I can’t believe I’m now back in the Philippines writing about my unforgettable stay at Amami Onsen Nanten-en in Japan. My experience is so fresh I can still feel the atmosphere and impeccable service that left me feeling spoiled.
Anyway, here’s a continuation of my previous post on how I booked this Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn so ‘magical’ it sounds sugar-coated but it’s true. Once you step inside Amami Onsen Nanten-en, you will experience the culture, ranging from traditional construction and decor to excellent hospitality and service the Japanese are known for.
Surrounded by scenic mountains and lined by a serene river, Nanten-en is in the Osaka prefecture but is far enough from the bustle of the big city, you’ll feel as if you are traveling back in time and isolated from the rest of the world. Unlike in Kyoto where ryokans are next to homes and other establishments, Nanten-en is particularly unique due to its secluded nature. It just takes about 40 minutes and 590 yen to go to Amami station via the Nankai Koya line from the Nankai station in Namba where the touristy Dotonbori area is. Convenient, eh?
Amami Onsen Nanten-en is just a minute’s walk away from Amami station. There are traditional residential houses around the area but the only commercial establishment is the ryokan, so make sure to bring food if you don’t plan on ordering from the hotel – yes, it is accepted by the hotel, meaning no charges, if you bring your own food. The main building of this ryokan was designed by renowned Japanese architect Dr. Kingo Tatsuno. Completed in 1913 and just turned 101 years old when I stayed there, Nanten-en has already been designated as a National Registered Cultural Asset.
Since I arrived at the station way too early for the check-in time (I arrived at 1:30PM when the check-in time is 3PM), I took time to take pictures of the village and talk to villagers (in sign language & a few Japanese words I learnt) including an old lady preparing dried cucumbers in her garden.
An Exceptional Welcome
It’s 2:45PM and the cold comes to my senses so I prepared my GoPro to document the whole experience and then decided to go right inside the ryokan and just wait for the check-in time inside. My heart was thumping with excitement as I approached the main doors of the ryokan. Another step and the Japanese sliding doors opened swiftly and I was greeted by two lovely ladies wearing their Yukata. They bowed before me which led me to quickly bow respectfully in return as I entered the main room of the ryokan. After changing into slippers, they asked for my name and surprisingly they already know which room I’m supposed to be checked in so they led me straight to my gorgeous room.
Service being swift and me experiencing an amazing sensory overload, I wrongly mumbled my already perfected Harigatou Gozaimasou as they served tea and a small sweet candy right after I sat down in my room. Turns out, the check in process in a ryokan happens in your room instead of the front desk equivalent in western hotels (and oh, I was checked-in right at that moment at no early check-in charge although I arrived 15 minutes early).
The lady wearing a kimono who checked me in asked if I would like to have dinner which I excitedly replied “Yes” to. I chose the Kaiseki meal (a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner) which is kinda expensive (JPY5,000) but still affordable enough if you just want to experience being spoiled with luxurious food stuff in your own room. I didn’t expect for the kaiseki to be a hearty meal, as I know kaiseki includes raw and exotic food items – I just wanted the experience. She asked the time I wanted the meal in which I replied “7:30PM kudasai (7:30PM please)”. I remember receiving an email from them a day earlier informing me of their menu. You can download the menu here (You’re in luck as this info is not found on their website or anywhere on the net – at least until now).
Curious as I am, I checked out every inch and detail of my room – from the intricately woven tatami mats to the strategically placed warm lighting to the scrolls in the wall to the stunning view of the garden beautifully framed by the Japanese style window. Ahhh… At last! After a month of waiting, I was finally soaking up that much awaited moment.
The Ryokan Experience
To maintain the minimalist look of the room, I opened the closet to hide my backpack and to my surprise, there was a Yukata (Kimono robe) ready for my use. I immediately wore the yukata while following instructions from YouTube (Yes, I’ve rented a pocket Wi-Fi in Japan for a week and yes, the ryokan has complimentary Wi-Fi access). I felt like I was living in the ancient Japanese times whilst sipping from my tea and soaking in the serenity, peace, and quiet.
