Shizuoka Prefecture Shuzenji Asaba

The beauty of plain wood, a solid presence for the future

Take one step into this inn and unintentionally, you’ll stand up straighter when greeted by the minimalism of an array of unfinished wood and tatami. The etiquette of removing one’s shoes at the genkan (entrance) is the foundation of the invitation to come inside, but the spacious agarikamachi (entry platform) is magnificent, creating a stage for the performance of an extraordinary beginning to your stay. In the rear of the genkan is a large pond, and beyond that, you can see a Noh stage. The hall following the entrance corridor and the area facing the pond garden are flanked by floor-to-ceiling glass doors, and guests are guided to their rooms while enjoying the dazzling view of the garden.

Perhaps it’s because of the penchant of the proprietor, who says he might have become an architect if he hadn’t taken over the ryokan, but the room’s structure, achieved with dividers (shoji, fusuma and glass), is executed in an extremely conscientious manner. The work on the doors and shoji is fine and detailed, and requires carpentry expertise. Surely guests will immediately fall in love with the beauty of the grid created by pillars and room dividers. When I visited to coincide with the best time to see the weeping cherries bloom, each room was transformed into a perfect frame for viewing this scenery.

It’s said that more than 500 years ago, the lord of Kakegawa Castle, Asaba Yakuro Yukitada opened this inn as a shukubo (pilgrim’s lodgings) in front of the gate of Shuzen-ji (temple) when the temple, associated with the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism converted to Soto Zen. The current Asaba was built as a vacation villa where the seventh proprietor began a ryokan business. Over time, the main building was replaced by vacation villas, and now the tenth generation is taking over the operation. The seventh proprietor spent three years in a leadership role in the project of relocating from Tokyo the Noh stage that provides the inn’s symbolic backdrop and significantly affects the impression of the 15-room inn.

The inn’s color scheme is interwoven through tatami, Japanese cypress and other natural materials. The tatami are refreshing, and the black edging that creates a rhythmic pattern is pleasing. The thin frames of the glass doors harmonize well with the frames of the shoji. The paper of the fusuma sliding doors is known as kirazuri, in which mica powder is used for a plain background, and is from the famed traditional Kyoto Karacho shop, which has been operating since 1624 as a purveyor of karakami (traditional Japanese handcrafted paper). The pattern, in which all things of heaven and earth are drawn, is beautiful, glowing with a mysterious light that seems to emanate from within shadow. The tokobashira (alcove post) and floor are void of ostentation, and the hanging scroll and arranged flowers both exude great dignity. The specifications of the elliptical wedge of the Japanese cypress bath and the roundness of its brim all harmonize with the details of the indoor fittings, touching the soul.

There is a salon for catching one’s breath upon arrival, a space furnished with Eames white wire mesh chairs. From here you can see a boat floating in the pond and the building housing the guest room where you’ll stay. In the corners of the passageway, red lights blink brightly from a small installation by the modern artist Tatsuo Miyajima. In April, 2019, the detached building was remodeled, resulting in an even more outstanding otherworldly space. Boasting a presence that lives up to the expectations of tourists from abroad, the proprietors have made a perfect start to preparing themselves for the future.