27 Sep 2017 in In immersion
From tea workshops to tea-infused hot spring baths, discover the secrets of Japanese green tea in this luxury ryokan on the shores of Lake Hamana.
Through the expansive picture windows of the Travel Library at Hoshino Resorts KAI Enshu, the view of Lake Hamana is superb.
Peninsulas of heavily forested hills jut into the water, boats meander peacefully in the bay, and a cable car intermittently journeys up to the summit of Mount Okusa opposite.
There’s a similar view from every room of this high-quality ryokan, set on an inlet of the lake’s eastern shore in the Hamamatsu region of Shizuoka Prefecture.
The area is known as Japan’s green tea capital, with the Prefecture the country’s biggest tea producer. You’ll find green tea to be a central part of your stay here.
Green tea experience
When you arrive at the ryokan, you’ll enter the intimately-lit lobby and be invited to sit at a low chair for green tea with namagashi.
You can also choose to take an introductory workshop on green tea in the relaxation area next door. This short session varies with the seasons, but your host is likely to teach you the perfect way to make green tea, by transferring boiling water from cup to cup until it reaches 70°C.
You’ll probably get to try your hand at whisking matcha, and you may even be invited to eat used sencha tea leaves with sweet soy sauce – a surprisingly tasty treat! In the summer, the workshop is held outdoors and the theme turns to cold green tea – a classic estival drink in Japan.
At any time during your stay, you are welcome to choose from one of the dozen green teas in the relaxation area and infuse yourself a cup.
Green tea is also an important ingredient in the ryokan’s hot spring baths. And not just because you get to enjoy a fresh cup of sencha once you’ve finished bathing. You’ll actually be soaking your body in tea-infused water!
One of the onsen’s indoor tubs features wicker baskets of green tea leaves floating on the surface. Vitamins and antioxidants from the leaves are released into the water, helping to rejuvenate and soften the skin. In spring, the onsen’s other indoor tub is filled with flowers.
Alternatively, you can relax in the hot waters outside to enjoy views of the ryokan’s traditional Japanese garden.
Once you’ve finished, head to the newly-renovated onsen lounge, all stylish minimalism, for a calming cup of tea or sake.
Unique cotton decor
Throughout the resort, you’ll notice elegant touches of cotton decor bringing unique character to the inn’s classic ryokan design.
The Enshu region was historically one of Japan’s major cotton producers, with its moderate climate perfectly suited for producing high-quality light cotton. As a nod to this local tradition, Hoshino Resorts KAI Enshu has integrated traditionally-woven cotton in subtle but eye-catching fashion.
Known as “Enshu Men Tsumugi”, the cotton fabric can be found in your ryokan slippers, on lampshades in your room, on the shoji window coverings – and it’s the fabric used to create your haori, the kimono-like jacket you can wear around the ryokan.
Eels from the lake
For dinner, you can look forward to a classic multi-course kaiseki meal, with eel as the traditional centrepiece.
As a prelude to the main course, you’ll savour an assortment of appetizers, a soup, an extravagantly-presented array of sashimi, tempura and a steamed dish.
While you’ll probably get a choice for the main course, eel from Lake Hamana is the recommended local delicacy.
Thanks to a temperate climate and the purity of its water, the lake is prized by eel farmers nationwide.
The result is a tender, succulent eel, usually prepared in a sweet soy sauce. It’s followed by green tea – both in a cup and, more likely than not, as an ingredient in the dessert.
The restaurant’s signature dessert is green tea jelly with a selection of fruit, but you can also opt for the green tea crème brûlée, an original take on the French classic.
The area around the ryokan is little-known to most Westerners, but, there’s plenty to explore.
The Hamamatsu Flower Park is a must-see in spring, with row upon row of cherry blossom, while the variety of flowers elsewhere make the short trip worthwhile any time of year.
If you’re visiting with children, there’s an excellent zoo and the Hamanako Pal Pal amusement park is just a few minutes’ walk from the ryokan.
So, how about a trip to the heartland of Japan’s tea culture for a stay of relaxation and exploration? The setting is stunning, the local specialities are a delicacy – and the tea is truly first class!