The Enchanting Goshobo Ryokan – Arima Onsen, Japan

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Even before you actually get to Goshobo, it is easy to tell that you are going some place special.  I’d called the hotel from the petite Arima Onsen train station to let them know I had arrived and moments later I was caught off guard by the London cab that rolled to a stop in front of me.  That sort of quirky, eclectic character carries through to the rest of the property, but I’ll get to that in a second.

Goshobo is located in Arima Onsen, the oldest hot springs town in Japan, which has been frequented by bathers since at least the year 600.  Most definitely not on the tourist circuit, Arima Onsen is worth a stop for travelers seeking an authentic, small town hot spring experience. Positioned just outside of Kobe, it is convenient to both Kobe and Osaka.

Besides lovely temples and historic sites, Arima Onsen is a great base for day hikes in the surrounding mountains. For a town of its size, it offers excellent dining options. One of my favorite discoveries in town was stumbling across the Arima Toy & Automata Museum, an amazing collection of toys. Imagine an entire floor of nutcrackers, another of intricately automated, handcrafted, wooden toys, and it goes on and on! Arima Onsen is also a center of a variety of crafts like handmade brushes, pottery, and specialty foods. The town has been a popular retreat for artists and writers for centuries.

Goshobo, which directly translates into “Imperial Lodge,” named after a visit of the Samurai Lord “Ashikaga Yoshimitsu,” who ruled Japan from 1368 to 1394 from its history as a royal hideaway, is one of those spots that can’t be replicated and could only really exist exactly where it is.  Founded over 800 years ago, the ryokan has been in the same family for 16 generations – how many hotels can say that? The current 20 room hotel was built in the 1920s and 30s with an addition in the 1950s.

One of the things that makes Goshobo so interesting is the blend of Japanese and western architecture and design used throughout the property.  The hotel’s public spaces are decidedly of the Arts and Crafts style while guestrooms blend traditional Japanese tatami sleeping areas with western seating areas. After traveling through Japan, you will understand the uniqueness of this mixture, especially given Goshobo’s age. Any fan of Frank Lloyd Wright will love the hotel’s style. In further contrast, Goshobo’s very cool bar has a Japanese-meets-art-deco look with lacquered black walls and a red bar.

After checking in, we settled into the lounge area with its baby grand piano, Arts and Crafts meets Art Nouveaux decor, and scenic river view for a relaxing afternoon coffee that was a throwback to a different era. Unfortunately, we could not stay forever and made our way to our room.

By western standards a suite, our room had a massive tatami sleeping and living area, a western living room, plus a charming lounge area to enjoy tea or just overlook the river.  It is easy to imagine the many writers who have visited Goshobo over the years sipping tea by the window of their room and drawing inspirations from the water below. Bathrooms at Goshobo are definitely retro, but they add to the charm.

But we had no time to dilly dally!  We had booked a dip in Goshobo’s massive private bath.  Surrounded by gardens on a courtyard rooftop, Goshobo’s private bath is a serene oasis where you can soak your aches away.  Keep the rice paper screens open for a dark and contemplative experience or open them up to gaze at the night sky.  Arima Onsen is famous for its golden colored water – it is so laden with minerals that the pipes used to bring the water from underground have to be replaced weekly to keep the water flowing!  With a high iron content and salinity four times sea water, Arima’s water is known for its medicinal qualities.

Food at Goshobo is wonderfully ornate and incredibly delcious.  Your dinner, served in the comfort of your room, as is typical, is an elaborate meal of a dozen courses.  Ours prominently featured incredible Kobe beef and superbly fresh fish courses. (For the uninitiated, ryokan in Japan typically include breakfast and dinner in the cost of accommodation.)

Goshobo has long standing relationships with local farmers and fishermen giving it exclusive access to the famous Akashi-Ura fish port and the best farmers of Kobe beef.  The ryokan even grows its own organic vegetables giving its guests an incredibly fresh and super tasty experience.

Goshobo was one of my favorite experiences in Japan and I highly recommend that travelers to Japan try out the experience.

The same family that owns Goshobo also owns two other properties in Arima Onsen, the traditional ryokan Hanakoyado, and the luxurious and private Goshobesho. However, Goshobo is certainly the most unique of the three.

While Goshobo’s website is not in English, you can email the lovely Lamyaa at Lamyaa (at) Goshobo.co.jp.  She will be happy to help arrange your stay in English or French.  Mention ChoosyNomad and Goshobo will throw in a little something extra!

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