition to the all-over ranking the award is also given out for subcategories such as best cuisine, best service and best design, so those who are interested in staying at the best of the best can choose from their preferred category. You can find the complete lists here (Japanese only).

Do you have a favorite ryokan hotel? Please leave a comment in the comment section below and let me know your recommendation!

Thanks for reading~

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Traditional Lodging in Japan: Top 10 Japanese Ryokan Hotels chosen by Experts

11:22:00 PM
Many foreigners dream about staying at a traditional Japanese ryokan hotel during their visit to Japan, but with all the great options out there it can be really hard to know which one to choose. While it is hard to find a ryokan hotel that doesn't offer impressive service to their customers there are still some ryokans that manage to stand out among the crowd.

Perhaps you're even familiar with one of the latest Japanese buzzwords "omotenashi", a word that implies a high level of hospitality. In Japan, the customer is definitely the king. With the tremendous expectations held by Japanese customers it is hard to go wrong when visiting a ryokan that has gained popularity among picky Japanese guests.

Looking for a fully furnished Tokyo apartment for long-term rental? Check out this post

Below is a collection of Japan's top ryokan hotels selected by The Ryoko Shinbun (旅行新聞) as a part of their award “Top 100 Hotels & Ryokans Voted by Industry Professionals” (プロが選ぶ日本のホテル・旅館100選) for 2017. Of course this list is based on the preferences of Japanese customers, so some of the ryokans might thus not be accustomed to foreign guests. I've gone through the available information about the top 10 ryokan hotels in the list and tried to give a detailed summary about their stance towards foreign travelers as well.

Hope you enjoy reading the list and that it can be of inspiration for your next trip in Japan!

【Japanese Ryokan Hotels Top 10】

① Fukushima: Bobata Onsen Yahataya 八幡屋(福島県 母畑温泉)

The winner of this award is a ryokan hotel located in Fukushima called Bobata Onsen Yahataya. The ryokan has a history going back to the Meiji period (1880), and has previously been ranked among top 5 hotels in the TripAdvisor ranking "20 Japanese Inns with more than 100 years of history" (available in Japanese only). It is one of only 5 accommodations in Ishikawa-machi.

This seems to be an extremely popular ryokan where it can be hard to find available rooms, so if you want to stay at the property it would definitely be advisable to make the reservation a long time in advance. They don't have an English website and their rooms are not for sale on any of the major online reservation sites either, so it is uncertain whether or not they are accustomed to foreign guests who don't speak Japanese.

Recommended for foreigners: Uncertain

Address:  75-1 Hida Bobata, Ishikawa-gun, Ishikawa-machi 963-7831, Fukushima Prefecture 

Niigata Prefecture is among other things known for its many hot springs (such as this unique winery hot spring), beautiful nature, elegant festivals and high-quality Japanese sake. If you want to get the most out of Niigata then number 2 on the list, Shiratamano Yu Kahou, would certainly be an excellent choice for accommodation.
Shiratamano Yu Kahou is located in the Tsukioka Onsen hot spring resort area, situated about 40 minutes by car from the city of Niigata. This area is known for its tranquil atmosphere, and it is not uncommon to see geisha girls strolling by in their gorgeous kimonos around sunset. This is where you find Shiratamano Yu Kahou, a ryokan hotel with a history going back to 1967. Back then the ryokan started out with only 8 guest rooms, but has gradually expanded, and it currently encompasses 108 rooms.
In addition to its marvellous Japanese garden, relaxing onsen and delicious cuisine the ryokan hotel is particularly focused on customer service, and in order to make sure that also foreign customers get well treatment they are conducting monthly training session for the employees in foreign languages. The ryokan hotel also made it to the top of the facility category.

Recommended for foreigners: Yes!

