Beauty of silence at historical ONSEN hotel, YUNUSHI ICHIJO

From IWATE Prefecture to MIYAGI Prefecture


5th day of my TOUJI trip to northeast Japan. I moved from IWATE Prefecture to MIYAGI Prefecture.


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In the morning, I took hotel shuttle at 藤三旅館 (FUJISAN RYOKAN) and reached 新花巻駅 (SHIN HANAMAKI Station) in an hour. After that, I took SHINKANSEN and took 2 hours to reach 白石蔵王駅 (SHIROISHI ZAOU Station). Then, I took hotel shuttle to head to 湯主一條 (YUNUSHI ICHIJO).




It took only 20 minutes to YUNUSHI ICHIJO. On the way, the driver kindly told me about 白石市 (SHIROISHI City) and the history of 鎌先温泉 (KAMASAKI ONSEN). The origin of this ONSEN is that in 1428, when a local person was doing lawn mowing, the tip of his sickle hit a rock and suddenly natural ONSEN was coming out. It has been known as “奥羽の薬湯 (OU NO YAKUTOU / Medical ONSEN in OU district)” from long time ago, and its natural ONSEN still keeps springing out even now.


Now, the scenery seen from car window has changed from urban landscape to peaceful countryside. As I moved from heavily snowy district in AOMORI Prefecture to the south, the climate has become gentle. I was becoming a little relieved by coming away from severe winter and getting closer to this gentle and warm countryside because I haven’t experienced to stay in that heavy snowy environment. Then finally I’ve arrived at YUNUSHI ICHIJO which is located on the hill.


YUNUSHI ICHIJO opened its operation in 1428 and has about 600 years history. In Japan, there are a lot of hotels and companies which have long history, and this YUNUSHI ICHIJO is also one of them. There is a record at the prefectural library that 伊達政宗 (MASAMUNE DATE), a very famous SAMURAI in northeast Japan also bathed in this ONSEN, and the related record is preserved at the warehouse of this hotel. Since this hotel has that long history and the hotel buildings are well remained, all the buildings of this hotel are registered as tangible cultural properties. These tangible cultural properties have not renovated even through the period of high economic growth in Japan, and it is an admiration of keeping good old things. New things and popular things are not always good.






“一條一平 (ICHIJO IPPEI)”, the name succeeded from generation to generation


The current owner of YUNUSHI ICHIJO is 20th generation. I got his business card and it was quite surprising. 20th generation!! Their family tree is preserved. From generation to generation, the eldest son has succeeded the historical name “一條一平 (ICHIJO IPPEI)”. Their ancestor served 今川義元 (YOSHIMOTO IMAGAWA), a famous SAMURAI, and after his army was beaten at 桶狭間の戦い (Battle of OKEHAZAMA), their ancestor moved to MIYAGI Prefecture and got the right of ONSEN to start their operation of ONSEN RYOKAN.


Their warehouse where the guests cannot go inside has a lot of antiques, historical documents, and hanging scrolls, and some of them are placed here and there inside the hotel as well. It is very interesting just to walk around inside the hotel with seeing those historical things.



The concept is “Time travel”. The theme is “Forest”.


Personally I like forest much more than sea. I don’t know why. Although the sea is very beautiful in the daytime, it’s dark at night and it has a fear like you are swallowed from there. On the other hand, the forest is also dark at night but I feel it has tolerance. For me, the forest gives much more power than the sea. This is why I wanted to visit this RYOKAN so much.


Right after arriving at this RYOKAN, I’ve visited “一條の森 (ICHIJO NO MORI / ICHIJO Forest)” for a walk where is located right behind the hotel. Walking around this forest in winter, every step on the dead tree made a dry sound. “森林浴 (SHINRINYOKU)” in Japanese means “Forest bathing” or “Therapeutic walk in the forest”, and this is to bathe in the air and space of nature, which surely gave a good effect to me just like I bathe in ONSEN.



Then, finally I’ve been to its historical ONSEN. With bathing in this soft natural ONSEN which has been springing out from ancient times, I was releasing my mental stress and physical fatigue calmly. The ONSEN where SAMURAI used to cure their physical injuries in the ancient times are now curing even the mental stresses. I bathed in deeply and closed my eyes calmly, and then I realized that my body was adapting this ONSEN which was different from ones I experienced.




After that, the time of “dinner of forest” has come.


The beauty of silence given by old Japanese building





Once night falls, the gentle lights are switched on at the wooden main building. This wooden historical building used to be the accommodations for TOUJI visitors in the past, but it is now used as the private dining rooms where the guests can enjoy dinner and breakfast. Thinking about that the traditional TOUJI culture is gradually disappearing at the present day, I could easily imagine that TOUJI was hot and fashion in the past as this wonderful building was used for TOUJI visitors. I enjoyed the amazing tastes of this dinner of forest.





The glass windows along the aisle are wavy. Actually these glass windows use hand-made glasses of TAISHO Period when glass had started to be used for the buildings during the civilization at TAISHO Period. Actually the scenery seen from these glass windows are a little warped, but this wavy scenery is something gives you a good feeling like you are time traveling. These glasses are no longer produced at the present day, and it is very precious. When you come here, I would like you to walk this aisle with paying attention to these glass windows.




In the morning, gentle sunlight comes into the room through 障子 (SHOJI Paper Window) and it holds the space around you. This is an amazingly wonderful morning, which the Japanese traditional morning used to be like this. This is what 谷崎潤一郎 (JUN’ICHIRO TANIZAKI), a great writer during MEIJI, TAISHO, and SHOWA Periods in Japan, wrote about the world of “陰翳礼讃 (IN’EI RAISAN / In Praise of Shadow)” – an essay about the shadows when we didn’t have lights. At the present day, we prefer bright rooms and we are innovating brighter lights to make space bright and make less shadows. However, in the ancient Japan, we admitted the shadows, regarded it as a part of beauty, and it was a part of our lives combined with nature. He expressed the sense of beauty which ancient Japan had. Even at the present day, we can feel this world thanks to this heritage buildings being still there just as it used to be. Since I drank too much at night, I greeted this beautiful silent morning with having a hangover, though…





In spite of having a hangover, I was not urged to have breakfast early and the hotel allowed me to have it when I was fine. It is quite rare that the guests can have breakfast whenever they like in the ONSEN RYOKAN. This is also one of the special aspects of this RYOKAN.


Slow time which cannot be expressed with any words


This RYOKAN was the most expensive hotel I stayed during my TOUJI trip of northeast Japan this time. Different from the reasonable TOUJI YADO without any service, though this hotel also used to be TOUJI YADO in the past, they have evolved quite well to the high-class ONSEN hotel which provides luxury service and heart warming hospitality. This is one of the greatest evolutions of traditional TOUJI YADO.


Although I only stayed here one night, its concept, hospitality, time, space, and atmosphere were the best and gave me an unforgettable peace to spend time very slowly.


What I was doing and what I wanted. This hotel moves ahead and seems like they know what I want. I was like hugged by that kind of gentleness. I will definitely come back here again.


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