“KAMENOI BESSO (亀の井別荘)”, a super luxury ONSEN hotel with tradition and innovation

Holiday home exclusively for VIPs has become our holiday home.

“KAMENOI BESSO (亀の井別荘)” is one of the most famous and luxury ONSEN RYOKANs in Japan since its opening in 1921 where initially used to be the holiday home of KUMAHACHI ABURAYA (油屋熊八), father of BEPPU tourism. It has long history of approx. 100 years.

Tourism in Japan started during EDO (江戸) Period, but people were not allowed to travel across the states without written permission (通行手形 / TSUKO TEGATA). Later, ISE Pilgrimage and TOUJI had become popular, and as time passed through MEIJI (明治), TAISHO (大正), SHOWA (昭和), HEISEI (平成) Periods, the purpose of trip has changed to pleasure trip, group travel, and personal travel.

In Japan, in many cases, RYOKAN (Japanese traditional inn) were established at the place where ONSEN was found, and a lot of traditional ONSEN RYOKANs have been able to keep operating thanks to the blessings of ONSEN. However, as the purpose of trip has changed, many of traditional ONSEN RYOKANs which couldn’t adopt this trend ended up closing their operation. KAMENOI BESSO has kept adopting the trend of the times. They have changed from the exclusive holiday home for VIPs to the holiday home for the common people. These flexible changes have made them keep being one of the top ONSEN RYOKANs in Japan through 100 years.

The concept of this RYOKAN is “あらまほしき日常 (ARAMAHOSHIKI NICHIJO)”. “ARAMAHOSHIKI” is a Japanese archaic word meaning “ideal” and “the way you like”, and “NICHIJO” means “daily life”. KAMENOI BESSO is exactly full of ideal daily life which we wanted to have.

Ideal daily life – Garden

YUFUIN (湯布院) is currently a very popular ONSEN place. The town is not that big, and you can enjoy viewing the nature like lake and mountains. The spring quality of ONSEN here is also nice and the quality of ONSEN RYOKANs in this area is high. In addition, there are a lot of nice restaurants and gift shops as well. It’s very well balanced sightseeing spot. KAMENOI BESSO played a major role to develop this YUFUIN town itself. At the present day, YUFUIN has become one of the most famous ONSEN towns in Japan and not just Japanese people, but also a lot of people from outside Japan, especially people from Korea and China, are visiting this town. You can enjoy various local events and contents here.

On the other hand, I sometimes feel like keeping away from this kind of crowdedness. Although KAMENOI BESSO is located very closed to KINRINKO Lake (金鱗湖) where a lot of tourists gather, the sound of crowdedness is not heard at all once you go inside the thatched entrance gate of KAMENOI BESSO. It might be actually heard, but you don’t feel any sound around you once you step inside the garden of this RYOKAN. This garden of KAMENOI BESSO gives you silence and freedom which keeps you away from the bustle of the town.

You will imagine how much power this garden has from these pictures.

KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO

It was early November when we visited here. Trees at lower altitude in BEPPU City were still green, but trees here in YUFUIN at 455 meters high already got beautiful colors.

I realized that “silence” doesn’t mean “no sound”, but it’s the comfortable sound of trees swaying in the wind, the sunlight and leaves making Yin and Yang on my feet, and my heart becomes clearer. How much effort they make to keep this garden so clean. But it doesn’t look like artificial. It does look as if this garden has existed as it used to be in the ancient times. This amazing garden is the face and characteristics of this KAMENOI BESSO.

Ideal daily life – Villa

I checked in at the main building. Japanese confectioneries and green tea were served at the spacious reception hall. The confectionery of this time was sweet dried persimmon which made me feel the season.

KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO

After the check-in, hotel staff took us to our villa through garden which is totally 33,000 square meters. It was really exciting as if I went inside the forest, and at the same time it was like I came to have peace in mind.

In addition to the main building which has 6 western rooms, there are 15 villas in this vast garden. All the villas look like Japanese old traditional house. There used to be less number of rooms in the past, but as tourism became popular in Japan they have increased the number of villas to adopt the trend. Having said that, there is still an ambience of “private holiday home” thanks to this vast garden. The arrangement of each villa is different, and I really want to stay all the villas during my whole life.

If you want to stay at this hotel, I recommend you to book by phone rather than through WEB site or online travel agencies. There seems to be some rooms/villas and their vacancy which are not shown in the web, and the hotel staff kindly selects or recommends the best-fit room/villa for your needs.

