23 Feb 2018 in In immersion
Journey to a haven in western Honshu where hot springs and sake-making have a long history.
The recurring question you’ll be asking yourself at Hoshino Resorts KAI Izumo is: “how will I relax next?”.
Should you head to the public onsen, whose waters are known as the “hot spring of the Gods” because they work wonders on the skin? Or maybe you’d prefer to soothe your muscles and mind in your own private hot spring bath on your outdoor terrace?
Then again, you could sit back in one of the reclining massage chairs facing the resort’s bamboo garden. Or how about catching a performance of traditional Japanese arts in the garden?
At Hoshino Resorts KAI Izumo, relaxation and rejuvenation are the resort’s raison d’être. But there’s also plenty of opportunities for activity and exploration. The local area is home to several must-see sights, including Izumo Taisha, one of Japan’s most celebrated shrines, the towering Matsue castle, and the Adachi Museum, famed for its art and fabulous Japanese gardens.
Situated in Shimane Prefecture in the south-west of Honshu, the resort is also at the centre of one of Japan’s most famed sake-producing regions.
Paddy fields line the roads here and stretch up into the hills, where traditional thatched houses are a reminder of the area’s rural roots.
When you first arrive at Hoshino Resorts KAI Izumo, you’ll be guided over a traditional red moon bridge, passing over a Japanese garden with coy carp in the pond – yet you’ll remain indoors the whole time.
The bridge, which dates back to the ryokan’s origins 80 years ago, has been clad in a wood-and-glass structure, keeping you inside the complex while offering views as if you were outside.
In traditional ryokan style, you’ll find a low table and chair but no bed. Not to worry: staff will lay out your futon when you’re at dinner.
Many rooms also have a kotatsu heated table – perfect for snuggling under in the cooler months.
Your other option for heating up without leaving your room?
Your private hot spring bath!
If you’re on the first floor, pull apart the sliding doors on the far side to reveal your own garden with a covered decking area. On the decking is a square-shaped cypress tub, from which whispers of steam rise into the air, tempting you into its 40C waters.
On the second floor, the tubs are rounded and crafted in beautiful shigaraki-yaki ceramic tiles.
Hoshino Resorts KAI Izumo is set in Tamatsukuri, a hot springs area established well over 1000 years ago and known for its waters’ rejuvenating effects on the skin.
In addition to your private tub, you can test their powers in the ryokan’s public onsen, featuring both indoor and outdoor pools.
Outside the onsen is a relaxation area, where you can make yourself a rejuvenating sake-based facemask or sit back in one of the leather massage chairs and choose a program to match your mood.
Fresh lake seafood
Dinner is a multi-course kaiseki menu filled with local delicacies.
The large expanse of nearby Lake Shinji provides plenty of treats, including its famed tiny clams – a luxurious addition to your miso soup – as well as tender sea bass and blackthroat seaperch.
In winter, though, the speciality is locally-caught Matsuba snow crab – a much-prized treat thanks to its succulent meat.
After dinner, how about a nightcap at the Sake Bar? With 36 varieties to choose from, all produced in Shimane Prefecture, you’re sure to find something to your taste.
The three-glass taster menu is a great introduction to the local tipple, famed throughout Japan for its exceptional quality.
Another historical tradition in Izumo is kagura, a stylized, light-hearted form of Japanese theatre. Every night, the ryokan puts on a 15-minute show featuring a sake-fuelled confrontation between a god and an eight-headed serpent. It’s a huge amount of fun, with colourful costumes, extravagant gestures and energetic acting making for an immersive experience.
You can also catch a short kamishibai performance every night. While the storytelling is in Japanese, you’ll be offered a crib sheet in English – and the picture cards will help you keep track of the story.
Another bonus is the ryokan’s traditional tatami tea room, featuring an irori sunken hearth. For no extra charge, a tea ceremony expert will instruct you in the art of making the perfect cup of matcha.
With so much on offer at your doorstep, it may be tempting to leave sightseeing to later. But make sure you visit the grandiose Izumo Taisha shrine, prized throughout Japan as a place to seek good fortune in love and marriage.
And once you’ve secured your future happiness at the shrine, you can head back to the ryokan to indulge your current state of wellbeing.