Monday, April 23, 2018

Chugoku Sanyo, San-in 中国地方山陽、山陰 - Kai Izumo 界 出雲

Stayed 21.04.2015 (1 night)
Reserved thru' Jalan.net.
3 pax/room, inclusive of half board = 27,000 yen/pax + 150 yen/pax (bathing tax) 


Debut stay! Have read a lot of exceptional reviews on hotels and ryokans under Hoshino group in numerous travel guidebooks. One of their brands - Kai aims to bring out the "omotenashi" (hospitality) spirit of Japanese and elevate traditional hot springs ryokans in Japan to a whole new level of experience. And finally in this episode of my travel series of Japan, I found the chance to stay in Kai Izumo (界 出雲) situated in Tamatsukuri Onsen, a well known hot spring town in Shimane Prefecture. In fact, this extraordinary experience has also fueled my decisions during later trips to Japan to stay with Kai when opportunities arise - in 2016, Kai Tsugaru (界 津軽) in Aomori Prefecture, and Kai Matsumoto (界 松本) in Nagano Prefecture; in 2017, Kai Kaga (界 加賀) in Kanazawa Prefecture, Kai Izu (界 伊豆) and Kai Enshu (界 遠州), both in Shizuoka Prefecture. Despite staying in Kai on so many occasions, I am still looking forward to do so in future. What exactly make Kai so endearing and outstanding? 

Bridge connecting the lobby to the guestrooms.
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Highlights

Lobby.
Omotenashi. Took a taxi from Tamatsukuri Onsen JR Station and arrived at the doorstep of Kai Izumo just before 3 pm. What amazed me was there was already a staff standing by at the entrance to assist us (as if she knew that we were coming)! The staff helped us to carry some of our luggage and led us to the lobby where we told to sit down to wait for her colleague who will take care of our check-in procedure. While waiting, hot towel and green tea was served. Knowing that we were not locals, a staff who could converse in English was assigned to serve us. First, he ensured my particulars were correct and requested politely for our passports as part of check-in procedure. Next, he returned with a map of the ryokan and pointed out to us where the main facilities such as bathhouse and dining area were. Lastly, he checked with us what were our preferred dinning timings for both meals and whether we had any food allergies that they should take note of. After that, he brought us to our room which was located on the second floor of the building.

When we were in the room, he invited us to sit down around the center table and continued to explain to us patiently what were the features available in the room, where the yutaka were kept and check with us whether the size of the yutaka was right. He did all these while seated in the formal Japanese way, with the legs tucked under the butt. After affirming that he had addressed all our concerns, he thanked us for staying with them and hoped that we would enjoy our stay here. His next action impressed me most! Instead of standing up to walk out of the room, he maintained his kneeling position with his front facing us and shifted himself out of the room. Just before he closed the sliding door, he bowed to us again with a humble smile. This was the first time I felt such a strong sense of hospitality from any hotel/ryokan I have stayed with and even till today, the entire process still remained vividly in the mind.

Participated in the outdoor Japanese tea ceremony.
Tradition. After check in, we were informed that there was an outdoor tea ceremony which we could attend. This is an activity held daily, between 1530 to 1830 hours, and is unique to Kai Izumo. Japanese tea ceremony culture is deeply rooted in Matsue city (where Kai Izumo is located in) due to strong influence by Matsudaira Harusato (松平不昧公), a feudal lord who ruled Matsue domain in the 18th century. Came to a garden located in the center of the compound and sat around an elevated tatami laid platform where a professional tea master was waiting to serve us. After we exchanged greetings, he pulled out a tray of confectionery from a small wooden shelf and asked us to enjoy the sweets while he prepared the matcha. He executed all the procedure skillfully in a sitting kneel posture; scooping the right amount of matcha powder and water into a bowl, and whisking the mixture till the right consistency was achieved. After the matcha was served, he even demonstrated to us how we should enjoy our drink. Looks simple but Japanese tea ceremony is a culture that requires precision to execute and patience to fully appreciate the entire process.

Top right: Hot spring tub in our room.
Room and facilities. Kai Izumo has 24 rooms and every room has its dedicated outdoor hot spring enclosure where guests can enjoy anytime in their own private space. We were assigned to a room on the second level, which is relatively less expensive than the rooms on the first floor. The hot spring tub is lined with Shigaraki yaki (信楽焼) ceramic tiles which is originated from Shiga Prefecture. Within the building, there is also a library where guests can sit around to read travel books and enjoy a cup of coffee/tea while browsing. This was a place I like to hang out at after meals or comfortable soak.

