Asaba has great charm and character and is simply one of Japan’s finest Ryokans. With an ancient history, it has been in the hands of the same family for over five centuries and meticulously maintained in its original design. A stay here is guaranteed to be memorable as the atmospheric property whisks guests back to traditional Edo-period times, to the point that one almost feels submerged in Japanese legend.
Set in picturesque surroundings, Asaba is most famous for its exquisite landscaped gardens, as well as the still active 150-year-old Noh theatre, surrounded by flowing water and greenery. Notes of music are played out on the riverside, and performers are adorned in traditional costumes and intriguing masks, complete with a choir and orchestra. Inside, palliative wide corridors of white walls and blond woods lead through the Ryokan in keeping with its rich cultural history. Each room is in true authentic style, right from the woven tatami floor mats all the way to the washi paper screens. Despite these traditional features, modern comforts are far from missing. The stylish furniture scattered around the Ryokan, crafted by the Swedish designer Bruno Mathsson, demonstrates the nuanced blend of East-meets-West apparent throughout Asaba.
The immaculate service provided at this ryokan is hard to beat. Not only is one treated to the typical high-end hotel hospitality of a Relais Chateux property, but the added extra of ‘omotenashi’, the attentive yet discreet customer care that Japan is renowned for, goes above and beyond expectations. Each guest has their own kimono-clad personal attendant, who gracefully serves their ‘kaiseki’ dinner in private rooms. Each platter is perfectly prepared with the aim to harmonise colour and flavor, adapting to each season and local delicacies. The delicate aesthetic of the traditional ‘kaiseki’ ironically appears more like nouvelle cuisine to the western eye here. Heston Blumenthal would come away inspired by the Asaba’s signature dish – Amagi game fowl and sea kelp hotpot – and the exquisitely delicate arrangement of side-dishes such as sashimi (raw fish), local mountain vegetables and the prized matsutake mushrooms which most perfectly capture ‘the fifth taste’ umami (neither savoury, sweet, salty or bitter).
If you tire from the serene Zen-like Ryokan culture, there is a nearby golf course and plenty of walking or cycling trails to keep one active during a stay at this remote paradise.
Enjoy the pleasures of an outdoor hot spring bath, open to the elements, surrounded by bamboo thickets and swathes of hot steam swirling around the pool here. It’s even possible to bathe in a complimentary private onsen at Asaba – practically unheard of at traditional Ryokans. This a unique bonus that is no doubt attractive to shy Westerners! It is said that the great teacher of Japanese Buddhism, Kono Daishi, bathed in these onsen pools every day, and emerged totally purified. We highly recommend following in his footsteps, as well as those of writer and explorer Stanley Stewart and experiencing this exceptional ryokan first-hand.
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Features in the following itineraries
To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.
- Krista Weir, Sri Lanka
- Matthew Annable, Rajasthan, India
- Leslie Siben, India
- Mr Geoffrey Johnson, India
- Anonymous, India
- Jaime Benitez, South India
- Mr Richard Stoughton, Sri Lanka
- Matthew Nicklin, North India
- Mr David Wallace, North India
- Mr & Mrs Manson, North India