Aya no Sho, a Seamless Blend of East and West.

featured, Okategoriserade, Onsen, Ryokan

Heavy rain batters against the car drowning out the faint sound of storm warnings on the radio as we pull up to Ryokan Aya no Sho (彩の庄). A sliver of nervousness grasps us as we imagine the entire inn being swept away by the wet forces of nature. As we step out of our car, a kind-looking man with circular glasses awaits us under protection of the wooden roof which marks the entrance to Aya no Sho. Almost as if it had been the most splendid of summer days without a single cloud in the skies, he greets us with a smile so bright and shining that it makes us forget the raging storm around us.
“Welcome! We have been awaiting your arrival!”
Melting away our worries, he guides us into the safe embrace of the unique and particular world which is Aya no Sho.

This is the ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) Aya no Sho. As you might have guessed from my attempt at a dramatic introduction, this picture isn’t from the day of our arrival, but as we checked out. In other words, miraculously, the weather took a shape for the better after our check in, and as you will see, when we woke up the next morning, the weather was finally in synch with the smile of the man in circular glasses.

I mentioned that Aya no Sho is a unique and particular world, and this picture of the lobby, where you first arrive as you step inside this ryokan, might give a hint as to why.
It is hard to grasp if the interior design of Aya no Sho is more inspired by the west or by the east. At first glance, the overall structure seems to remind of Japan, but at closer examination there is a lot more than first meets the eye.

You will find details that clearly has a different origin. But what is most impressive, is that everything has a story. Regardless if it’s the wooden beams that are made using local cedar trees and apparently have made carpenters cry as the owner pursued to show off the wood’s natural beauty, or the kitchen stove from 1912, which sits in the middle of the lobby and has been imported from Canada where it used to live an active life preparing food in a regular home. Aya no Sho is truly an impressive blend of Japanese and Western design. It is all done with great care and attention to details which results in a fascinating, and sometimes slightly odd, but nonetheless seamless result.

As we are guided towards our room along the maze-like pathways of Aya no Sho we are as surprised by the continuously changing scenery as we are by the sheer size of this ryokan. The grounds of Aya no Sho stretch over about 4628 square meters, which is about two thirds of a soccer field, or for further visualization, 2794 tatami mats.

Here we have our room! Calling it a room almost feels offensive as it actually is a small standalone house.
Aya no Sho consists of 12 wooden houses containing 14 rooms for staying guests. We had the honor of moving into the “room” called Natsume! Let’s step in and have a look!

As soon as you step inside, atmospheric lamps lit up inviting you into your home for the night.

The room really is one of the highlights of Aya no Sho! Spacious, traditional, detailed, and with a wall of glass doors heading out to your private little garden. And… Wait for it… Here it comes…


“Engawa (縁側)” is a type of wooden terrace often found on traditional Japanese houses. For many years I’ve been a passionate Engawa-fanatic and, if I could choose, I would preferably live my entire life sitting on this seemingly simple row of connected planks.

My personal recommendation is the “morning-sun-engawa”! But engawa is great at any hours of the day. A cup of Japanese sake at the engawa beneath a starry sky is a pretty stellar experience as well!

There is one more thing that makes the rooms at Aya no Sho very special and this is one of the main reasons that I, from the bottom of my heart, can recommend Aya no Sho to anyone. Namely…

The private bath in your room! Yes, look and behold! This is the private onsen that comes with your room. In other words, unlimited access at any hours of the day. All of Aya no Sho’s rooms are equipped with their own private open-air onsen. At most ryokan, this is a privilege reserved for the fanciest rooms, but at Aya no Sho, you can get this premium experience for a very reasonable price! I can’t stress enough how awesome this is. Without a doubt the best bath I’ve had attached to a room so far!

With that said, I’ll transition straight into the rest of the baths.

Since all rooms in Aya no Sho come with their own private onsen, there are no reservable private baths, but there is a large shared bath, one for ladies and went for gentlemen. Follow the sign that says “Big Bath”!

As always, blue is for boys and red is for girls!

After having gotten into your birthday suit, step into the bathing area. In the first area you will find a steam-sauna, showers, and an indoor bath.

Step outside and you will find two BIG baths! One is partially covered by a roof while the one further back is under an open sky. Since it was raining outside I took another picture the next morning for comparison. Well, there is no doubt that the right picture with a blue sky and sun which brings out the vibrant colors to the water is more photogenic. But that doesn’t mean that the actual bathing experience itself suffers from the rain. Actually, quite the opposite!

As I sat in the onsen, beneath an open sky, it was an incredibly satisfying feeling to have the cold rain drops hitting my face creating a pleasant contrast between hot and cold. And hey, it isn’t very often that you have the opportunity to stand back naked in the rain which is a pretty liberating experience. Especially when you can slip into a hot spring as soon as it gets a little chilly.