After tea and some photo-op of my room and me wearing yukata I decided to try the Onsen (hot spring bath) – which I really needed because I have not slept nor taken a shower for the last 31 hours. For some modesty, the onsen is separated into male and female quarters. Modesty aside, you are required to strip completely naked. It’s a good thing there was only one person in the male area who was almost done bathing when I came in, and the male onsen was mine for the rest of my bathing session. While bathing and enjoying the view, I felt so spoiled that my conscience told me I should’ve brought my loved ones with me for them to experience– but hey, this is a solo trip and I just got a good deal with this ryokan so what the heck.
After almost an hour in the Onsen I dressed back in my yukata and went out to explore the surroundings of the ryokan. Ahhh, the stunning scenery! I can hear the gentle streams of the shallow river while looking at the mountains and strolling on the riverside. There weren’t a lot of guests in the garden (they were just in their rooms) except for the couple I saw briefly in the foyer. It was so quiet I kinda felt lonely because I’m so used to city living, but the privilege of being able to experience staying at a ryokan brought me back to my excitement. I realized I had 2 more hours before I needed to be ready in my room for the kaiseki dinner so I did have a lot of time for some sightseeing and picture taking. I also had a chat with Katsutoshi San, the manager of the inn. He spoke very good English, which is a rarity in Japan, so I took the opportunity to ask him questions about the history of the inn.
It was already 7:20PM so I headed over to my room to prepare for the kaiseki dinner and set-up my GoPro to document the experience. A Kaiseki consists of a sequence of dishes, each often small and artistically arranged as a type of art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food. Only fresh seasonal ingredients are used and are prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavor. Local ingredients are often included as well. Finished dishes are carefully presented on plates that are chosen to enhance both the appearance and the seasonal theme of the meal. Dishes are beautifully arranged and garnished, often with real leaves and flowers, as well as edible garnishes designed to resemble natural plants and animals.
At exactly 7:30PM, there was a knock on the door. My heart went crazy again as I anticipated the approach of my feast. As expected, there was the initial bow of the lady wearing a kimono before heading over to my table to set up my meal.
The meals were aesthetically pleasing to the eyes. One dish even had a cherry blossom/sakura flower in it. I did not like the meal that much (but tried all of them nevertheless) because of the presence of raw and exotic food items. But since I wanted it for the experience, I must say I truly enjoyed this experience and will never forget.
There were even two baby squids that seemed raw to me (I think they were just boiled), though I know that that was how they intended it to look like. When you chew the baby squid its gut explodes and a blast of flavours and different, unfamiliar textures run through your mouth. I also had some kind of desserts on sticks that changed in flavour with each bite (from sweet to salty to sour). I must say they’ve put extraordinary time and thought on the menu as each dish was carefully and artfully presented (and tasted expensive).
I think she knocked on the door for 5 more times as the kaiseki experience includes multiple courses. Outstanding service, it really is.
Sleeping in a Ryokan
After dinner I went outside for another quick round of sightseeing and chat with Katsutoshi San. When I came back to my room, the dinner table in the center of my room was already replaced by a futon for sleeping. Their service was so swift it went unnoticed I felt like I was a yukata clad Japanese master who had ninja servants. LOL!
I did another round at the rather empty onsen, organized my itinerary (and JR train routes and transfers) for Tokyo the next day while drinking sake and smoking cigs in my room, and went for bed at 1AM.
Breakfast and check-out
Check-out time at this ryokan is at 10AM, but I planned to leave at 9:30AM to catch the early train and arrive in Tokyo the earliest, so I woke up at 8AM to bathe in the onsen for the last time.
Breakfast was served in a communal area with an incredible view of the garden backed by majestic mountains. That was when I realized the ryokan actually had several guests as I hadn’t noticed most of them during my stay. The best part? The breakfast. Need I say more?
After breakfast I went to the river for some last serene moment before I head to the hustle n’ bustle of Tokyo, and then proceeded to check-out. Check-out process was really quick. I just gave them my room key and the payment for the kaiseki dinner and that was it. They accompanied me to the foyer where my shoe was waiting. I did my shoe, and then went out the doors of this fascinating and magical ryokan.
The exquisite service did not end there. As common in Japan, they waited for me to vanish from their views before finally closing their doors.
If you wish to contact them, you may do so via below details:
Amami Onsen Nanten-en
158 Amami, Kawachinagano-shi, Osaka, 586-0062, Japan
Check out 10:00a.m.
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