Library.
Indoor hot spring pool.
Rejuvenating hot spring. The hot spring source in Tamatsukuri Onsen is well known for its rejuvenating effects on the skin and is especially popular among women. Guests can enjoy soaking into the beautification spring either in their room or the communal bathrooms. There are two bathrooms which are separated by gender and each has its own indoor and outdoor sections. In the center of the indoor pool, there is a small, exquisite ornament which resembles Izumo Taisha and hot spring waters is continuously flowing out from it to the pool. Towels are available in the communal bathhouse, therefore you do not need to bring the ones provided in the guestrooms.


What is the best thing to do after a soak? For me, I always like to hydrate myself with chilled water which is typically provided in the changing room or common area. In Kai Izumo, guests are treated to tea, juice and even ice lollies which are made in house! For a moment I felt like a kid all over again; excited to see a ice cream freezer and pampered by these small delectable treats! 

Exceptional meals. In Kai, the menu varies with seasons and is attentively designed to simulate both your tastebuds and vision. Love the way they make use of seasonal ingredients and present food unique to that region/area where the ryokan is situated in. For every dish served on the table, the staff would explain the dish in detail and recommend the best way to savor the food. Enjoyed myself thoroughly, from the start to the end, in all aspects that I can think of - taste, visual and ambience.  


- Appetizer: Raw mosa shrimp, caught from the Sea of Japan by bottom trawling, with several condiments to accompany with; flavoured salt, olive oil and sudachi lime.
- An assortment of eight delicacies (Hassun 八寸): Hassun is beautifully plated dish made up of delicacies harvested from the land and sea. Sakura shrimp in Matsukaze sauce, soramame beans jelly dumplings with Jyunsai plant, Akagai clams and scallions in miso, trout sushi with Japanese pepper on the top, Nanohana flowers in sesame dressing, five coloured potato fritters and Aigamo duck tenderloin were served.
- Soup: Clear soup with shrimp dumpling, Sakura mochi Kogomi fern sprout topped with Japanese pepper.
- Sashimi: Assorted array of fresh local fish (such as horse mackerel, seabass, tuna and seabream) and sea urchin.


- Tempura (agemono): Deep fried minced shrimp balls in shinbiki flour and wild plants, accompanied with green tea salt and lemon.
- Steamed dish (Futamono): Steamed eggplant and ground chicken layered in Hakata style served with colourful vegetable sauce and tomato miso.
- Main dish: We could choose either Shinjiko shijimi clams cooked in Cataplana pan or grilled wagyu beef tenderloin, sirloin and thinly sliced round steak served with three kinds of sauce. 
- Rice: Bamboo shoots seasoned rice served with tsukemono (pickled vegetables) and miso soup.


- Dessert: We chose three out of the five from the menu. I had cheese soufflé drizzled with raspberry sauce, while my parents had plum wine jelly with fruits and assorted ice cream and sherbet with jellied sweets. When we stayed with Kai Izumo that time, light snacks were served as supper -  coloured mochi accompanied with kombu tea.


Breakfast on the following day was equally amazing as well. An elegant tray with food contained in/put on exquisite bowls and plates was served - tofu cooked in flying fish soup, grilled sailfin sandfish, warabi wrapped with Kanpyo, chicken and tofu ball, boiled chinese yam and miso soup with Shijimi clams harvested from nearby Lake Shinji (宍道湖).


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Kai Izumo 界 出雲
〒699-0201 島根県松江市玉湯町玉造1237
https://kai-ryokan.jp/izumo/

How to get there?

(1) By local bus. Unfortunately, Kai Izumo does not provide complimentary shuttle service from Tamatsukuri Onsen JR Station (玉造温泉駅). Board Ichibata Bus Tamatsukuri line (玉造線) from either Matsue JR Station or Tamatsukuri Onsen JR Station heading for Tamatsukuri Onsen.
From Matsue JR Station, it takes about 30 minutes by bus.
From the bus stop nearest to Tamatsukuri Onsen JR Station, it takes about 7 minutes by bus.
Bus schedule: https://www.ichibata.co.jp/bus/rosen/tamayu.html

(2) By taxi.
Journey takes about 5 minutes from Tamatsukuri Onsen JR Station. Taxi fare = 850 yen

(3) By foot. It takes about 35 minutes from Tamatsukuri Onsen JR Station.


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