Let’s move on and check out the food!

One cool thing about Aya no Sho is that your room has its own designated eating area. It almost feels like your own private Izakaya-restaurant. Especially in times of Corona and social distance, this is a feature that I think many will appreciate. Let me share a few of the dishes that stood out to me!

Overall the food was really nice. Especially if you are a curious gourmet who likes to try out new flavors. Many rare ingredients and slightly unusual combinations can be found decorating Aya no Sho’s menu. But what really shines through is that everything is prepared with care, consideration and displays a deep understanding of flavors.

If you are a fan of seafood, I think Aya no Sho’s food will hit all the right spots. One of the delicacies that won a special place in my heart was the scallop! Soft, flavorful and perfect with a few drops of lemon juice! It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this little scallop turned me from a sceptic to a believer.

Hang on! Of course, there is something for the carnivore as well! A completely wonderful mini-BBQ with the best meat I’ve had in a while. When it comes to food, I’m simple, meat is what makes me roll my eyes back and moan deeply. This soft and wonderful Wagyu-meat, bursting with umami-flavors, tickled my taste-buds in all the right ways.

Finally, to top it off, a nice and balanced dessert with fruits, custard pudding, and a green tea cake, neatly featuring all my favorite elements of Japanese sweets.

Back in the room, with your belly stuffed to the brim, it’s always nice to let yourself fall down on the soft futon mattresses that magically has appeared in your absence. And before you know it, sleep has you in a firm grasp with no intention of letting go for a couple of wonderful hours.

As I’ve hinted, the next morning was nothing like when we arrived. We found ourselves waking up to birds chirping and stepped out into a beautiful world bathing in sunlight.

Lit up by sunshine filtering through the trees, the outdoor pathways suddenly come alive and the still damp moss shimmers like gold. At once it becomes apparent that this is the true form and inherent beauty of Aya no Sho.

A classical Japanese breakfast awaits you with everything from miso soup to grilled fish, salad, steamed delicacies, and of course, fluffy sticky and perfectly cooked with rice. I’m usually a bread and coffee consumer in the morning so I can never truly get used to this style of breakfast. But it’s undeniable that it feels really healthy and provides you with enough energy to keep going for most of the day.

But if you’re like me, unable to operate properly without your morning coffee, don’t worry!

Stop by the ‘Lounge’ on your way back to the room!

This western style inspired space is intentionally shaped to resemble a small house/barn on the American countryside. I’m not American but for me it truly hit a note giving me a nostalgic tingle reminding me of my grandmother’s old summerhouse. Most impressive is the fact that the glasshouse in the right picture actually is imported from England! This only further demonstrates the never-ending attention to details, even though most visitors might never even notice.

Let’s continue to that coffee! Thankfully, Aya no Sho offers a slightly later check-out at 11:00 am allowing you to leisurely enjoy one, two, or three cups of coffee, or tea for that matter, in the lounge while reading a book or browsing through a magazine. The drinks are self-service and free of charge so keep drinking as much as your bladder can handle.

So, let me finish off by summarizing our experience. Aya no Sho is, in a positive way, a slightly different ryokan and it takes time to fully appreciate its greatness. At first it might seem haphazard but as you start to scratch the surface to uncover all the stories that are hidden in every single part of Aya no Sho, a feeling of wonder and adventure takes root, urging you to delve deeper and discover everything there is to know about this ryokan.

But even if the historic details and particularity of every design choice doesn’t capture your interest, Aya no Sho offers one of my favorite rooms to date. It doesn’t only come with its own private garden and engawa, but also offer you the unbeatable experience of having an open-air onsen attached to your room. This often very exclusive and expensive experience can be had at a fair price at a very fair price if you visit Aya no Sho. This alone is truly enough of a reason for anyone to consider a visit to Aya no Sho.

So, who should stay at Aya no Sho?
1. I’m looking for a ryokan with a unique and fascinating atmosphere
2. I’m someone who value my own private space
3. I’m hoping to fulfill that life-long dream of having a private open-air onsen in my room
Bonus! 4. I’m a dedicated lover of the Japanese engawa!
If this sounds like you, then Aya no Sho is a match made in heaven!

I hope you enjoyed this write-up and that we soon find ourself in a travel-friendly world so you can have the great experience I had at Aya no Sho as well.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

For more information, look below!
Website: https://ayanosho.com/ (only in Japanese)
Contact: 0967-44-0234

Ryokan Fujimoto, Homely luxury at its best!

Onsen, Ryokan

After my last stay at Ryokan Sanga, I got the opportunity to continue my hometown travels in exchange for documenting my experiences in English! My first stop is Ryokan Fujimoto! Ryokan Fujimoto turned out to be a fantastic experience that far surpassed my expectations with its homely but still refined take on luxury. Come along for the ride and explore Fujimoto with me!