On the way to our villa, I often saw the small statue of elephant in the garden. The staff told me that the nose of this elephant shows the direction to “conversation lounge” where all the guests can use. It’s a smarter sign than putting signboards.

KAMENOI BESSO

Now, we have reached our villa “The Villa No.1”. This is going to be our holiday home from this moment. The entrance, the rooms seen from the entrance, relaxing living room, and every little element is fantastic. The bedroom where you can see bamboo forest should be good to do ZEN meditation. The private indoor bath and outdoor bath where you can see beautiful garden have really pure natural ONSEN. The floor of all rooms are TATAMI and the nice smell of TATAMI surrounded me right at the moment I opened the entrance door. This might be a kind of Japanese aroma. In addition, though this villa has been renovated in 2016 and 2 years has passed since then, there’s not a speck of dust in the whole villa, and it rather has dignified cleanliness. 

KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO

In autumn, it was a bit cold in YUFUIN. Floor heating is equipped all around the villa, and it is gently warm sitting at the TATAMI room. I felt like lying down there.

Not only this Villa No.1, but all the villas have private ONSEN of GENSEN KAKENAGASHI (源泉掛け流し / Free flowing ONSEN directly springing out from the source). You don’t need to worry about the time and other people, and you can fully enjoy bathing in natural ONSEN privately. Dinner and breakfast are served in the villa so that you can also enjoy your meal privately. What a luxury holiday home this is.

What if my daily life is like this.

Ideal daily life – Conversation lounge

The conversation lounge, where the statues of elephant in the garden teach you the direction to, has countless number of books lined from floor to ceiling, comfortable sofa and chairs, and fireplace and gramophone.

KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO

I was wondering why the warmth of fireplace calms me that much. The time at this lounge goes really slow with coffee, reading books, sunshine, and fireplace.

What if my daily life is like this.

Ideal daily life – Large public bath & outdoor bathes

Although the private bathes in my villa were really amazing, the large public bath with some outdoor bathes were also fantastic. In addition to the distinctive large bath, several outdoor bathes, which give us the taste of untouched nature though they’re really well maintained, are unbelievably relaxing. When I came to this bathes in the morning, birds were singing, and I felt like keep watching sunshining garden. I wanted to read books here. I wanted to think of various things. Though this is the bath. I feel the bath for Japanese people is not just the place to clean the body, but the place to make mind refresh and to sort out the feelings. That might be why this kind of outdoor bathes have been made here.

What if my daily life is like this.

Ideal daily life – Cafe and bar

There’s a cafe named “Tea House TENJO SAJIKI (茶房 天井桟敷)” which operates only in the daytime. At night time, it changes to “Bar YAMANEKO (バー山猫)”. The traditional-look building in the garden used to be the old liquor shop of Edo Period and it has been relocated here. Its open-timbered ceiling made me feel the good taste of craftsman. Really spacious, but less chairs. They dare not push many customers inside. Although waiting time could be a bit long instead, you can forget the time with viewing the beautiful gardens while waiting.

KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO
KAMENOI BESSO

It is surely happy to have tea here with reading books calmly or enjoy conversation with good friends.

What if my daily life is like this.

Ideal daily life – Time

What I can say from all these elements is that the time in KAMENOI BESSO is extremely special. Room, food, ONSEN, and garden. These are the elements which all the ONSEN RYOKANs have, but how is it so different? Maybe it comes from “margin” of their service mind.

If you have “margin” or “room” in your heart, you will be able to accept and treat some unexpected things. However, on the contrary, if you don’t, your capacity will be full easily.

When people travel, when people travel for TOUJI, perhaps they want to unload the baggage and have some “room” inside their heart. traveling somehow resets traveler’s mind. ONSEN is also a kind of ZEN meditation to bathe in. It cleanses and purifies the body from the dirty or fatigue, and gives us room in our mind. We absorb fresh air and scenery and new experience into this new room, and that makes us refresh.

Since KAMENOI BESSO themselves has enough margin in their mind, guests can go inside it.

Although I had a lot of things which I wanted to see and do, somehow I didn’t feel that I had to do everything. Rather, I felt like staying with doing nothing calmly and peacefully. But, as a result, I had enough time to do and see everything I wanted. Walking around the vast beautiful garden with keeping viewing breath-taking autumn leaves. I realized how the room in the mind is important.

What if my daily life is full of moments to notice this kind of feeling.

In the morning, autumn leaves in the garden was shining and it looked far more beautiful than any other things I’ve ever seen. Contrast between sunlight coming down to me through autumn leaves and dark shade on my feet was really unforgettable. I wanted to keep seeing it.

KAMENOI BESSO

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