Surprised to see the Miyajima ferry veering so close to the famous vermilion gate of Itsukushima-jinja Shrine, I rushed onto the deck for a better view.
As we passed the line of site of the gate, I scanned the esplanade for tonight’s lodging — Kinsuikan, a Miyajima institution. Right in the center of the esplanade, between the ferry port and the gate, it was not hard to spot.
Although not my first visit to Miyajima, it was my first time to spend the night, and I was looking forward to enjoying a more relaxed pace of exploring the island. I had chosen Kinsuikan for a number of reasons, but high on the list was location. Sea on your doorstep, backing onto the main shopping street, only a 5-minute walk from the ferry, and a further five minutes brings you square in front of the vermilion gates. The perfect location.
Established as a ryokan in 1912, it is now in its 5th generation of Takeuchi family management. The site itself though has long been occupied as a Takeuchi business, serving passing boats as a marine supplies store, popular because you could pull your boat right up to the storehouse and easily slip off to pay your respects at nearby shrines. As the number of worshippers increased during the early decades of Japan’s modern era, it was only a matter of time before this ideal location transformed itself into one of the most easily recognized and popular ryokan on the island.
Step in the doors of Kinsuikan, though, and you’ll soon realize that location is not the only secret behind its success. The service, the facilities, and the food are all top notch. With a hearty welcome, fast and smooth check-in, and room familiarization in fluent English, we soon felt at home as we settled into comfortable lounge chairs, taking in the sea view from our enclosed balcony.
Of course, it wasn’t just any sea view. Sitting in my chair I could clearly see the vermilion Itsukushima Shrine gate, and was pleasantly distracted by the passing ferries and boats in the busy channel. We had been lucky enough to secure a room with a seaside view, but the inland-facing rooms with their view of Mt. Misen, the home of the gods, in all its verdant glory are also something to behold.
The building has had three major renovations, but the current 2006 renewal in particular brought in a major reorientation for Kinsuikan which, until this point, had presented itself as a traditional ryokan. However, the present owner — “please call me ‘Tony’” Takeuchi — wanted to go beyond this traditional form of ryokan to incorporate many of the luxury and convenience features found in modern hotels. His goal? To make his guest’s experience as relaxing and satisfying as possible.
Kinsuikan’s hybrid concept extends to rooms where you can choose between futon beds on traditional tatami, comfy western beds, or a combination of the two. The spacious restaurant next to the lobby, with its glassed-in garden also sets it apart from a typical ryokan. Other facets, such as a relaxing book café, and a seaside terrace area to soak in the holiday atmosphere of the boardwalk further add to the comfortable, laid back atmosphere of Kinsuikan.
Until the 1970s, natural onsen were common on the island until a public works project unintentionally filled in the natural flow of hot water, leaving the island without this highly desirable attraction. For 30 years Miyajima was without onsen, but Tony took it on as a mission to restore onsen to his hotel, and dug out a fresh source of hot spring water — the first place on the island to do so, and still one of only three ryokan with its own source of natural hot spring water.
Restoring the onsen wasn’t just about increasing the attractiveness of his ryokan. Tony wanted to restore the traditional practice of worshippers first purifying themselves in the sacred waters of the island of the gods before making their offerings to the nearby shrines. I saw the big bowl of salt sitting in the washing area of the baths, and seized the opportunity to scrub all over with it and revitalize my skin. Only later did I learn that this also serves as a purification process in Shinto belief. Inadvertently, I had also rubbed myself a bit raw, and was thus well and truly in need of some blessings.
We had bathed early because the most anticipated part of our stay, Kinsuikan excellent variation on the four course evening meal, awaited us. One of the more distinct features of the dinner menu at Kinsuikan is that they do not claim to serve kaiseki course meals in the traditional sense, which allows more flexibility in how the dishes are prepared and the order in which they’re eaten. Another of Tony’s advances in ryokan modernization.
Dinner had already started off on a good foot, as our dietary requirements had all been confirmed with the booking, and Kinsuikan proved more than happy to cater for my vegetarian partner. After we dug a little further into the menu, the locavore in us was heartened to discover around 80% of ingredients sourced from Hiroshima Prefecture, one of the highest percentages of any restaurant in the prefecture.
Our much-anticipated meal brimmed with exceptional seafood, including famous Hiroshima Oysters, some extremely tasty ‘Hiroshima-gyu’ beef that just melted in my mouth, and an abundant selection of the freshest local organic vegetables. Every course was a treat, served with the perfect portion size, and immaculate timing between dishes to give a most satisfying gourmet experience without any uncomfortable bloating.
The night was still young, allowing ample time to check off something from our bucket list. After another dip in the onsen, we donned the provided brightly colored yukata bathing gowns and wooden geta footwear, and set out for an evening stroll along the esplanade to see the iconic vermilion gate in all its nighttime glory.
Photographs & Text by Steve Jarvis