The Ultimate Japanese Onsen

Bathing in Japan isn't just a means to get clean but a complex ritual to be savored. To experience all its splendor you must stay at a traditional onsen ryokan. These traditional inns are centered around natural hot springs and are like a spa retreat but with the exceptional hospitality of a ryokan. Everyone told us our Japanese honeymoon wouldn't be complete without a stay at an onsen and those in the know all recommended Beniya Mukayu. Set in the mountains above Yamashiro village, this Relais & Chateaux property is one of the original ryokans in the area and renowned for its traditional practices with a modern twist.

We arrived to Beniya Mukayu at the junction of fall and winter so we got to see two spectacular sides of Yakushiyama, the Healing Buddha Mountain. The autumn leaves had a fresh dusting of fluffy snowflakes, turning the ryokan's garden of red maples, mountain cherries, and Karin pear trees into a winter wonderland.

The okami (lady innkeeper) and co-owner Sachiko-san gave us a personal tour of the ryokan which helped us appreciate the Zen space that much more. Originally built in 1928 and reconstructed by famed architect Kiyoshi Sey Takeyama, the inn was designed with serenity and minimalism in mind, featuring clay floors, natural colors and a balance of shade and light. With such a thoughtful design and a gorgeous setting, even a lone chair by a window feels like a thoughtfully decorated space.

What makes Beniya Mukayu so special is how personal it is. This has been a family-owned inn for three generations and current family owner, Nakamichi-san takes pride in upholding the traditions his grandfather set in place nearly 100 years ago.  To this day, Nakamichi-san personally welcomes guests with a tea ceremony in his grandfather's cottage.

The hotel was originally built with 85 rooms but when it was passed down to Nakamichi-san and his wife Sachiko-san, they decided to scale it down to 17 rooms to give each guest more space and personal attention. This is the view from our living room looking out to our sitting area, to the right of our bedroom, bathroom and outdoor wooden bathing area....if that gives you sense of its generous size.

Though the crowning feature of every Beniya Mukayu suite is its own private hot-spring bath. On a cool evening, there was nothing more romantic than a hot soak on the balcony.

The next morning we woke up early to start our day of mental, spiritual, and physical cleansing with a yoga class. Led by none other than the amazing okami Sachiko-san, we struck our best Warrior I with views out to the snow-dusted forest.

The culinary experience at Beniya Mukayu was off-the charts. This local Kaga kaiseki cuisine embraces the bounty of the nearby Japanese sea infused with fresh ingredients from the mountains. Not only were the flavors incredible, the presentation was a work of art--down to each day's hand-illustrated menus!

After our delectable breakfast we walked into the charming village of Yamashiro.  It's set at the foot of what is called Healing Buddha mountain which is the site of an early Buddhist temple nearly 1,000 years ago. Monks used to bathe in the hot springs as a spiritual cleansing and people have been flocking to these waters ever since. Today, the town is still centered around a historic hot spring and surrounded by charming boutiques and restaurants.

We went back to the hotel for one last soak in the onsen followed by a farewell 2-hour couples massage! Unlike your average spa treatment, Beniya Mukayu uses a medicinal matrix, “Ho, Sha, Ryu, Cho,” where the massage therapist asks you about your current physical and mental condition then selects medicinal plants and herbs for a personalized full-body massage treatment. Here we're getting a glimpse at the herb selection before slipping out of our yukatas (these beautiful kimono-like robes are given to all their guests during their stay) and relaxing into a state of bliss.

Beniya Mukayu brings together the best of Japanese hospitality with its family-run charm, Relais & Chateaux standards, and the unbeatable combination of a onsen ryokan. It's a Japan must!

Much love from Yamashiro,
Anne & Mike

Note: Beniya Mukayu invited us to be their guest; however, all opinions are our own.

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