If heaven and a forest had a baby: my 3-day ryokan onsen experience in Ito, Japan
There are thousands of ryokans and onsens in Japan. Choosing one wasn't easy. After days of research, I'm very happy with the one I picked.
It's called Hanafubuki (English site here). It wasn't the cheapest, but definitely not the most expensive. Some ryokans are around $150, while others are $800+. After 2 years of traveling, I've learned to find the sweet spot between price and value.
Room and board (breakfast and dinner) at Hanafubuki runs about ~$300 a night. You can pay less if you don't want the meals, but the kaiseki is part of the experience. It's also possible to use the onsen, without being a guest.
Since I was staying in Tokyo and the ryokan was in Ito, I had to take a few trains to get there. The trip from door to door took about 2.5 hours. If traveling by train, be sure to pick up a bento box at the station for the trip.
I arrived on Friday and was greeted in the lobby with tea made from local ingredients.
After explaining how onsens work and choosing a dinner time, I was escorted to my room. For the duration of my stay, I was given a yukata (kimono) to wear.
The room I chose to stay in was simple. I found it interesting that it had a TV, but that seems to be the norm in most ryokans these days.
One of the things I loved about the design of the room is how well designed the architecture and woodwork is. Simple, elegant, and efficient. I wish I got as many pictures of the design as I did of the food.
Which brings me to food. Below are the various dishes I had. I choose different food for breakfast and dinner, so I could have a different tasting experience with each meal.
Day 1: Dinner
Each course in a Kaisek is brought individually. Because it's a slow and steady eating experience, you're full — but not stuffed – by the time it's done. The ingredients in the dinner were all, of course, sourced locally.
Day 2: Breakfast
I chose to eat in the traditional style of setting. This meant sitting crosslegged on the floor. Which was awkward at first, considering I didn't have anything on beneath my yakata. I accidentally exposed myself while sitting down.
Thankfully no one noticed.
Day 2: Dinner
I didn't get as many pictures of the second night's dinner. I think by this point I was more into enjoying the food than snapping photos.
I now want to transition to my onsen experience. An onsen is basically a bath with natural hot spring water. The temperature is in the upper 30s to mid 40s (Celsius). That's about 94-105 Fahrenheit. It's hot, yes, but after your first bath you get used to it.
The onsen begins with a wash using regular water. You want to clean up before entering the hot springs. After the hot springs, there's no need to wash off because you want to keep the minerals on your skin.
Hanafubuki has 7 onsens that are open 24/7. They're all private. This is good news if you have tattoos (I don't), since Japan is strict when it comes to displaying tattoos in public.
On my last day, I took a short hike to the cliffside. It was a relaxing way to end my trip.
While I'm tempted to try another ryokan onsen in Japan, I'm 98% sure I'll go back to Hanafubuki.
I loved it so much.