Saturday, July 6, 2019

A Century-Old Ryokan

We made a slight detour to stay in Gero (下呂) in the middle of our road trip to Central Japan, as the town is considered to have one of the best onsens in the country. Given we have been to the other two previously (Arita and Kusatsu), just thought we will hit this one to check off the list.

The town was about an hour away from Takayama where we stayed the previous day, and north of Nagoya in the mountainous region next to the Hida River. The place we stayed in is called Yunoshimakan (湯之島館) which was first built in the Showa Period before the war, up in the hills slightly away from the main streets. While the place has obviously went through renovations, plus a new annex building was built right behind, it clearly showed its age (and also characters) with the original building now a designated heritage site. I particularly like the classic wooden facade and the dark corridor with wooden floor and antique artifacts displayed everywhere, including the photos of previous royal visits during its 100-year-old history. Inside the complex there's a good mix of Japanese and western style architecture and design too, making this even more interesting to explore.

Our room in the original building was old but spacious and clean with separate bedroom and living area and a "sun room" overlooking the woods on the hillside. There were separate indoor and outdoor baths available - it's decent sized and never felt too crowded despite the ryokan was pretty occupied on the day of our visit. Four private baths were also available on first-come-first-served basis - they looked like they have been there since forever and the facilities are basic (reminding me of the public onsen in Dogo Onsen) but fine if you wanted some personal time soaking in the hot spring.

With its long history and all the renovations and building on top of its original structure since then meant the place could be hard to navigate - it's like a maze in there and we got lost a few times trying to get back to our room or reach some of their facilities, and every corner seems to have something interesting to look at. And on top of the original building there's an observation deck overlooking the entire town built on the sides of the river bank, and with rain drizzling day and night, that's the only way we got to see the place. Right next to the deck was a foot hot-spring bath so one could use while enjoying the scenery.

Dinner was served in our room while breakfast the next day was at the communal dining hall in the new building. Typical of what you would expect from an onsen ryokan making use of many local ingredients, so in this case it's 3 different cuts of hida beef and abalone as our dinner main courses, and grilled salmon with hoba miso as our breakfast. Overall, a decent place to stay for a night while exploring this legendary onsen town.


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