After boarding the bullet train at Tokyo station and switching to a local train line in Nagoya, the hustle and bustle of the city is left behind as the countryside whips by out the window. Cherry blossoms burst like fireworks across the hills as we wind our way up through a forest-clad valley towards Gero, a small village famous for its natural hot springs, or onsen.
Our home for the next few days is a grand old ryokan, where we’re greeted by a series of affable attendants. With shoes off, slippers on and a yukata to wear for the duration of our stay, we shuffle through a maze of corridors. Nooks and crannies along the way hold simple ikebana arrangements and historical curios. There is an air of nostalgia here that wouldn’t be out of place in a Wes Anderson film.
There is luxury in the simplicity of our room. Here you can sit, without the distractions of the things that consume us in our day-to-day lives. Sit and look out the window onto a small garden of your own, where your only concern is whether or not to have another dip in the private stone bathtub before dinner.
And what a dinner it is. The multiple courses of the traditional kaiseki meal will leave you in awe of the chef, and not envying the dishwasher. Delicately prepared morsels are delivered to your room, neatly packaged and arranged, or in some cases presented raw to prepare yourself on a miniature table top grill. With local sake and craft beers to was it all down, it’s a veritable feast to say the least.
The evening is concluded with a visit from what can only be described as a couple of tatami mat ninjas, who swiftly prepare our futons for the night in a perfectly choreographed routine. I haven’t been this relaxed in… well, I can’t even remember when really.
While it’s a novelty getting acquainted with the etiquette one needs to follow here, you soon appreciate the considered approach to the rituals of everyday life and the contemplative quiet of rural Japan.