Friday, April 11, 2014

Tsukioka Onsen Hotel's Affordable Luxurious Lunch and Bath

A gourmet Japanese feast served for your pleasure in your exclusive room, hours of  private relaxation, and leisurely baths in a spectacular hot spring need not cost an arm and a leg. In fact, you can splurge and soak even if you are on a budget.
The best lunch package including access to hot springs that I have recently enjoyed was at the Tsukioka Hotel Masyuu (月岡温泉ホテル摩周) in Tsukioka Onsen, Shibata-shi, Niigata (月岡温泉、新発田市、新潟). Many Japanese hotels have exceptional deals for guests who do not want to stay overnight. These are called hikaeiripuran (日帰りプラン): Hi is day.Kaeiri means return. Puran is the Japanese pronunciation of plan.
You will be brought to your own room, where you can change into Japanese yukata, a light-fitting robe that fits loosely yet warmly. Soon afterwards, a waitress, usually wearing a kimono, will come and serve tea. After taking time for a mellow period of intimate conversation, tea drinking, and contemplation of the art in the room, you are free to appreciate the artwork, including ikebana, in the hallways on your way to the various hot spring baths. When you return to your room, lunch will have been arranged in a pleasing manner on your table, or, soon afterwards, waitresses will arrive bearing numerous dishes of discerningly prepared delicacies. In refined Japanese restaurants, food is meant to be appreciated with the eyes and the mouth. Eat slowly. You are in no hurry. The room is yours for several hours. You can go for a walk around town, slip into another hot bath, or take a nap.
For Japanese, a lunch-with-onsen experience at a good ryokan (旅館), or Japanese inn, is much more than just taking a bath. It is spending time with friends, slowing down, and being calmed by the surroundings. Well-designed ryokan are tastefully decorated with paintings, sculpture, and gardens. Many gardens are designed to evoke wider and greater vistas, such as mountains, lakes, or the ocean.
Masyuu Hotel has gardens with koi ponds. One is in front of the lobby, which is a very restful place to enjoy a cup of coffee. Another is  near the men's outdoor bath, called rotenburo (露天風呂) in Japanese.
Maybe there is another koi pond in the women's section, which has just been renewed. I have not been inside (I am a man), but photographs on Hotel Masyuu's website make me wish that I could be a woman for at least the time necessary to enjoy the new bath.
Prices for the gourmet meal and restful yet invigorating experience vary depending upon the choice of lunch, which start at 4,000 per person, and tipping is not necessary.

Hotel Masyuu has not paid for this recommendation. I write glowingly about my experience there because I had a wonderful time and my conversations with two members of the family-run hotel led me to believe that they are wholeheartedly striving to provide an exquisite experience for guests.

Another hot spring hotel in Tsukioka Onsen that I recommend is  Murakamikan (村上館). Both hot springs have greenish alkaline water that is very smooth.

Tsukioka Onsen is located in Shibata City, Niigata Prefecture.

If you are interested in learning Japanese for communicating about Japanese onsens, please read this onsen glossary. Readers who are interested in snowshoeing or mountain climbing in Niigata close to Tsukioka Onsen,  might enjoy reading an article I wrote that was published in an international magazine for snowshoe athletes.