“TOUJI YANAGIYA”, a representative of “modern TOUJI”

The most symbolic scenery in BEPPU or even whole OITA Prefecture is the steam of ONSEN rising in this KANNAWA town. The representative of “modern TOUJI” is located in this town.

Obsoleting culture of traditional “TOUJI”

TOUJI (湯治) is an old traditional culture in Japan to heal mental & physical fatigue by the power of ONSEN. However, today, more and more people in Japan don’t even know about this culture, or perceive it as “old”, “only for farmers”, or “obsoleting culture”. But on the other hand, for ONSEN lovers like me, TOUJI YADO is the place where have high-quality medical ONSEN and the place where you can benefit from ONSEN the most. In addition, since such TOUJI YADO doesn’t have too much service, different from normal ONSEN hotels and RYOKAN, the price is low and you can stay as if you live there, thus it matches for solo travel, backpacker, and long-stay. Having said that, since it doesn’t have much service and hospitality compared to ONSEN hotels and RYOKAN, it has been becoming the destination where doesn’t fit into the present needs, and more and more TOUJI YADO and TOUJI culture itself have been becoming obsolete.

However, there are some brand-new TOUJI YADO, which break the mold and fit into the present needs, coming out. A representative of these new TOUJI YADOs is “TOUJI YANAGIYA (湯治柳屋)”.

Modern TOUJI (現代湯治)

In Japan, many of the ONSEN hotels and RYOKANs only accept 2 and more persons per room/night in the busy period like weekend and national holidays. Therefore, those who want to enjoy solo travel have to pay double to book a room. This is the reason why I have avoided staying at the hotels and RYOKANs which are not worth paying double. I have chosen the hotels and RYOKANs where accept solo travel with only the price for 1 person or the price for 1 room regardless the number of persons staying. Isn’t it fine to travel alone!?

In addition, since spending precious time for travel, I sticked to the quality and freshness of the ONSEN.

TOUJI YADO really matches me because TOUJI YADO maintains ONSEN very well and its quality is really amazing. Moreover, though it used to be the place for long stay, it nowadays accepts short stay as well. Since TOUJI is to heal mental & physical fatigue and such healing is better to be done alone, TOUJI YADO matches solo travelers.

Bathing in ONSEN calmly alone. After healing my tired mind and body, I started working again with refreshed mind and body. While I was staying at TOUJI YADO, I sometimes sorted out my to-do list, and sometimes didn’t work at all and kept reading books which I’d selected and put in my bag from tremedous amount of unread books piled up in my house. Sometimes I only slept earnestly, ate earnestly, and bathed in ONSEN earnestly. And sometimes I earnestly cooked healthy foods for my body, and sometimes just requested TOUJI YADO to cook for me. I wanted to cherish such time and space. I didn’t want to enjoy sightseeing, but wanted to have time to re-think of my self treatment. That is something I wanted to call “TOUJI”, and I was sure this would be the style of traveling which becomes a growing demand in the current society.

“Modern TOUJI (現代湯治)” is the concept of such style of traveling. I cannot spell it out how it’s different from the traditional TOUJI clearly yet, but different from the impression of “dirty”, “cheap”, and “narrow” which traditional TOUJI had, I have kept feeling that “comfortable space” where you can enjoy “comfortable bathing” in your “own style” are essential for TOUJI YADO to fit into the current needs and survive even in the future. YANAGIYA is the place where meets all these elements. Since I happened to know it by some magazines, it has been on my mind for a while. Although I didn’t have chance to visit there, one of my friend introduced the owner of this YANAGIYA. Her name is Ms. EIKO HASHIMOTO.

EIKO-san coming down on the wind

From the pictures on the magazines I saw, the quality, taste, and sense of this YANAGIYA really touched my feelings. I want to touch the mood and atmosphere of this YANAGIYA. When I wished so, one of my friend just recommended it to me as this YANAGIYA is a must-visit for those who love TOUJI. He kindly introduced the owner EIKO-san to me.

What kind of taste does EIKO-san have? How has her taste been polished like that? What is she like? Why has she started TOUJI YADO? Although I wanted to ask a lot of questions to her, I was a little nervous so that I forgot what to ask when I reached YANAGIYA.

While I was waiting and relaxing at the cafe where a staff had asked me to wait, she came down to me on the wind of KANNAWA town. Wow, finally I met her. Since she was really generous and friendly, I was able to ask a lot of questions and we talked a lot.

EIKO-san kindly showed me all around YANAGIYA. An apartment like shared house which was still under construction, a kitchen where deli and soba noodle restaurant would be tenanted, a white space for the creative stay, the main building for traditional TOUJI stay, the new building for luxury stay, the villa for private use, corridors and conversation lounge which connect each function, a steam kitchen for cooking which is indispensable in the life in KANNAWA, courtyard, the cafe “anteroom” which can be used as co-working space (we have waited for her here), reception, outside rest area, outside corridor which connects each building, the gallery cafe “alteneue”, and last but not least, ONSEN, bathrooms, a space for drinking ONSEN, and spring source. She kindly showed us really everything.

Although she is super busy and so many people talked to her and so many phone calls came into her during walking around, but she kindly spent 2 hours for us and showed us around everything of YANAGIYA.


Excavated beauty

I initially thought that EIKO-san had made huge rennovations on this TOUJI YADO after she had succeeded from ex-owner, but it was not. First, the taste of ex-owner was really amazing. EIKO-san told me that she had just cleaned it up, and then beautiful buildings which had slept woke up and its potential beauty appeared. She just kept most of the parts as they used to be, repaired some parts, added some facilities to fit into the current needs of traveling, changed sense of distance in some parts, and dare not changed some parts as well. I felt as if she was an archaeologist to excavate archaeological remains and an evangelist to introduce it to the present day. The Sagrada Familia is still under construction, but Antonio Gaudi said “it’s already there and I only excavate it”. EIKO-san might be Antonio Gaudi in Japan, though she is female…

That might be why this YANAGIYA has the best balanced atmosphere that looks new but not new, and seems old but not too old. “retro-modern” and “nostalgy”. Such words came up to my mind.

What EIKO-san taught me

There were many words which touched my feelings among a lot of things she taught me.

“Memory of this town”

She told me that things which she dared not change were the height of ceiling and window. What are visible from this eye level and this angle must be the scenery which the townscape used to look. I understood these scenery were the memory of this town. How many of people who used to see this scenery from this eye level and angle will come back here to see the same. But it doesn’t have to be them themselves, but people newly visiting here like us can see the same townscape which was seen some decades ago. Old is not always bad. Not everything should fit into the current needs. “Modern TOUJI” doesn’t always have to fit into the current needs of traveling. I really felt like that when I heard she said. What TOUJI YADO has to do is to respect the history and keep telling it to modern society. It’s really important to let visitors feel it.

Although we spent 2 hours together, I had a lot more things to talk with her, and I really wished to have more time. Her worldview, sense of beauty, and sincere attitude for things. I was really stimulated with her diverse perspective, speedy and concrete actions.

TOUJI trip is not only to bathe in ONSEN, but it has full of encounter with this kind of energetic people whose energy springs out like ONSEN. These people are making local area more interesting and generate fun and relationship not just bathing in ONSEN. Relationship with others is also an important factor in TOUJI. Although I couldn’t stay at YANAGIYA and just met EIKO-san this time, I will surely stay here next time.

Next article: Eco, fun, and healthy. Variety of steamed cuisines by natural ONSEN steam

Related article: Your first experience of TOUJI – Enjoy different way of ONSEN trip

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