Nestled in verdant mountains beside a beautiful river lies the luxurious, traditional ryokan inn Bettei Otozure — an ideal place for those seeking an escape from the pressures of daily life. Maybe this was why it was chosen as the opulent site of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s meeting with Russian President Putin. My visit, however, was a far more low-key event.
Just a short drive from the cities of Nagato and Hagi in Yamaguchi prefecture, you can also get to Otozure on a direct shuttle bus from Shin-Yamaguchi station. For my trip, however, I decide on a more scenic route by car and hit the road. Pulling into Otozure’s entrance, a smartly dressed man with a beaming grin appears at my car window, suddenly enough to make me stifle surprise at his greeting. Opening the door, he takes my car keys and leads the way through the spacious entrance skirting the perimeter of an expansive water feature.
This ryokan only embraces me more the deeper inside I go. In the lobby, Sofas face walls that open onto gardens, while the bright wood and tatami interior enhance the natural light without the glare of lamps. The reception area also embodies a lush natural feel. I can sense myself starting to relax already.
Otozure’s interior is rich in design and art. Bold modern lines frame traditional art, with many pieces of Hagiyaki, world-renowned ceramic art from nearby Hagi, on display. It’s like visiting a museum to admire priceless artifacts, but without the stifling air of gallery rules and ever-watchful staff. The theme here is the beauty of relaxation.
Living up to this principle, every room comes with an outdoor natural hot spring bath. Simple luxury pervades all aspects of the building, from the hand-carved wooden floors that massage your feet before you enter your room, to the wooden architectural flourishes used to create buffer zones between public and private spaces. I find myself drawn to the lavishly furnished open balconies, as they provide commanding views of the changing autumn colors spreading across the surrounding mountains.
The prefecture’s abundant nature and proximity to the Sea of Japan make it easy for Otozure’s restaurant to focus on local ingredients. The exquisitely constructed Kaiseki course meal will prove a delight for even the most discerning palate. While elegant tables offer a more discreet dining experience, the counter is also an attractive option for those wanting to see the chefs creating their masterpieces, or perhaps sit a little closer to that special someone.
Being a guest at Otozure comes with another benefit — direct access to Otozure’s big brother, Otani Sanso Inn, via a corridor joining the buildings. The passage opens up an array of dining options, cafes and stores selling ceramic art and regional souvenirs of all kinds.
Soaking in the ambience and indulging in high-end creature comforts are what Otozure is all about. Some of the large two-storey rooms have screens the size of home cinemas if your vision of relaxation involves watching a movie, though it is hard to imagine how anything on a screen could compete with the surrounding beauty.
Taking in the forested mountains with a glass of wine or cup of sake, exploring the surroundings, or heading downstairs to enjoy the open space of the cafe and bar, it’s not hard to imagine the possibilities for relaxing in this dreamlike environment. For me, it’ll be on a balcony in an onsen hot tub gazing out over the mountains with a book near at hand.
Photographs by Julian Littler & Bettei Otozure Text by Julian Littler