Even though Minamioguni is a small town, it is home to 5 different onsen (hot spring) areas and hosts some of the best Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) in Kumamoto. The most famous one is the infamous Kurokawa Onsen which attracts visitors from wide and afar. Other than Kurokawa Onsen we have Ta-no-Haru Onsen, Mangan-Ji Onsen, Ota Onsen, and lastly Shirakawa Onsen. Each of them has their own unique flavor and many who fall in love with Kurokawa Onsen often move on to find their own favorite getaway among these petite hidden-away ryokan. It is in Shirakawa onsen where we find Ryokan Fujimoto, a small family-run ryokan with only eight rooms guaranteeing you a relaxing and private experience.

Before we head in, we need to start off with a mandatory shot in front of the atmospheric entrance framed by meticulously cut greenery.

Once you step inside you will find yourself right infront of the reception were the staff will greet you before guiding you to your room.

Speaking of the room! Super clean and spacious! The crisp modern design mixtures classical Japanese design with elements of western atmosphere. Pay extra attention to the high ceiling decorated with beautiful wooden beams. As you can see in the previous picture as well, this design can be found in many places around Fujimoto and creates an airy feeling.

It didn’t take more than a few minutes for us to throw ourselves at the beds! Very comfortable!! Definitely a big plus for people who might not be used to sleeping on the futon mattresses that are laid out directly at the floor. But be aware, these beds are dangerous and will make you miss the check-out time!

The large window that looks out over lush nature and atmospheric rooftops is beautiful enough to be mistaken for a piece of art. Hard to keep yourself from taking pictures! As you might notice?…

A closer look out outside displays this scenery. You can’t help but imagine the startling beauty that must be displayed when the abundant maple trees change into vivid red and yellow during autumn.
It’s also worth mentioning, you might not be able to see it, but you can hear the calming sound of the river which integrates into and becomes a part of Fujimoto while relaxing in your room!

Sorry! We got so excited by the room that we almost forgot to change into our Yukatas. Without exaggeration, this Yukata was the most comfortable I’ve worn to date!! The fabric is slightly thicker then usual and the closest way I can describe it is as an ultra-light jeans fabric, which might not sound very nice… But trust me! I’m having withdrawal-symptoms from not wearing this daily.

Another lovely detail at Fujimoto is that they have a small library! This space have also been used as a bar, explaining the bar-counter, but is now strictly used as a library. Here you can also enjoy your after-dinner coffee while leisurely browsing through any of the…

Japanese books! Couldn’t find much English literature… But one book in Korean! Better start practicing your Japanese reading skills!

Many children’s books though!
I even had the great pleasure of finding my favorite book as a child!
‘Where The Wild Things Are’
Ayu patiently listened to me (or at least pretended to) as I passionately retold the story of the main character Max’s (Guess why I liked the book as a child!) adventures!

Finally, time to explore Fujimoto’s onsen! The corridors and pathways leading to the hot springs are scenic enough by themselves and you will find yourself stopping to pose for pictures and just simply enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Here we have the entrance to the shared/public baths. I’m calling it public, but Fujimoto isn’t open for non-staying guests so it will only be shared by other overnight guests.
Red for ladies and blue for men! The bathing areas have their own unique charms and which one you get access to change on a daily basis. Down below we will have a look at the men’s bath for this day!
※Special permission to bring in a camera and take pictures in the bathing area, which normally is prohibited, has been acquired.

There are indoor-baths, sauna, showers and many other things to enjoy, but I’m going to skip all that and jump straight into the crème de la crème! The open-air baths!

Lovely, steaming, and shimmering blue hot springs surrounded by spectacular moss-covered buildings, trees, and a wall of green refreshing leaves. This bath alone would have left me more than satisfied but as I sat there I noticed what seemed like a small set of stairs heading down towards the river…?

A quick peek that revealed paradise!

This hidden bath right next to the river is everything a onsen-lover could ask for! You can pretty much stretch out your hand and dip it in the river as you let your body soak in the hot onsen-water.

Every single detail of this bath just reeks of atmosphere and I could easily sit here an entire day and just let time slowly flow away together with the mountain stream.
This is a onsen you won’t forget any time soon!

Another part I really liked about Fujimoto are the private baths! The baths themselves are of course great, but what takes it to the next level is the system to use them!

There are four baths in total. At many ryokan, you make a reservation to use a specific bath for one hour. At Fujimoto you simply pick up a ‘door tag’ at the reception. This tag can be hung outside any of the four private baths to occupy it. This allows you to freely go between the different onsen without considering time or making new reservations. A very fun and exciting way to enjoy ‘onsen-hopping’ within the Ryokan!

If you are short on time, I have to recommend either of the two open-air baths that you will find at the far back of the private bathing area. Above you can see the wooden cypress tub.

