Try Onsen at a Traditional Guesthouse
Onsen come in all shapes and sizes. Some are ancient, run-down and a little bit wild while others are modern, stylish and indulgent. Many are open to the public as daytime spas open to the public however just as many are inside or attached to hotels and guesthouses and for the exclusive use of overnight guests. Known as ‘ryokan’ or ‘minshuku’ in Japanese, staying at an onsen hotel is a fantastic option for guests wanting a truly immersive experience.
Ryokan can be found throughout Japan and there is certainly not shortage in Nagano. All of the recommended onsen towns in the region have built their reputations on the unique properties of their water and number of accommodation options they offer. Hotels typically reserve use of their onsen exclusively for their guests and often offer private onsen, known as ‘kashikiri-buro’, which can be arranged at time of check-in (possibly at a small additional fee).
Check-in at a ryokan
Upon check-in you will be greeted by the host and usually accompanied to a nearby lounge or seating area. You are likely to be presented with a cup of tea, small snack and a warm towel to welcome you.
Your host will then explain what you need to know about the guesthouse and likely request your chosen dinner time and breakfast time for the following day. They will also ask about any dietary needs or other requirements. If you are interested in enjoying a private onsen (assuming your hotel has one), this is the right time to arrange it.
Following check-in, you will then usually be accompanied to your room where the basics of what you need to know will be explained. From that time on the afternoon and evening are yours to enjoy and there’s no better way to start, than by heading to the hot spring!
Using the onsen
Your room is likely to include a ‘yukata’, light kimono to wear to and from the onsen and while moving around the hotel. There is no obligation to wear it but it is enjoyable and relaxing to do so. Changing into your yukata, it’s time to head to the onsen!
For tips on what to do (and what not to do), please refer our onsen etiquette page. Needless to say, experiencing an onsen in this manner is the most enjoyable way to do so. A feeling of total relaxation washes over you and the cares and concerns of daily life disappear. This is the underlying idea of staying at a ryokan – a refuge from the outside world.
Dining at a ryokan
Most ryokan will offer a traditional ‘kaisekei’ multi-course menu for dinner. While many international visitors to Japan have heard the term ‘kaiseki’, the exact meaning is often less well understood. That is for good reason. Kaiseki refers to a multi-course meal service which uses seasonal and often local ingredients to create a unique menu, as designed by the head chef.
For that reason, not only is there fantastic variation between kaiseki menus between guesthouses, kaiseki dining will varying greatly at the same hotel between seasons. Each chef strives to serve their guests with the best possible ingredients and intricate dishes that profile their region and its unique cuisines and flavors, in each season.
The combination of these three elements – onsen, traditional Japanese comfort and service, and kaiseki – make a stay at one of Central Japan’s many excellent ryokan the best way to enjoy an onsen. A truly relaxing and authentic Japanese experience.
Want to arrange a private tour or charter including overnight stay at one of the region’s best onsen hotels? Feel free to contact us at email@example.com and let’s get planning together!