As our cab climbs the mountainside to Hanajyukai, my partner and I watch the beautiful seaside town of Takamatsu vanish behind a screen of trees. It will make a reappearance, of course — and quite a dramatic one — as Hanajyukai is famous, among other things, for its breathtaking bird’s-eye view.
But first, it’s check-in time.
A valet takes our bags, and after a brief registration at the front counter, we’re served hot matcha green tea right there in the lobby. With each sip, I can already feel the fatigue of travel slipping away.
Though boasting all the hallmarks of a traditional ryokan, Hanajyukai feels notably less rigid than others we’ve experienced. Less like a bench in a museum, and more like an armchair on a veranda. But after all, that’s the magic of omotenashi, or traditional Japanese hospitality, something Hanajyukai prides itself on.
We feel instantly at home.
The next surprise hits us when we follow an attendant into the elevator and find ourselves going not up, but down, to our room. Built directly into the side of a mountain, you actually enter Hanajyukai from the top of the building — but don’t let that fool you. The height of the mountain delivers arresting views from every floor.
Stepping into our quarters, we’re surprised again. Appointed with real tatami, sliding doors, and a multi-room floor plan that feels more like a house than an hotel, our room — or rather rooms — provide a sense of spaciousness rarely afforded in Japan.
As the attendant draws open the curtains, my partner and I both stop as if under a spell.
There before us, natural and urban beauty contend like rival lovers over whom should longest transfix their admirer’s delighted eye. Here the sophisticated earth tones of the city’s skyline draw a crisp line against the seductive blue of the sparkling Seto Inland Sea, as geometric towers and gently curving islands arise from each in succession.
However, this stunning view forms a comparatively recent addition to their offerings.
“28 years ago we were in a two story building up here,” says Manabu Kozai, Sales Manager at Hanajyukai. “But when the owner, Masahiro Mitsuya, took over from his mother, he envisioned upgrading our traditional ryokan to include the urban view of Takamatsu.”
But Hanajyukai’s real origins date back 90 years, and not only extend beyond Takamatsu, but beyond Japan itself to what has since become — amazingly enough — North Korea.
“The original owner had a traditional Japanese inn over there for decades, but returned to Japan in 1948,” says Kozai. “That’s when things got started here in Takamatsu.”
Today a gorgeous flower garden graces the nearby spot where the old building stood, its blooms furnishing the numerous bouquets which decorate Hanajyukai. I can’t help but feel the tenderness of this seemingly familial homage.
With their own garden right there, and the beautiful mountainside sweeping down from the inn, the view provided by Mitsuya’s vision offers a treat for the eyes which changes dramatically with the seasons.
And best of all, standing at the window isn’t the only way to enjoy the visuals. You can also take them in from the comfort of an onsen — and Hanajyukai’s rank among the best in Japan.
Boasting rare, PH 9, hydrogen-carbonate water renowned for its ability to beautify the skin, you can literally feel the rejuvenating smoothness of the liquid element the instant you touch it.
Of course public bathing isn’t for everyone, but even if this traditional Japanese practice lies outside your comfort zone, don’t fret. Hanajyukai provides enough onsen options to ensure that, no matter your comfort level, you’ll find a way to dip in.
Not quite ready for a public soaking? Not a problem. You can get your toes wet in the outdoor ashiyu footbath surrounded by sweeping veranda views. And if that’s still not your style, you can enjoy a traditional Japanese cypress bathtub filled with volcanically heated mineral water right in the comfort — and privacy — of your own hotel room.
And given the ample size of the bath, you can take in this scene of relaxation alone, with family, or with that special someone as the perfect finish to a romantic evening.
But of course, no experience feels complete without food, and in this arena too Hanajyukai proves no slouch. Each meal rolls out in a succession of culinary masterpieces so perfectly timed as to leave no gap. Literally as you finish one dish, the next magically appears.
How do they get the timing so perfect?
They observe your progress, and deliver the next delectable item exactly when you’re ready for it. As a result, each morsel passes your lips at the perfect temperature and freshness, having been prepared only moments before. If a gourmet meal were compared to a night at the symphony, Hanajyukai’s would take the stage as an ensemble playing a round of solos, allowing you the pleasure of taking in each virtuoso performance with undivided attention.
Needless to say, our culinary conductors never miss a beat.
We eat our fill, and return to our room to soak in our private onsen. Sitting in the steaming hot, mineral-rich water, windows open to the cool breezes, the city lights of Takamatsu sparkle in the distance like gemstones against the night’s velvet gown.
Because even in darkness, true beauty always shines.
Photographs & Text by Peter Chordas