And here you have the stone-cut tub! Both of them are right by the river and can’t be described as anything other than magnificent. If I have to choose one I will probably go for the stone-cut tub. The open space without walls or anything blocking the scenery really lets you blend together with nature for a supreme hot-spring experience.

Clean, refreshed, ready for a quick nap before dinner!

Dinner is enjoyed at the clean and fashionable restaurant area. Blinders have been added to create a personal atmosphere and keep some social distance in times of Corona virus.

So! Let’s get down to business! Food!

Let me summarize. Fujimoto’s food is an absolute treat for both your taste buds and your eyes! The owner himself is the one to conceptualize, pick out the ingredients, and prepare every meal! Everything is homemade and Fujimoto is particular about using locally cultivated ingredients wherever possible.

For example! How about these wonderful slices of locally produced free-range chicken and grass-fed Akaushi wagyu beef?
You might react to the fact that the chicken isn’t cooked all the way through? I would refrain from eating that on many restaurants, but here, it is handled with most care and is totally fresh so it should be safe to eat! Still, if you feel worried, don’t force yourself!

This one on the other hand! Slowly grilled for 30 minutes so nothing to worry about! The fish is called Yamame, which translates to “mountain lady”, and is a common river dweller in the area. Squeeze some lemon and enjoy some of the best grilled fish you will ever have.

Next we have one of the main events! The white hot pot! In Japan, hot pot, known by the name of ‘Nabe (鍋)’, is a very popular dish. Not only nabe, but Japanese cuisine often pursues a mixture of vivid colors in its presentation. But this nabe challenge that trend by going for a mixture of more or less completely white ingredients. And it’s a complete success! The most amazing part was the white maitake mushroom. It’s a quite rare ingredient that lives up to its reputation with it’s gentle and refined flavor.

Since I’m no food-critic and my ability to describe food with fancy words is limited, I’ll finish off with this compilation of pictures showing tempura fried vegetables, nabe/rice/pickles and the dessert.
I would like to point out something before I move on though! Fujimoto’s food truly took me by surprise. Often, mixed into this type of course, there is some small dish that doesn’t fit my taste or feel like it’s there as a seat filler. But here, everything was incredibly tasty, and you could truly feel the love that had gone into every dish. If you are a food-junkie, then eating at Fujimoto is worth every single penny!

After dinner, we sat down at the fashionable bar counter for a coffee and small-talk with the owner. We learned that Fujimoto has been in business for 24 years and is run by him, his elder sister, and their grandfather who helps out from time to time. In other words, everything is handled by these 3 people alone which is mind-blowing!

The bar is currently not being used but we where lucky to get a drink served by the owner himself! Happy Ayu and happy Max!

But even if the bar is out of operation, you can always buy a beer at the mini-fridge! Put 500 yen in the cup and grab yourself a Corona! I love this part of Japan, no supervision, just trust and faith that people do the right thing.

Let’s have a look at the breakfast as well before we wrap up.

The breakfast buffet is one of the main attractions of Fujimoto! Because of covid-19, they considered removing the buffet, but it’s very popular among visitors so they decided to keep it. Fujimoto is a small ryokan with a limited number of guests and they make sure to disinfect everything properly. I personally agree that buffet is great since it lets you customize a breakfast that fits your own taste. Especially for foreigners like me who might not be used to the Japanese breakfast.

Speaking of things that foreigners might appreciate… Newly brewed coffee!!! ❤️

Furthermore, bread and a toaster!!! Just the fact that this is available for people who are sensitive about their food is such a simple but great detail. Thank you!

With that said, we both went for the Japanese style, and even though I could customize my breakfast, I took way too much and probably increased my waist measurements by a few centimeters! Apparently, most visitors skip lunch after having had a round of Fujimoto breakfast.
It tasted absolutely splendid though and the tranquil rural scenery outside was the perfect finishing touch!

To summarize our experience at Ryokan Fujimoto, it was the perfect mix of luxury and homeliness. The homeliness comes naturally and seeps through every part of Fujimoto, most likely thanks to the fact that it’s a small-scale business and the entire staff is made up of brother, sister, and grandpa.
The luxury is born from an unbelievable attention to details, a never-ending pursuit of perfection, and what I believe is a natural talent for creating superb atmosphere.

So, who should visit Fujimoto?
If you are a lover of food, want a slightly more secluded ryokan-experience, looking to experience rural luxury that doesn’t get ‘fancy’ or ostentatious, and are in search for that open-air onsen which will fulfill all of your dreams. Then you are the perfect person to visit Fujimoto!

I hope you enjoyed this report and get the chance to come visit Minimaioguni in Kumamoto soon so you can experience Ryokan Fujimoto for yourself!



For more information, look below!
Website: http://fuji-moto.com/trans/
Contact: info@fuji-moto.com