A 90-minute train ride to the south west of Tokyo is Asaba, a 500-year-old ryokan in a small village known for one of the oldest hot springs on the Izu Peninsula. Since our recent visit, it has become the sole destination of our continued daydreams.
THE MOMENT WE TOOK OFF OUR SHOES and entered Asaba we knew we were someplace very special. The mix of traditional Japanese architecture and mid-century modern decor was a stunning set for the ryokan’s staff to offer their warm welcome. Our room, one of only 17 at the property, was on the second floor overlooking a meditative hillside, waterfall and pond full of giant and happy koi.
“At Asaba the alkaline hot spring water is piped in to each bathroom.”
Visitors from Japan and afar travel to Shuzenji on the Izu peninsula (about 90 minutes by train from Tokyo Station), for its healing hot springs. At Asaba that alkaline hot spring water is piped in to each bathroom and is used to fill oversized soaking tubs. There are, of course, public baths (onsen in Japanese) both indoors and outdoors to enjoy as well. We were fortunate enough to visit Asaba during yuzu season; the magically sweet and lemony smelling citrus was placed in every bath.
“Seasonality is a cornerstone of Japanese culture.”
BEING WINTER, our yukata (indoor kimonos) were complemented by wool overcoats. Seasonality is a cornerstone of Japanese culture. While this applies to all rituals, it’s most apparent in cuisine. At Asaba the Kaiseki meals are a series of small plates featuring local, seasonal delicacies. Our meals here were some of the best we’ve ever had in Japan and the delicious flavors were equally matched by artful presentations.
WE ENJOYED BREAKFAST SITTING ON THE FLOOR at a table in our room, though dinners were shared with friends we were traveling with in a private dining room overlooking the pond and timed perfectly to watch the paper lanterns be lit and placed by one of the ryokan's conscientious staff in a boat. The service was attentive and heartfelt without being suffocating or affected, and like everything else at Asaba perfectly balanced. The small gift shop featured a tasteful assortment of locally made ceramics, foods and gifts — all more desirable mementos than we find in typical hotel gift shops.
All pictures by Josh Rubin