Making my way along the small street along the river, the first things I notice are the fishing boats moored as far as I can see. Looking up, I realize I’m surrounded by mountains. Ahead of me, even the sea before me seems to be populated by peaks rising sharply from the Sea of Japan. I had come to Hagi to visit the world heritage site, I had not anticipated such captivating scenery and it brought a smile to my face.
Parking out front of my hotel, Wa no Auberge Ganjima Bessou, I immediately noticed my lodgings had water views on two sides courtesy of the unusual course the Abu River takes as it flows into the sea. I would be satisfied with either of these views I thought as I headed toward the entrance.
Following a sit-down check-in at a large table in the lounge I am escorted to my room. I am relishing the view that awaits me.
Up on the fifth-floor, perched over the mouth of the river, facing the sea of mountainous islands, hawks glide level with me above the twilight waters. As the sky grows darker, the graceful birds disappear, and the night air cools into quiet. After a day of traveling, I am longing for a hot bath before dinner, not only to cleanse the travel from my skin, but to reset my mind and body for the treats that await me in Ganjima Bessou.
As if the view isn’t enough, I was able to secure the “Special Room” with an onsen in the bathroom, and with doors opening directly onto the balcony. Being someone who is mildly obsessed about Japanese hot springs, I’ve already made plans to stay in after dinner to enjoy the bath and the night sky view.
Famous for its pure water and superb nihonshu, or Japanese sake, the town of Hagi has found a gourmet partner in Ganjima Bessou. For my multi-course, French-inspired kaiseki banquet for one, I’m led through the restaurant toward a private room with sliding doors. Shoes off, and I’m up on the tatami.
Fresh seasonal ingredients remade into delicate pieces of miniature art are presented before me in such a way that, before each bite, I can’t help but linger admiringly, I pondered how long is appropriate to take in this culinary artwork before proceeding. Not too long I decided, and started taking small bites, as slowly as possible, to savor the subtle interplays across my palate.
Each course delivers something new, from sea, land, and river. Nothing disappoints. I am not surprised to hear that Ganjima Bessou’s cuisine is completely under the supervision of a noted chef from a French Bistro in Tokyo’s fashionable Daikanyama area. The culinary creations presented were superb, and everything I tasted was not only delicious, but also intriguing in its composition.
My small, just-for-one (or two), bottle of Chomonkyo nihonshu, is an excellent Japanese sake made in this very town, and compliments my meal perfectly. I feel I’ve found this town’s connoisseur’s corner tonight. French-influenced Japanese cuisine always seems to deliver big rewards here in Japan, but tonight I’ve struck the jackpot.
I’d dined early, so the quiet restaurant that greeted my arrival was full of life and laughter by the end of my meal. However, I had been oblivious to all these recent arrivals in the comfort of my private dining room. Asking the waiter to give my compliments to the chef, I head back upstairs to run a hot bath.
By now the sky was completely dark. I sat down to enjoy the silence for a moment before filling the bath. Suddenly a splashing sound reached up to the balcony from somewhere below. Peering below, I was unable to see anything until, to my surprise, I saw a large fish leap from the river and flop back down into the lightless water.
For a moment it felt as though nature here was so plentiful that it was eager to make itself known. But in reality, it was probably more a sign of the tranquility of the surroundings in which fish jump into the night air to catch insects without anything to disturb them – observed only by an occasional traveler from a far off land.
The long soak with open doors felt like a much deserved moment after an incredibly active day, and allowed me to reflect on how lucky I was to be here on the edge of Japan, surrounded by sea and mountains with a soundtrack provided only by nature.
Photographs by Julian Littler & Wa no Auberge Ganjima Bessou Text by Julian Littler