Hot Springs hotel
The hotel is situated in Yufuin, famed for it’s decadent display of fiery autumn leaves. This countryside area is also known for its beautifying and medicinal hot springs, a popular activity for Japanese tourists. Kind of our equivalent of weekend visits to farmhouses, wearing wellies in the mud and pretending that we don’t have office jobs.
Although the hotel is a short distance from the station (1.7 miles), it feels as if it’s set in the middle of no where. Upon arriving at the arched driveway of the Mori No Terrace Hotel, the thought strikes of how impressive yet oddly familiar this building is. Modelled on an ‘English’ style manor house, it closer resembles those typical grand American family homes seen on sitcoms. French bay windows, balconies in every room and a stunning view of the deep forests and mountains, the Mori No Terrace hotel looks like a dream creation made in The Sims.
Inside, the decor is traditional, comfortable but noticeably arbitrary with wood cabinets, oil paintings and plush sofas. The juxtaposition between Japanese and ‘Western’ (because what kind of region they’re going for isn’t obvious) is apparent throughout the hotel. That being said, there is just enough local tradition to appease the tourists looking for something novelty in the hot springs experience.
This is not your typical onsen where tatami mats feature in rooms. Instead they are 300 sq. ft spaces, larger than most people’s studios in London. Generous queen sized beds with satin covers and a mismatch of strange choices of furniture make up the rest of the room. In each, a set of pyjamas and a sash for your kimono (which you will likely wear to the hot springs and to dinner) is provided. Women have a choice of which colour and pattern they’d prefer and naturally, I chose pink from the display at reception. Perhaps the establishment figured that men would not be so particular about their kimonos and stock a standard design for them that can be found in-room. Amenities are a key feature of the Mori No Terrace Hotel where there are toe socks (yes, really) to wear with room slippers or clogs. The hotel even provides a wash bag for your convenience; no need for a balancing act with towels in hand as you traipse outside for a steamy dip. This is thorough and considerate Japanese service at its best.
Most of the staff speak excellent English and are helpful and patient with requests and questions. The West reemerges at this hot springs hotel at the restaurant. Breakfasts are typically served around 8:30am and dinner at 6:30pm, and are continental and French cuisine respectively. The set times are a little rigid for a resort to which you go to relax but considering that the bar and communal areas close at 11pm, the hotel runs their services earlier than us foreign travellers are used to. One of the thoughts that may pop into your head at this point is how closely the schedule resembles an old folk’s home but look around at the other diners during meal times and you’ll mostly see middle aged women that are travelling together and a few families.
Dinner is served in small portions, including two starters, hot and cold, a fish and a meat dish, finished off with dessert. There is a selection of wines and Japanese alcohol, including an especially sweet and flavourful sake made in the Nagisake region (neighbouring Yufuin) that is translated as ‘Beautiful People’. Food is included in the hotel rates, and as usual, drinks ordered during meals are added onto the final bill.
Hot spring practices
A few questions I raised to a frequent onsen fan went like this:
Q: Do I have to be naked?
Q: Are people embarrassed?
A: No, it’s a very common activity
Q: How long should I soak for?
A: About an hour is a good amount of time.
After this I still wasn’t 100% convinced. I once visited a mega spa in Shanghai (multiple storeys of treatment rooms including huge public baths for each sex), and I was slightly mentally scarred. Honestly, you do you with regard to how you style your fur situation below but I am not a fan of seeing seaweed-like growths wavering beneath the surface of my bath! Thankfully, to the relief of my prudish tendencies, there are three private hot spring pools available that run on a first-come-first-serve basis. Needless to say, that is where I spent 60 minutes or so of my evening after dinner, with nothing else but my food baby. These baths are especially recommended for those with child.
The Japanese believe in the medicinal properties of the geothermal baths, and there is no dispute that sitting in hot water, relaxing your muscles and allowing your mind to slip into soft, reflective mud is beneficial. A local that frequently visits Yufuin’s public hot springs explained that keeping the body warm prevents illness, a practice called balneotherapy. Furthermore, it eases body aches and the minerals in the water conditions the skin. I’m certainly no expert but there’s no denying the sense of ease and restfulness after an hour in the mystical waters, particularly under a full moon (just joking, it can be any time during the lunar cycle, just maybe not on your cycle).
879-5114 Oita, Yufuin, Kawakita 928, Japan