• Shelley Dark

11. Beniya Mukayu


We negotiated our way from hotel to the metro to JR Shinkansen train line this morning without getting lost and in time for me to wander the shops in the depths of the Kyoto Train Station. It's always a relief though, isn't it, when you are safely on the right train?

This was part of a street window display by a company called Nichikon which Google tells me makes aluminium electrolytic capacitors. Not sure what they are or what it has to do with a line of gold fish - but it sure beats a window full of industrial gear.

Spring shrubs are coming into bloom everywhere - this white azalea was in a garden next to the stairs down to the metro.

John sat on the platform reading the English paper from the hotel minding the baggage. Remember I was worried that there’d be only Japanese signs when we were catching trains? Thankfully there’s English on all the signs and plenty of very helpful staff.

There’s a whole world of shopping under the station. I went into a shop called Doux Archives and bought a pair of sox. Grey of course! Apart from our slightly wet freeze in Takayama, it's been glorious weather. Today was a short sleeves kind of day.

This beautiful girl looked after me. She could be a model couldn’t she? Like many Japanese girls she has a perfect complexion.

You know how I make a beeline for florist shops? Pardon the pun.

Here’s your daily dose. If I’d found this florist before, we would have had the white sweet peas in our hotel room. Can't you smell them?

There's a great food hall down there too - I bought us both a salad lunch to have on the train. There was a mind-numbing choice. Bento boxes, tempura, salads by weight, French bakeries, hot food shops, restaurants. I just followed the crowd and joined the longest queue.

When I arrived back on the platform, a Japanese man who was packing up his rice cake (I think that's what this is!) boxes had given John one as a gift. We are finding the Japanese people just so kind! The texture of rice cakes is soft and springy and stretchy so quite fun to bite into.

Our train this morning was called a Thunderbird! Our reserved seat said we were in carriage one, so we found that corresponding number on the edge of the platform. It’s a little confusing though, because there are the same numbers in different colours and they don’t line up with each other. I guess you are supposed to know what colour your train is. We stood on blue 1, and it turned out we ought to be have been on yellow 1. It wasn close thank goodness.

Just before we left Kyoto, it started to drizzle and continued for much of the trip. What a wonderful way to travel it is - quiet, quick, comfortable and with power point to charge devices. No wifi though. The doors inside this train opened by waving your hand in the right place. Space age! By the time we arrived at Kaga Onsen, it was fine again.

We expected a car and driver at Kaga Onsen Station. What we got was two cars. Two drivers. One was holding up a sign saying Mr and Mrs Dark. The other was holding up a sign saying Michelle Dark. I wish I'd had the presence of mind to take a photo - it looked so funny! It took quite a bit of pointing at ourselves and quite a bit of laughing to make them understand that we were not three people. They didn't seem to mind as one just went back to the taxi rank at the station.

The seats of Japanese taxis are covered with white stretch lace, and the driver operates the door remotely.

Beniya Mukayu began as a hotel in 1928 in little spa town of Yamashiro. The present owners, Mr and Mrs Nakamichi, are third generation, and the 17-room boutique hotel is now up on a hill overlooking the town, part of the Relais & Châteaux group.

The approach though is through a neglected neighbourhood and the entrance is in a big bare carpark. There is bare gravel either side of this garden. I had seen a similar photo to the one above and I'd imagined that it was in a forest!

The town looks to me as if it was once very fashionable and is no longer. And my first impression was that the hotel desk and foyer area need refurbishment. My heart sank. I hate to be disappointed when I have high hopes.

After five minutes of absorbing the quite incredible energy of Beniya Mukayu, I had forgotten that impression. I was totally won over.

The owner's father commissioned an architect called Kiyoshi Sey Takeyama to do the plans, and the younger Mr Nakamichi and his wife work closely with the designer Kenya Hara not only for the furniture and artwork but for simple things like water bottles, stationery etc. It's a total design brief. Mrs Nakamichi buys for the hotel on her travels.

We were welcomed on the front path by a couple of staff and the Manager Edward, a graduate from the UK who has been here for six months. We felt as if we knew each other after the email to-ing and fro-ing of the past few months. His introduction over a freshly squeezed apple juice was superior to most, comprehensive and warm. Then he took us on a guided tour of the hotel before showing us our room.