Address:  134 Tsukioka Onsen, Shibata-city, Shibata, Niigata, Japan, 959-2395

③ Ishikawa: Kagaya Hotel - 加賀屋(石川県 和倉温泉)

Ishikawa Prefecture is most known among foreign visitors for its capital city of Kanazawa where visitors can visit a former samurai residence, the local Noh museum where visitors can try out a Noh costume, or simply enjoy a stroll along the old town while wearing a yukata robe. If you however are up for an adventure out of the beaten track you might want to include a stay at the local favorite Kagaya Hotel in your travel plans.
Kagaya Hotel was ranked number 1 overall in this list of Japan's best ryokan & hotels for 36 consecutive years. The ryokan is located in the hot spring resort area Wakura Onsen (和倉温泉)  on Ishikawa Prefecture's Noto Peninsula, where it was established in 1906. Wakura Onsen is one of Japan's high-end onsen areas, with a history going back around 1,200 years. You can enjoy the view of the ocean from one of the many hot spring baths at Kagaya Hotel, and the hot spring water is believed to hold various positive benefits for the skin helping against among others rheumatism, neuralgia and atopy. If you're looking for some additional unique culture experience the hotel also hosts daily performances by their in house opera company (shows come at an additional 3,500 yen). The service at the ryokan hotel is impeccable, and earned the hotel top ranking in the Omotenashi (service) category of this year's award.

Recommended for foreigners: Yes!

Address:  926-0192 Ishikawa, Nanao, Wakuracho Yobu 80, Japan

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④ Shizuoka (Izu): Hotel Inatori Ginsuiso - 稲取銀水荘(静岡県 稲取温泉)
The Izu Peninsula has long been one of Tokyo citizens's first choices for weekend getaways, and on the peninsula you can find among others a beautiful coastline with an inactive volcano known for its magnificent view of the Izu Peninsula, what has been described as Kanto's best snorkeling spot, beautiful sakura spots with annual cherry blossom festivals, a heart shaped sea cave, a restaurants with an over 400 year long history just to mention a few.
With its high popularity among domestic travelers it is no surprise that you can find a high range of top-quality Japanese ryokan hotels. Among them is number 4 on The Ryoko Shinbun's Top 10 ryokan/hotel list: Hotel Inatori Ginsuiso.
Hotel Inatori Ginsuiso is situated on the eastern side of the Izu Peninsular, close to Kawazu where the mentioned cherry blossom festival is held. The Inatori hot spring area has a history that goes back to 1956 when the onsen first was discovered (湧出), and the modernization of the area started to accelerate after the Izukyu Corporation expanded the train connections in the area in 1961.
Hotel Inatori Ginsuiso is a dignified traditional Japanese inn that despite the rapid modernization has managed to preserve the traditional atmosphere. The ryokan hotel is especially known for its delicious Japanese cuisine, and was awarded 3rd place in the Meal Division of the top 100 ryokan/hotels.
The ryokan hotel is also renowned for their open-air baths with stunning views of both the surrounding sea and mountains.

Recommended for foreigners: Yes!

Address:  413-0411 Shizuoka Prefecture, Kamo District, Inatori, 1624−1

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⑤ Gunma: Hotel Sakurai 草津白根観光ホテル櫻井(群馬県 草津温泉)
Hotel Sakurai is situated in the famous Kusatsu Onsen hot spring resort area. Kusatsu Onsen is often ranked as one of the most popular hot spring resort in Japan, and here you can among other things enjoy the Sainokawara Park & Open-Air Rotenburo Bath and public bathhouses that visitors can use free of charge.
Hotel Sakurai is recognized as a 5-star inn, and has also been ranked number 5 in the ranking of Japan's best inns. In additional to their regular elegant and charming Japanese style rooms they also have elegant rooms that come with private hot spring baths if you prefer to bathe in the privacy of your room.

The ryokan hotel also has a stage where staying guests can enjoy seeing both drum performances and a yumomi show (Kusatsu visitors can also participate in a yumomi experience in the center of Kusatsu).

Recommended for foreigners: Yes!

Address:  377-1711 Gunma Prefecture, Agatsuma District, Kusatsu, 465−4

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Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave me a comment or question below!

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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