Japan is not short of beautiful, heritage rich places to stay. Forget hotels and stay in a ryokan (Japanese inn), for a much more unique, fulfilling and memorable experience.
One of the most beautiful places that I have visited was the Chikurin-in Gumpoen in Yoshino.
We arrived in Yoshino by nightfall yet it was not too much trouble for the staff of Chikurin-in to come and collect us from the station. We drove up a winding narrow road that cut through the mountains in darkness to reach the inn only for a wild boar to rush across our path. A rare and moving sight indeed.
Dinner was ready for us on arrival and we fast down to a real feast for the eyes and taste-buds in our own dining room.
Everything had been prepared with great care with special attention and thought given to the balance, texture, colours, flavours, seasonality and presentation of each dish individually as well as part of the overall meal.
Our rooms had private baths but we really wanted to relax in a traditional hinoki bath and so we booked an early morning slot in one of Chikurin-in’s more special baths. We did not expect to be greeted with such a magical sight!
Relaxing in an enormous bath with the window open to let in the air of the forest and the rising mist of the mountain was an extraordinary experience. Unforgettable.
Our rooms were large and spacious. 4 of us shared the generous 10 tatami mat floor space of the traditional sleeping area. We also had our own sitting room and bathroom and a wonderful window that opened over the treetops. As in most ryokan, our futon were made up for us while we had dinner and then put away while we enjoy breakfast.
Breakfast was another delightful experience. The food at Chikurin-in uses fresh local ingredients of the season from both the surrounding mountains and rivers.
Rain was plentiful and unrelentless while we were in Yoshino. This would normally be a great big pain in the arse. However, because of the location, it somehow created an even more magical mysterious feel to the place. Without exaggeration, it felt like we were in a Studio Ghibli film.
Chikurin-in Gumpoen begun life as the Tsubakiyama Temple built by Shotoku Taishi ( 572 – 622) and home to Buddhist monks who practiced ascetism in the Yoshino mountains. It has been host to many prominent people including the former Emperor of Japan and was a favourite cherry blossom viewing spot of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
The gardens were designed and created by Sen-no- Rikyu (, who is considered to me the most influential figure in the Japanese way of tea.
We visited out of season so our budget would allow for our stay. Chikurin-in Gumpoen comes into its own during spring when the 30,000 cherry blossom trees bloom and then release their floral poetry across the mountains. I imagine that it must be an exquisite sight to behold. In autumn, the maple trees take centre stage and set the panorama alight with their flame-like foliage.
| Chikurin-in Gumpoen |