Kagoshima Prefecture Myoken-Onsen Gajoen

Rustic beauty: thatched roofs and stone baths

Gajoen is a collection of traditional thatched kominka (old folk houses) that were dismantled, relocated and reconstructed here. Each room has its own stone bath brimming with rustic beauty. In recent years, it’s become relatively common to reuse these old houses in Japan, but the pioneering presence of the Gajoen version is unwaveringly and eternally alluring for its dignified style. When meal preparation begins, wisps of white smoke rising from the kamado (traditional kitchen furnace/stove) seep from the thatched roof. It all reminds me of the traditional Japanese lifestyle bequeathed from ancient times.

The tub in the large public bathhouse is made from a gigantic stone, whose imposing mass and enduring playful spirit can be experienced through the senses. In spite of myself, I admire the majestic bearing of this huge rock, with its manually hollowed basin. The same graceful presence is exuded by the stone bath in one’s private room. In the most comfortable part of the room, your bath fills; you can take a good hot soak whenever you like. I’d say that what’s been created here isn’t a private room with a hot spring, but a living area with a hot spring at its center.

The inn’s finest dish is chicken sashimi. There’s a field for the chickens in the vicinity, so the birds are raised in conditions similar to those in the wild. Fresh chicken is served on a dish of green bamboo. The crunchy texture is the flavor of the wild. As I eat, I feel as an arousal of a dormant wild element within me. Green bamboo is bamboo harvested on the day of use. The chopsticks are also made of green bamboo. In short, freshness is the life force of this lodging.

Home-grown vegetables are water chilled in a stair-style basin in the open and spacious cooking area visible from outside. Perhaps, I thought, this is a natural refrigerator. Daikon radish and carrots cut into strips are suspended from straw ropes and dried on the premises. The firewood blazes brightly in the kamado (traditional cookstove), and when I pass by the kitchen while the staff is preparing a meal, the white smoke hurts my eyes. These scenes and the smell of firewood recall a certain wisdom about life with which people survived in the past.

On the way to the communal bathhouse from the guest room, there’s a thatched irori-goya (hut with a sunken hearth inside). In the corner of the hearth where a few logs have been tossed into the fire are nestled containers of green bamboo holding a mixture of hot water and shochu (a Japanese liquor). This beverage, heated to the perfect moderate temperature that keeps the alcohol and its aroma from dissipating, is freely available to guests. On these premises, where streams gently murmur, a family of chickens roams freely. It’s really sweet to see chicks accompanying their parents. These seem to be not animals meant for food, but protective deities of Gajoen.