The sound of hot spring water pouring from the bamboo spout into the outdoor bath was interrupted by the rustling of leaves in a gentle breeze. I looked away from the book I was reading and cast a glance out at the mountains across the Otaki reservoir from me. There was still enough light to see the trees on the opposite bank and the ends of the leaves on some of the nearby bushes turning red with the approach of fall. I returned to my book, I still had the hot springs all to myself.
Finding time to get away from work, the grind of city life and unplug from the myriad of devices and computers is tough. Finding a place to effect and enjoy that time away from it all doesn’t have to be. The Sugi no Yu Hotel in Kawakami-mura in the mountains of southern Nara doesn’t have Wifi or hard internet connections. That might sound like hell but it’s actually exactly what one needs to unplug. Don’t worry, there’s plenty to occupy you.
Things like meals prepared in one of the Sugi no Yu’s restaurants (and included in the cost of some stays). My dinner at the dinner restaurant (the name was written in a cursive brush script so decorative I couldn’t read it), was delicious and beautifully presented. The chef’s childhood response to his mother telling him not to play with his food must have been, “I’m not playing! I’m making edible art.” Almost every dish had some sculpted piece or bite-sized tidbit. Figuring out what each thing was (or trying to) before eating it was a lot of fun. Guessing wrong was never a bad surprise, and seeing a Japanese persimmon, a fruit I’m not at all fond of eating, made from a sweet potato and some thinly sliced vegetables (two things I do like) was great.
The Sugi no Yu Hotel is surrounded by the Kii Mountains and overlooks the Otaki dam and flood control reservoir. In season, canoeing and sculling are available at the marina a short walk away from the hotel. Sites like Niu-Kawakami Kamisha Shrine and the Mori to Mizu Genryukan (Forest and Riverhead Nature and Science Museum) are within a 15 minute walk of the hotel. The Riverhead Forest Tour and Riverhead Experience Course (hiking tours) are available through the Mori to Mizu Genryukan by reservation (some English is spoken but Japanese is likely a necessity). Fishing is also a possibility.
And then there’s the hot spring baths. Sugi no Yu hotel has two public outdoor hot spring pools and two public indoor pools, one is made of cedar wood, the other is stone. Use of the pools alternates between men and women every 12 hours. There are also two private hot spring baths that can be booked and used exclusively by families or one group of people, one is made of wood, the other is a giant metal cauldron that looks like a big version of what Harry Potter used in potions class.
Of course there are the rooms. Sugi no Yu Hotel has western and Japanese style rooms that are immaculately clean, beautiful and very comfortable. The bathroom in my western style single reminded me more of the bathroom at my childhood home, the air conditioner kept the room at the perfect temperature for resting and sleeping and the bed was soft plush and allowed me to sleep very well after my activities during the day. When was the last time you unplugged? Happy travels!