The Tohoku region in northern Japan remains a relatively undiscovered destination for western tourists. If you find yourself in Hachimantai in the Iwate Prefecture, perhaps for a visit to Towada-Hachimantai National Park, then Shikikan Saito ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) is a great choice if you’re looking for an authentic and comfortable sleeping experience.
Shikikan Saito is suitable for couples, families and solo travellers. The inn has a calm, respectful atmosphere and friendly staff. The place is spotlessly clean – you are provided with comfy indoor shoes in line with Japan’s practice of taking outdoor shoes off when entering a ryokan.
There are four types of rooms available to guests including Japanese style rooms, modern western rooms and the luxurious Katakuri room, which contains a beautiful bathtub made from “Shigaraki” Japanese pottery.
We stayed in one of the traditional Japanese rooms, which are spacious and simply furnished, with lovely views of the surrounding forest. February in northern Japan is the coldest month with regular bouts of snow, so it felt like we were spending a night in Narnia.
As with all Japanese style rooms, you sleep on a futon, which the staff lay out for you while you’re enjoying your dinner. They then return the futon to the wardrobe while you’re eating breakfast. Other furnishings include a table, chairs, TV, refrigerator, electric kettle and a selection of yukatas – Japanese robes decorated with bright patterns to be worn to the onsen (hot spring).
The room also includes a bathroom with a sink and heated loo, complete with all the exciting buttons one expects in Japan. There is no shower, as you are expected to wash in the public onsen.
Shikikan Saito has a restaurant, library and a small shop selling amenities and local Japanese gifts. Its main draw to this guesthouse is the selection of traditional onsens, which are said to have healing properties. The water is infused with minerals such as sulphate and sodium-calcium chloride, which can improve circulation and give you healthy, glowing skin.
There are several indoor and outdoor onsens, which are segregated by gender. There are signs outside each onsen indicating which gender can use which onsen and at what time. All clothes must be removed before entering the onsen, and guests are asked to wash thoroughly before entering the water.
TOP TIP: It should be noted that tattoos can sometimes pose an issue at public onsens, and even though attitudes towards ink are changing in Japan, if you are heavily tattooed you may receive some questioning looks or even be asked to leave the onsen.
Food and drink
The cuisine in northern Japan is of exceptionally high quality, especially in regards to fresh fish. We went on quite the culinary adventure during our stay in the Tohoku region, and Shikikan Saito offered some of the most delicious food I sampled during my trip. We enjoyed a meal in the restaurant on our first night and tucked into a banquet of tempura prawns, sashimi salmon, scallops and yellowtail and a whole river fish, which tasted divine.
Breakfast was an equally joyous experience, with a vast spread of hot and cold dishes including pastries, fresh fruit, miso soup, rice and scrambled eggs with scallops, heated and served on a scallop shell.
Is WiFi available
Yes, WiFi is available in all rooms at no additional charge.
How much is it to stay at Shikikan Saito
Prices at Shikikan Saito start at JPY14,500 (around £105) per person for the Economy Room (Smoking room and no restroom inside guestroom) based on two sharing + bath tax JPY150.
The main draw to this region is the vast and stunning Towada-Hachimantai National Park, which covers 854 square kilometres and stretches across the Aomori, Akita and Iwate Prefectures. Here you can hike, cycle, trek and even explore the area by canoe.
During the winter you can also take part in the Oirase Gorge Frozen Waterfall Tour, which takes place at night. There are five stops on the tour and each time the frozen natural wonders are artificially lit, so you can take some fabulous photos.