8-502 Omuro-kogen, Ito
+81 557 51 2924
With the unusual winter conditions and massive snowfalls that have paralyzed the city of Vancouver recently, thus limiting my desire to drive outside and eat, I thought I’d revisit one of my favorite things to do during this season in Japan – staying at an onsen (hot spring) and indulging in the food offerings at such places.
Hot springs (scattered throughout the country) and eating go hand-in-hand in Japan. In many cases, it is the food that draws visitors from the major metropolises to more rural areas where hot springs are abundant for a chance to relax and eat food they might normally not have a chance to try.
As with most things in Japan, local and regional differences abound, and it is this uniqueness that is used as a draw, especially when it comes to ingredients, reputation and seasonality/availability of food. I could go on for ages in trying to describe the countless descriptions and characteristics of certain areas, but will refrain from that in the interests of brevity.
Instead, I would like to describe one slightly different experience I had at a privately-owned, boutique onsen, that was less “Japanese” than others, but still emphasized the local food supply in their meal options for visitors. The home-y atmosphere and greater privacy attained at this place, was a far cry from the much larger, capable of handling hundreds of guests types of onsen inns that dominate the industry.
The reason this hot spring was chosen was for its location (I’d never been to Ito City in Shizuoka Prefecture before), the onsen itself was “special” in that they used a bunch of locally grown fresh Fuji apples to decorate the mineral and nutrient rich spring waters in their main public bath house, and the room rented was also equipped with a personal outdoor patio onsen that could only be used by its occupants.
Baking fresh breads, contracting with locals farmers for their fruits, vegetables and rice, and sourcing meats and seafood also from the area, Kogen No Tenshi, offers an eight-course yoshoku (Western-influenced) dinner plan as part of their nightly package.
There were two servings of every food image you are seeing here aside from the sashimi – one for me, and one for my companion.
The same morning, locally-caught seafood sashimi plate could be added to the meal for an additional 2,500 JPY, which we did without hesitation, as Ito is well known for incredible seafood.
Catering to mainly couples, they also offered as options, such things as special occasion (anniversary, birthday, etc.) sets that included cake, flowers and sparkling wine for an extra 4,500 JPY. A four-slice cakes set that rotated seasonally was also available, that were all made by the best known local cake shops, and came with hot tea or coffee – 2,500 JPY.
Depending on the room you stay in, the dinner is served in either the main dining room or brought to your private room one course at a time (the top room, #207, where we stayed had this in-room dining option, as it was equipped with a separate washitsu (Japanese-style, tatami room) to eat in.
Honestly, there is nothing better than having multiple dips in a natural hot spring all to yourself, and then wrapping yourself up in a nice comfortable robe and then having freshly made food delivered to you like a King. Service was done by a soft spoken older woman, who was obviously one of the owners and who also lived in the house and had also greeted us when we first registered on our arrival. Her husband, who I saw only once on my two day/one night stay, was the chef.
A hearty serving of beef protein was the heaviest portion of the entire dinner. I failed to inquire what grade/kind of beef it was, but it certainly was tender and I remembered the flavor of this perhaps even more than the sashimi serving that was shared.
Unfortunately, the final dish of dessert was a letdown, as you can see from the photograph. Thankfully, I was able to wash it down with the hot lemon tea of below.
Walking around the area after the late meal was also a nice reprieve from the usual after meal activity of simply going to sleep when you go home after a restaurant visit. A brisk walk around in the cool winter air near the ocean side is so refreshing and adds to the energizing sensation one gets from visiting natural surroundings such as this.
And waiting for me after my walk was the hot spring again. I was still quite full, but certainly could have used one or two of these large crisp apples for my dessert instead of what I did receive.
Visiting an onsen in Japan is an experience that I think everyone should do in their lifetime, especially if they are also avid about having a great meal during the stay. Kogen No Tenshi is an slightly unorthodox example in that it was much smaller in scale (e.g. the main public onsen could probably only seat a maximum of ten people) and framed around a slightly more Western-setup in its rooms (e.g. beds instead of futon), influence in the food (some non-Japanese dishes, Western-style desserts rather than Japanese ones), and the structure itself of being in a large home rather than a traditional and old Japanese building.
I could have shared some other onsen visits that would probably fit the mold of what a foreigner in Japan probably imagines for an onsen stay, but thought Kogen No Tenshi would be a look inside one that is moderately detached from that stereotype and one perhaps not seen on many online reports. Hopefully the intent of giving this glimpse into onsen eating culture has been achieved and somewhat educational to those who have no previous experience with such places in Japan…