Shousuke no Yado Takinoyu, Aizu-Wakamatsu
EM has checked into ... Shousuke no Yado Takinoyu, Aizu-Wakamatsu
Tohoku region is such an off the beaten destination that I would highly recommend for anyone who is after the true local experience. Don't get me wrong, cities like Kyoto, Tokyo and Sapporo are still a must but if you have been to these places and searching for more, Tohoku region is the answer. Language barrier and transportation were a challenge but it made our experience truly unique and memorable, people there are extremely friendly and willing to help so you will be fine.
We have decided to explore Tohoku region last April for the cherry blossom season and it was the best decision ever. One of the places which we were intrigued was Aizu-Wakamatsu. It is a castle town which is known for sake and samurai tradition. And it is a must to stay at Higashiyama Onsen which consists of a few hot spring ryokans along a river stream.
The best way is to depart from Tokyo and take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen line to Koriyama Station. From Koriyama Station, you will have to transfer to the regular train on the JR Banetsu-sai line and it will take you to Aizu-Wakamatsu Station. This route will take approximately 3 hours and fully covered by the JR Pass.
If you are coming from the Northern Tohoku region (just like we did as we were departing from Aomori), you can take JR Shinkansen line to Koriyama Station as well. Aomori to Koriyama took around 5 hours.
Once you are at Aizu-Wakamatsu Station, you can take the Aizu Loop Bus to Shousuke no Yado Takinoyu, just 1 or 2 stops before or after Higashiyama Onsen (couldn't remember but there is a tourist information centre at Aizu-Wakamatsu Station which you can get the full details). The bus journey was around 20 mins or so and something to take note that it is quite a small bus. We didn't know of this before getting here and we had two large luggages, which turned out fine as people were accommodating but we felt a bit embarrassed as our luggages were taking up the seats.
More information can be found at Japan-Guide here: https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e7701.html
We have decided to stay at Shousuke no Yado Takinoyu as the pictures look promising and the reviews are very positive. Furthermore, it certainly looks luxurious but the price tag was reasonable inclusive of breakfast and dinner. We also were very convinced by the number of hot spring selections that they have (which I will rave more about below).
Once we have checked in at the reception desk, we were brought to the lounge area with floor to ceiling windows of the mountain and river views to enjoy some arrival amenities at our own leisure.
A hot cup of matcha/green tea was hand-whisked by the staff upon our arrival which was a very pleasant experience. We were certainly impressed! The surprise didn't just stop there, They gave us two small plates which we were curious about what were they for and they have explained that we can taste a few of the local Aizu sake, which the bottles were displayed behind us. And we can have as much as we want too! Score! But take note that this is only applicable during your arrival time so you can't get 'free flow' sake at any other times.
The standard yukata is already placed in each room as expected in any ryokan in Japan. However here at Shousuke no Yado Takinoyu, females can select and rent a different yukata from various selection in the lobby. They were so pretty that I didn't know which one to pick! And this is for free but it is not for you to take home, so just leave it in your room when checking out. But one thing to take note is that for some reason, these special yukatas were pretty long so the ends were dragging on the floor and some occasions I almost tripped but oh well I would still wear them for the fun of it. Otherwise, you can always wear the standard yukata placed in the room.
We stayed at the Japanese style room which was their lowest room category and it was beyond spectacular. The room was so spacious that we can do a cartwheel. It was a pity that I didn't capture many images but a great excuse to go back again to take more pictures! I believe each room is facing the mountain and river view so you can relax and enjoy the view during day and night. The sound of the water really does sooth your mind.
The room itself felt so new yet so traditional. The ryokan really did an amazing job to design the concept of 'old meets new'. I really love it!
And again since we booked the lowest room category, we thought the room would be small as expected in Japan. Not the case for this ryokan! Not only the room was super spacious, we didn't expect to have a spacious bathroom as well! There is a really nice sink counter with a separate wooden bathtub and a separate shower. How cute is the bathtub! And it felt new and smooth as well (not some old bathtub that you might be worried of wooden chips stabbing your skin).
Unlimited soft serve ice cream, tea and beer (FREE!!!)
