Staying at an onsen in Japan’s countryside was the last part of our stay. We were the most conflicted around the onsen experience, as to where the best place was to do it and how to avoid the tourist traps. The onsen experience in Japan is idyllic and at its core, an opportunity to completely unwind.
Context: An onsen is a Japanese hot spring (the country is volcanically active) that has been sourced to create soaking pools for guests to use. There are literally thousands throughout Japan. They range from public baths to hotels with rooms with private onsens that are more luxurious and everything in between. In Japan, you’ll find there are main regions where you can visit to experience onsens. As I was doing research, we started to lean towards Hakone and then as we did more digging we came across Kagaonsen. That’s when we were sold.
You can experience an onsen by one of two ways: a public day pass to a public spring (aka tons of people) or stay at a ryokan with a private bath in the hotel and/or room.
Staying at an Onsen in Japan’s Countryside
After sorting out the experience we wanted, we opted for the hotel and private bath experience as we wanted to spend our last two days in Japan relaxing. It couldn’t have been better. We booked two nights at Beniya Mukayu, an incredible onsen ryokan in the mountains of Yakushiyama, sourcing from Yamashiro Onsen.
(Note: This post is not sponsored by the hotel)
Beniya Mukayu was an answer to our prayers and everything we could have asked for. I challenged myself to not unpack my suitcase, and for 48 hours I did exactly that.
The hotel had everything you could need — Japanese robes (called yukatas) and slippers to wear around the hotel and luxurious beauty products in the room. We spent two nights at the hotel and hardly left our room except for meals and a soba making class. Part of staying at a ryokan is that it often includes breakfast and dinner with the rate, and the meals at Beniya Mukayu were magical.
Between meals, we cozied up on our private terrace, rotating between soaks in the ensuite onsen and reading in the room. With a tea set and snacks, it was easy to stay in all day. It was a time to rest, be still, and take in the surroundings. There was a “public bath” on the grounds, but with the in-room onsen we stuck to ours. The iconic architect Kiyoshi Sey Takeyama designed Beniya Mukayu with minimalism, so that the mind too could be empty for a moment of time. Mukayu translates to “non-existence” or “in the natural state” and through natural materials and space to just be, the ryokan is exactly that. It’s a space to be with your thoughts, to be in peace, and to just be.
On our final day we headed out to do a soba class with a local master who had been making soba his whole life. The hours spent getting to make our own soba and see an art that has been perfected over decades was a highlight of our time in Japan. It’s something I love about Japan — their ability to devote their whole life to an art or trade. Afterwards, we enjoyed the soba we made and returned to the ryokan with full bellies.
After the two nights, we were ready to head back to Tokyo for our flight home. A sincere thank you to the team of Beniya Mukayu for your gracious hospitality and an opportunity to just be. It was much needed.