The colour palette is neutral, walls rendered or preformed concrete, floors plain concrete, hallways carpet. Spaces are uncluttered, but each piece of decoration has been carefully chosen.There is a library full of interesting books and the Endei spa uses product made from local herbs. I'll let you know what I think of it tomorrow night.

This is our bedroom with a high balcony overlooking the garden. I'll show you the garden tomorrow too.

The roof of our balcony has an interesting round hole which I imagine throws a lovely shadow in sunny weather.

Views over the gardens.

The corner of our bathroom.

Our bamboo enclosed hot tub on the balcony is filled with water from the town's hot spring. It undergoes no purification and it's crystal clear. Of course it cures all sorts of health problems!

We wanted to make the most of the fine weather so we quickly set off via a covered walkway and elevator to the town itself. This is the quite exquisitely picturesque public bath house.

I'm not sure of the date of this photo which we saw inside, but it looks to be early twentieth century don't you think?

Some plants find their way to all corners of the globe, don't they. What a show!

We visited a temple off the main square. On the main gate, the craftsmanship of the woodwork, the copper, the carving!

A pine tree's long heavy branches have been trained along these post supports.

We visited a temple and a shrine, side by side as they often are. The Buddhist temple was established about 1300 years ago. Centuries later the town was visited by the emperor who found that bathing in the waters of the hot spring (onsen) returned him to good health, so he established a complex of buildings. The Shinto shrine honours three guardian deities. There are several massive old trees like this.

The last of the cherry blossom petals lining the walkways.

We walked up the hill to an observation tower overlooking the alps and the town.

There were panoramic views, but few cherry trees blossoming.

The naturalised daffodils are just starting to flower. They originally came from the Mediterranean through China.

We wanted to be back by 5pm for the tea ceremony which Mr Nakamichi, an expert I'm sure, performed for us in the library. It's a symbol of Japanese hospitality - remember omotenashi? It was really intriguing to see how much care was taken over placement of objects, folding, scooping, whisking. Kana in Kyoto has been studying the tea ceremony for ten years. I think it takes a lifetime.

He is a very interesting and charming man. His wife takes yoga classes outside the dining room before breakfast each morning. I don't think I'll make it tomorrow. By the way, Beniya Mukayu won the Best Hotel Spa Worldwide 2015 in the Hotel of the Year Awards.

We were on our way to the dining room for a kaiseki dinner (like a degustation) as the sun was setting.

This is our menu - read it from right to left. There were ten courses, with sake to begin. Simply a delight from start to finish.

John drank Japanese asahi beer. I tried Mukayu's own wine called Shiro 2013, coloured pink like a rosé but actually a very acceptable white. It was made from koshu grapes, indigenous to Japan.

The staff were all wonderful. Rather than one waiter for the night, I think every staff member brought a course. All the seafood including the crab came from the ocean twenty minutes away. The beef is local. I was interested to see the bamboo shoot salt crust casing being broken at the table and sliced by a chef.

The restaurant manager Kosuke, pronounced KOS-KAY spoke very good English. He was an exchange student in the UK and the US, and now works seven days a week by choice. His parents have a three storey house. They live on one floor, Kosuke's brother lives on another, and he on another. John asked if he had a girl friend. 'My job is my girl friend,' he said, laughing.

This is us on our steps after dinner. John wore his bedroom slippers to dinner. Oops. Edward told us that it's very acceptable to wear the yukata all around the hotel and the town. We might do that for breakfast, but tonight I just wore the white toe-sox and wooden clogs which weren't as hard to wear as I'd imagined. We have toilet slippers, bedroom slippers, plus outside clogs with white toe-sox. And there were different flip flops to put on when we arrived at the dining room.

What a wonderful day. There's so much more I could tell you but it's time for me to sleep possums. Tomorrow Mrs Nakamichi is going to give me a brief tour of the garden before our cooking lesson. We're eating the results for lunch. At 3pm a signature treatment at the famous spa! Ohhhh I can't wait.

I'll tell you how it all was tomorrow night. Until then buddies....

#JapanApril2017

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shelley dark 

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