That's right, they offer free and unlimited soft serve ice cream, tea and beer. You can take how much and how often you like, absolutely no control. These machines are located outside the main public hot spring area with a separate lounge area for you to sit and enjoy the view while you devour your ice cream/tea/beer.
A buffet of hot spring selection!!!
This is the real reason why we picked this ryokan out of all the other ryokans in the area. They don't have 1 or 2 hot springs but at least 8 hot springs for you to choose from! They have 2 public hot springs with both indoor and outdoor areas each.
If you have tattoo (like myself), you will have to go to the private ones but hey they have 6 private hot springs for you to choose from! We should have stayed there for more than 1 night to experience all of the hot spring options. If you have tattoo and still would like to try the public hot springs, shouldn't be a problem as I would recommend you to go either early in the morning or late at night when there are less people.
More details here: https://shousuke.com/spa/
*TIP: You will need to pre-book the private hot spring early in advanced. I pre-booked mine 2 months in advanced and I was left with 2 options with very limited time availabilities. And I got a Japanese friend to help to call the ryokan. You can try speaking in English but it is definitely a challenge to communicate your message through. Another thing to note is that they do not have an email address and they are not responsive through Facebook message so the best way is to call them directly.
We got the Maboroshi-no-yu private hot spring right before dinner. It is located outdoor right beside the river stream so it was really relaxing to hear the sound of the water while we were soaking in the hot spring. The staff also made sure that the hot spring is spotless clean before every booking so you don't feel like someone has already used this hot spring before you. Not even the tiles were wet. How thoughtful of them and such a great effort to provide high quality standards!
Also, they have a shampoo bar.....like seriously! It's a bar for different variations of shampoo for you to use before you get into any hot spring area. I never seen any ryokan offer this, they normally only place 1 type of shampoo for everyone to use and that's all you got. So this is definitely a surprising WOW factor!
After our private hot spring session, it's dinner time! Here you will have to have your meals (both breakfast and dinner) in the main dining area instead of serving in your room. We don't mind this at all! Great to have a look around and observe other people anyway (potentially make some great friends). Dinner was sufficient as what you expect in a ryokan but wasn't the best that I have tasted. But I wouldn't complain since all the items were fresh. However the menu was in Japanese so we really didn't know what we were eating and at what sequence we should have (as you can see in the picture, everything was served at once so it was a bit daunting, not knowing what we should eat first or next especially we want to respect the chef after all).
By the way, there were colourful lights displayed along the river stream so that you can still enjoy the scenery during night time. And at 8 or 9pm, they do have a special performance at the stage built opposite the river side, and the sound will be played from the lounge area at the lobby. Unfortunately it was in Japanese so we had no idea what's going on but it was definitely pleasant to know that the ryokan was making the effort to be creative in implementing night time activities for their guests to enjoy, instead of just lazing around in the room.
I LOVE their breakfast! It is not the typical breakfast served in your room in ryokan, but it is served in the main dining area. They have a wide variety of breakfast selection displayed in buffet style and you pick up a plate and a tray to fill up all the dishes that you want to have. Now this is what I called BREAKFAST OF THE CHAMPION! And it was super fun too since we get to try so many dishes in small quantity and sort of playing tic tac toe while we worked our way through the dishes. We get to also try their freshly made mochi which was soooo gooooodddd!
Overall, I would highly recommended heading to Aizu-Wakamatsu if you are in for an off-the-beaten-track experience and stay at Shousuke no Yado Takinoyu. Was it worth it? Yes. Was it relaxing? YES. Was it a once a lifetime must try must stay? HELL YESS. Would I go back again? ABSOLUTELY!!!
They have so many hot spring options to choose from that you cannot possibly fit all of them in one day. The facade was just incredible, clean and felt so new that you really feel like you are staying in a luxury ryokan but with a cheaper price tag. You can have free and unlimited soft serve ice cream/tea/beer. Breakfast was also incredible and a great location to relax!
If you want to have a unique 'old meets new' experience with a touch of luxury but comes a reasonable price tag, this is the ryokan for you!
Till next time, take care and stay inspired.