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)