Toyooka Area: Kinosaki Ryokan and Farmhouse Inns

Japan is famous for its ryokan, traditional-style inns where guests stay in richly decorated rooms and eat multicourse meals. The town of Kinosaki in Toyooka area has some of the best ryokan in the country, known particularly for delicious fresh crab and multiple hot springs within walking distance around the scenic town.SONY DSCThe ryokan I’ll talk about is named “Sento” (http://kinosaki-sento.com/top.php). It’s right across from a natural hot-spring bath (onsen) called “Gosho no yu”. After checking at a ryokan in Kinosaki, the most common thing to do is to change into a yukata and drink some green tea with a snack. After that, travelers put on sandal-like geta, and clip-clop around town going from onsen to onsen, using the barcode-pass that the ryokan provides. Each onsen features a sleek scanner that lets you check in easily, while otherwise maintaining a simplistic old style. The seven onsen around town all have unique characteristics. Ichi no yu, for example, has a large cavern bath; or Gosho no yu has a bath at the base of a beautifully forested hill with vivid autumn foliage. Cafes, bars, game-centers, souvenir shops, and ice-cream stands are also all over town and constructed in traditional ways.SONY DSCSONY DSCP1040520After taking a dip in the onsens along Kinosaki’s willow-lined streets, I recommend eating a multicourse dinner at a ryokan. The crab dinner I had at Sento was nothing other than fantastic. It featured ways of eating crab that are hard to find in Western countries: raw sashimi crab dipped in soy sauce, shabu-shabu crab boiled lightly, and zosui crab mixed with rice in a hot-pot. The ryokan staff bring all foods and dishes and such to your room (then instruct how to eat everything if necessary) and get everything ready. Half the reason for staying in a ryokan is the food, and it didn’t disappoint.P1040522SONY DSCSONY DSCBreakfast too was provided, though in a dining hall downstairs. Tofu, fish, rice, salad, green tea, fruit, sashimi, pickled vegetables and more were available. It certainly was meant to be a simpler meal, though breakfast was very filling. Eating at a ryokan is a window into Japanese home-cooking where, different from many Western traditions, a variety of small, individual dishes are served all at once in their own bowl, plate, or dish. Ryokans of course serve nicer food than average meals, but they’re still an efficient way to try a variety of Japanese cooking at the same time.SONY DSC SONY DSCP1040548SONY DSCTo experience more common traditional Japanese meals, I recommend staying at a privately run inn like Farmhouse “Zen” (Noka Minshuku Zen) (Phone: 0796-56-1801; 1 Night, 2 Meals 8,800 Yen; Website: http://www17.ocn.ne.jp/~noukazen/). The facility consists of a farmhouse renovated with new tatami mats and such, yet still featuring traditional decorations and limited wood-stove heating. An elderly farmer runs the place half as a hobby, half as a job, showing lodgers old farming and cooking techniques. The farmhouse inn is run on the premise that lodgers help with some kind of work, but it seems like a great way to experience traditional rural Japanese life in various aspects. Based on the owner’s talk, he likes to have fun with all people who lodge at his inn, showing them traditions and also eating and drinking with them, even having put on a concert for the neighborhood in the past.P1040619 SONY DSC SONY DSC P1040622 P1040621

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