Jun 14, 2016

Not Your Usual Kind of Ryokan- やすらぎの里(高原館)

For all health conscious ladies (and gentlemen), you may wish to embark on a different travel route in Japan. Different from the usual ryokan which offers onsen, good food (and huge quantity) and a huge stylish/ 和風 room. This ryokan is for health buffs who came for the common purpose: to be healthier or slimmer.

I've always wanted to give such ryokans a try after I read about it from Twitter and Naoko Takagi 高木直子's manga (or picture book?), I decided to plan a trip there. I chose やすらぎの里 (高原館), as recommended by Takagi sensei. There are 3 branches in all.

So what's different?

Unlike the usual hotel room or ryokan room, my room for one is actually more like my bedroom in my Japanese home. It is furnished like a regular Japanese room, and comes with a balcony and genkan. I could actually hang my clothes up to dry in the balcony.

There are two washing machines provided, so you can do all your washing over there at no additional costs. Drying costs ¥50 per round though. But then since I could dry them under the sun so I didn't use the drying machine at all.

At first there was some issues with the payment as guests have to make payment before the stay, probably because it was really popular and the stay isn't cheap. (Costs about ¥64000 for my 3-night stay, single room, detox course) But in the end as we were unable to resolve the overseas bank transfer issue, they allowed me to make payment upon checkout instead.

Unlike normal ryokans which provide accommodation, onsen and gorgeous food, this alternative ryokan (some call it a 断食道場 which literally means a training camp for fasting) provides various classes. We follow a schedule, rather strictly, as you probably already know Japanese are very punctual. There are about 2 exercise classes, both before meals. We have yoga classes (yoga mats are provided) and simple workouts outdoors. We also have interesting workshops like "How to do lymphatic massage", "How to eat properly" and meditation classes. The owner also came to give a talk on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. His tip? We do not need to make a big change in our lifestyle,as these big changes are usually not sustainable. We just need to make bite-sized changes to our lifestyle and slowly we can see a change.

I think my metal health was at its peak at やすらぎの里. I woke up naturally to the chirping of birds or rays of gentle sunlight. I could do my morning reading or squirrel-watching in the small garden right in front of my room. This is what city life can't offer.

In addition, they have a hot stone sauna room for three, one indoor onsen pool, one outdoor onsen pool, lots of reading material (in Japanese though), 2 foot baths (different aromas every day) and massage chairs for our usage.

Alternatively you can just watch TV in your own room too. The TV size is quite big. :p

For those willing to pay more, there's a massage chair in some single rooms.

If I can only share about the one thing that has changed for me, that would be learning to appreciate food. I eat slower now. Colleagues would know that I often gobble up my food in order to buy time to do work. Lunch time at work can be as short as 15 minutes, including queuing and buying of food.

Food seems to be so exceptionally delicious here. Especially their salads! I took down some of their recipes, and hope to replicate them at home. :) Mmm but to be truthful, I am unsure if it was because we follow a strict diet regime, so when it was meal time we were actually pretty hungry and food just tastes exceptionally well even though they are the healthier options. You know, less oil, less salt, less sugar. When I finally had fish on my last breakfast there, it tasted so good, I can almost gobble down the bones. LOL.

But then we have to give them credit, as all the sauces are prepared by the crew. They didn't use the usual prepackaged stuff. So that is perhaps the secret to mouth-drooling healthy food.

The volume and variety of food increases with time. I started with just salad and soup. Here are some photos of my detox course (the ones with more volume and variety).

We are free to leave the ryokan and classes are not compulsory too, so we went exploring in the afternoons. The staff recommends walks around the area (immerse yourself in nature, flower viewing etc), a trip to Akazawa spa, mountain hiking at the nearby hill 大室山, leisure walk around the lake etc. I went to visit the 大室山 and 赤沢日帰り温泉館. The nearest bus stop is about 10-15 minutes walk away. You can take the bus from 伊豆高原 station bus stop 1 too.

Crater on top of the hill. You can even try archery in the crater.

It can get rather cold on the hill. The wind is strong too. Remember to bring a cardigan with you.

If you're a onsen lover like me, then you have to visit 赤沢日帰り温泉館. Gosh, the view is awesome! Imagine an infinity onsen pool that overlooks the sea and mountains. The huge indoor pool, rotenburo (outdoor pool) and even sauna room all have access to that view. Isn't that awesome? If that's not enough to tempt you, they are well-stocked with DHC products, and there are 2 special DHC enhanced onsen tubs.

There's a free shuttle bus from 伊豆高原 station at the Yamamo Exit. Look out for a small blue bus. They also provide free return trips to the station.

They have a shuttle bus service to fetch us from the station at 13.10 every Friday (the day we check-in) to the ryokan. There will buses that fetch us from the ryokan to the station at 10.40am every day during our stay there too. However they do not have daily shuttle service from station to ryokan, so make use of the local bus instead.

In December 2017, I was back for a second visit. And this time i covered two new places. Here's how's you can get there:

Izu Teddy Bear Museum

This small quaint museum is famous for the Totoro exhibition. First storey showcases the teddy bear collection, while the second storey houses the Totoro exhibition. It is now into Part 2 of the exhibition phase. It's very family friendly. When I visited, there were several other Japanese families with young children's (read: toddlers). Hence if you would like more time to take photographs with Totoro and friends, I would recommend that you go on a weekday instead.

This is an actual "bus" you can take pictures inside it!

Ticket price
The ticket costs 1080yen, but you can get a 100yen discount when you pre-purchase the tickets at the vending machine at the 伊豆高原 Izukougen train station. That particular vending machine also sells discounted tickets for other tourist attractions. Do check this out before you proceed with sightseeing.

How to get there
It's within walking distance from the train station. There are some slopes, so a stroll to the museum will take about 20 minutes.
Official website on how to get there.

When you are in Izu, you have to see the Izu shoreline. I wanted to see the sea so much, that I waited an hour for the bus. Take the bus from bus stand 2 at the Izukougen train station bus stop. The bus only comes every hour though, so do take note of the timing. The ride is about 10 minutes. Do watch out for the LCD screen in the bus. The bus stop you are alighting at is 海洋公园. This is the same bus stop that you alight if you intend to hike to the Jogasaki Cliff.

I really love the view of the sea here. I could sit here all day and watch the waves crash upon the rocks, the seagulls circling the sea...

That's probably what you have been waiting for, so was there any improvement after my 4-day-3-night detox trip? Well I definitely feel better. It was pretty stress-free over there, and everyone was friendly and nice. I lost about 1.5kg, and my body fats went down by a grade. And my body age went down by 1 year old too.

If you're adventurous and would like a different kind of stay, you can consider this course. I really enjoyed my time there, and would love to go back again, some time in future :)

Mmm but there's a prerequisite though, you would need to know Japanese to fully enjoy your stay there, since there's no one who is conversant in English over there. Ganbatte ne!

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