Immersion Experience at Relais & Châteaux Asaba, One of Japan’s Most Prestigious Ryokan

During my three “sedentary” months in Tokyo, I couldn’t resist the call of nature! So I packed my bags and ventured two hours outside of the Japanese capital. There, I spent a night in a small piece of paradise called Asaba, a “Relais & Châteaux” establishment that has been welcoming guests for more than 520 years. Come with me to explore some of the best in Japanese luxury hospitality!  

A Trip to Shuzenji, a Small Tourist Spa Station

The charming village of Shuzenji is located inland on the Izu peninsula, famous for its beautiful beaches only two hours outside of Tokyo. It’s a popular destination for Japanese tourists looking for some fun, but in early January there aren’t many visitors…  That didn’t prevent us from walking through the village with its lovely temple, bamboo garden, and natural hot springs.  

Shuzenji is a lovely little spa town, ideal for a short trip!
The river and bamboo garden

Connection with Nature

In the heart of the village stands the Asaba house, created in 1489, where you can find all of the richness of traditional Japanese culture. This house is blanketed in the serenity that is so valuable to the Japanese, framed by a beautiful and all-encompassing natural setting. The sound of running water, birdsong, and omnipresent greenery are all elements that allow you to focus on yourself and reconnect with nature. The best times to visit are of course during cherry blossom season in the spring, and in autumn, when the leaves of the maple trees turn an absolutely sublime orange-red hue. A unique natural spectacle in the world that can be fully appreciated at Relais & Châteaux Asaba, one of Japan’s most prestigious ryokan (i.e. traditional Japanese inn).  

Welcome to Asaba ! (© Asaba)
The best times to visit are of course during cherry blossom season in the spring, and in autumn, when the leaves of the maple trees turn an absolutely sublime orange-red hue (© Asaba)

Unbelievable Luxury 

The minute we arrived at the establishment, we noticed the gorgeous view: through the large picture windows, visitors can enjoy a breathtaking panorama of the pond in its natural environment. A superb wooden platform overlooking the lake is the site of Noh theater performances several times a year. Here the hotel pays tribute to a rich national tradition, which the luckiest guests can admire from the balcony in their rooms, while others can take in performances from the large communal terrace facing the lake and the stage. This terrace is a rare luxury, featuring a unique aesthetic that guests can enjoy at any time of day.

The natural environment at Asaba is captivating!
What a gorgeous view of the pond! (© Asaba)
A superb wooden platform overlooking the lake is the site of Noh theater performances several times a year (© Asaba)

Some contemporary design elements have been integrated into the Asaba house common areas, particularly in the lounge, where you can enjoy a tea or a cocktail while admiring the beautiful setting. As for guests who want more relaxation, a treatment room has also been added to offer spa services.  

The lounge, featuring a contemporary style (© Asaba)

A Traditional Greeting

As soon as we walked in, we understood the prestige of this Relais & Châteaux establishment. I certainly knew that it was one of the most prestigious ryokans in Japan, but I must say that our greeting was amazing, with the entire hotel staff bowing to welcome us. This may have surprised me during my first visits to Japan, but now this protocol seems more natural to me. We were then asked to leave our shoes at the door until we had to leave again. Speaking excellent English, a rarity in Japan (especially outside of Tokyo), a staff member escorted us to one of 17 rooms where wagashi (i.e. traditional Japanese pastry) and Sencha tea were laid out to welcome us.  

This ryokan is truly beautiful
Sencha tea and wagashi to welcome us 

My Room for the Night: Japanese Luxury

As per pure Japanese tradition, Asaba’s rooms offer subtle luxury. After several months in Japan and with about thirty ryokan under my belt, I now recognize the luxurious details that are scattered about the room, such as the high-quality tatami mats. The furniture is minimalist, while the bathroom features a beautiful wooden bathtub. As for the interior design, there’s nothing flashy; only a few elements enhance the minimalism of the room, such as a floral arrangement or calligraphy displayed on the wall. In terms of the view, the beauty of the natural setting never fails to please! 

My subtly luxurious room
And the superb view of the surrounding environment (the trees are of course a bit bare in January…)
The wooden bathtub
As for the interior design, there’s nothing flashy; only a few elements enhance the minimalism of the room, such as a floral arrangement or calligraphy displayed on the wall
The bathroom in the Tenko room blends in with nature (© Asaba)

Typical Japanese Dishes in the Privacy of Our Room

Dinner was served in the privacy of our own room, in accordance with local customs. We enjoyed kaiseki cuisine, featuring a series of small seasonal dishes. Our meal included classic foods like sashimi as well as more exotic flavors. The same rules applied for the breakfast served in our bedroom the following morning, allowing us to dine in a more intimate setting. 

In the evening we were served a kaiseki dinner
The parade of small seasonal Japanese dishes begins! 
Grilled fish
Our meal included classic foods like sashimi as well as more exotic flavors
Some of the dishes are cooked right in front of us! 
Delicious 🙂
Breakfast is served! 
Once you know how much strawberries cost in Japan, you’ll realize just how luxurious this ryokan is!

Hot Springs, the Top Attraction at Asaba

In the afternoon, we discovered the onsen (i.e. Japanese thermal baths) which are without a doubt the most popular draw for a stay at Asaba. We put on our yukata (i.e. light kimono), which we ended up wearing until check-out, and made our way to the baths. Inside, the onsen offers separate sections for women and men as well as two private baths; we opted for the latter so that we could enjoy the experience as a couple. But the real show stopper, hands down, is the exterior bath that melts into its natural setting. There, guests can truly feel the benefits of the environment for a moment of pure bliss. 

The real show stopper, hands down, is the exterior bath that melts into its natural setting
The private bath, where we enjoyed the onsen as a couple (© Asaba)

Our blissful experience continued after dinner. While we were out of our room, the ryokan personnel were busy setting up our futons for the night. I have to say that they were extremely comfortable for this type of bed, another detail that shows off the establishment’s luxury. 

Our futons have been set up for the night

The Verdict

For lovers of Japanese culture as well as those who’d like to dive into a traditional setting during their stay in Japan, the Asaba house is a unique place that both respects customary protocol and offers a high-quality experience. It’s a journey through time that combines natural hot springs, Japanese-style rooms and sleeping quarters, and delicious meals served in the privacy of your room. Such luxury places this Relais & Châteaux hotel among the very best in the country! 

I loved:

  • The incredible beauty of the setting: the waterfall, the lake, the stage…
  • Japanese-style luxury: high-quality tatami mats, spacious rooms, very comfortable futons…
  • The onsen alone is worth the trip, especially the exterior bath! 

I disliked: 

  • The dining was high-quality but didn’t offer anything new. 

Practical Information

  • More information available on their website
  • Room with full board starting at 1000 € a night in early January 2019

Thank you to Asaba for the invitation to explore their establishmentOf course, the content of this blogpost was left entirely up to me!

Do you know Asaba? Feel free to send me your comments or questions by posting them on social media.

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