Sunday, May 7, 2017

Chugoku Sanyo, San-in 中国地方山陽、山陰 - Nagato Yumoto Onsen Gyokusenkaku 長門湯本温泉 玉仙閣

Stayed 26.04.2015 (Sun)
Reserved thru' Rurubu.
Three person per room with half board = 18,360 yen/pax + 450 yen (bathing tax/pax)

Onsen with a history. The origin of Nagato Yumoto Onsen dates all the way back to Muromachi period (1336 – 1573). It was discovered by the chief priest of Taineiji 大寧寺, who was told about the existent of a hot spring source in the surroundings by Sumiyoshidaimyojin 住吉大明神 while he was mediating. In fact, Nagato Yumoto Onsen has the longest history than any other hot spring areas in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The hot spring town is well secluded in a canyon where two rivers Otozuregawa 音信川 and Taineijigawa 大寧寺川 splits through the mountainous area, with hotels and ryokans established on the sides of the rivers. This place was definitely more remote and laidback than I thought; something that I learnt to appreciate a lot as a city dweller. In Nagato Yumoto Onsen, you can find high end, luxury hotel like Otani Sansou Bettei Otozure 大谷山荘 別邸音信 which cost close to 500 SGD per pax per night. Eventually decided to settle for Gyokusenkaku, a reasonably priced ryokan with has an interesting theme that arouse my curiosity.

View from our room.
Presence of Yang Guifei felt in various corners of the ryokan. 
Presence of Yang Guifei. Yes, you have not mistaken. I was referring to the legendary beauty of Tang Dynasty who is otherwise known as Yang Yuhuan 楊玉環. History documented that Yang Guifei was killed during An Lushan Rebellion, but little did I know that in Japan, an alternative ending existed. It was said that Yang Guifei did not die and managed to flee from China by boat. She eventually landed in the current Nagato city, where she stayed for the rest of her life. This legend appeared to be seemingly true because there is even a Yang Guifei Village 楊貴妃の里, a Chinese style garden with a monumental tomb built to commemorate her. Though not verified, this was still an interesting twist to the original story which I was familiar with. I have to admit that I initially thought Gyokusenkaku was a place that Yang Guifei stayed before. The only reason why Gyokusenkaku is associated with this legendary figure is because they constructed one of their hot spring pool to look like the bathtub which Yang Guifei had enjoyed in China. This lotus shaped hot spring pool is called Kihi-yu 貴妃湯, which bears the same name as the actual one residing in Huaqing Pool (華清池). You can call this a gimmick, but this is what makes Gyokusenkaku stands out from the rest of the accommodation available in this small hot spring town. Imagining yourself as Yang Guifei, while having a soak in Kihi-yu is quite a luxurious moment after all. 

A glimpse of Taishi-yu in Senraku-yu.
Royal bath. There are two communal bathhouses named Kasei-yu 華清湯 and Senraku-yu 仙楽湯 which are separated by gender and are swapped at night in order to allow guests to enjoyed both bathhouses during their stay here. Apart from Kihi-yu which is a replica of Yang Guifei's lotus shaped bathtub featured in Kasei-yu, Senraku-yu has a rectangular shaped, 90 cm depth pool named Taishi-yu (太子湯), which translates to Crown Prince's pool. The hot spring waters from Nagato Yumoto Onsen is weakly alkaline and transparent. As its alkalinity is said to be close to that of a toner, the water is said to have beautifying effects on the skin. The therapeutic waters has also been used to treat neuralgia, muscle pain, joint pain and recovery from exhaustion historically. As we had walked quite a lot in the day visiting both Akiyoshidai and Akiyoshido, having a soak in the hot waters was definitely rewarding for us.

Room and facilities. In its premises, you can find numerous pictures, depicting the four beauties of the Tang Dynasty, placed along the corridor, or even identify Chinese style lanterns, dividers, backdrop and furniture in different parts of the ryokan. Despite the Chinese theme, the rooms are still very much the typical Japanese style, laid with tatami mats. There were a couple of massage tools and a set of T puzzle wooden blocks, which my parents and I cracked our brains to solve after dinner, made available in the room. There is a shop, located at the same floor as the front desk, where local specialties and souvenirs can be purchased from.

Choshu wagyu beef. Selected the half board package which came with grilled Choshu wagyu beef 長萩和牛 and abalone for dinner. Choshu wagyu beef is well known for its well distributed marbling in every slice of meat, and a pride of Nagato city. I found out an interesting trivia when researching about this premium local beef online. In Nagato city, there is a collaboration between the cow ranches and neighbouring farmers whereby the farmers provide the straw consumed by the cows and the ranch will give the compost to the farmers in return as fertilisers. This is an excellent example of organic waste recycling in agriculture.

The dinner course started with appetiser and sashimi platter which comprised of thinly sliced, almost transparent blowfish sashimi (河豚). This was my first time eating blowfish, which is a delicacy of Yamaguchi Prefecture. Frankly speaking I was not particularly amazed by its taste; subtle as compared to other types of fish I have eaten and slightly chewy in terms of texture. It tasted much better when I wrapped a slice of blowfish with scallions and dipped it in ponzu sauce.

Shortly after that, the staff placed a basket filled with fresh lobster, clams, prawns, mushrooms, corn on the cob and sliced eggplant. Next, a plate of thick, beautifully marbled Chosho wagyu beef and a small basket containing abalone, each with a scoop of butter put onto of it, were served. With all the ingredients ready, it was time to grill our food on the stove! The wagyu beef was truly the highlight of the entire meal; the fatty portion, which has a lower melting point than regular beef, disintegrated almost instantaneously in the mouth, releasing all the flavours contained in the meat. Love the buttery abalone as well. Overall, dinner was much more tiring than usual because we had to cook all the food ourselves and there were times when we accidentally overcooked/burnt some of them. If given the chance to choose again, I would prefer food directly prepared by the kitchen rather than DIY.


Nagato Yumoto Onsen Gyokusenkaku 長門湯本温泉 玉仙閣
〒759-4103 山口県長門市深川湯本1234
Contact number: (+81)0837-25-3731

How to get there? 

(1) Complimentary pick up service from Nagato Yumoto JR Station 長門湯本駅
Gyokusenkaku provides complimentary shuttle service to/fro Nagato Yumoto JR Station. To utilise this service, you will need to inform the ryokan beforehand by phone call, on your expected arrival time at the train station. Do note that Nagato Yumoto JR Station is an unmanned train station in a rather secluded town, so taxi may be scarce. For my trip, I engaged the help of a hotel staff to make the transport arrangement on the day before my stay.

(2) By foot, takes about 10 minutes from Nagato Yumoto JR Station.

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