“The most essential elements of an onsen ryokan are its location and quality of onsen water.”
— Hiroshi Ebisawa, Architect and Designer
The ritual of bathing has never been more awe-inspiring than at the new, stylish Hoshinoya Resort in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture. Located one hour from Tokyo by bullet train, in Nagano Prefecture, the Hoshinoya Resort is a secluded resort surrounded by mountains and forests.
This is no traditional onsen (hot spring); Hoshinoya sits firmly in the twenty-first century. Green geothermal energy supplies the underfloor heating, and the surroundings are sincerely present-day. Dark wood and stone floors replace the familiar tatami mats. As well as open-air baths, a labyrinth of low-ceilinged indoor baths leads to a meditation bath lit by underwater spotlights. Calming music works well with the heat and sulfurous vapors to give a unforgettable bathing experience.
Outside, lush terraces and waterfalls are a feast for the senses, surrounded by Karuizawa’s thick forest of Japanese maple, which turns splendid shades of gold and crimson in the autumn. Near Nagano, in central Honshu, the resort’s cottages are arranged around a small river. No two rooms are the same, even though each one has a private bathtub that looks out over the river and lavishly fills with onsen water at the touch of a button. Walls are the comforting color of green tea, and bedrooms have grandiose cathedral ceilings.
Away from the onsen, there are guided eco-tours of the forest and stargazing evenings. Curl up in the library with a good book or join other guests for tender morning stretching exercises at the Chaya wooden tea house pavilion. Hoshinoya is hot spring heaven and refreshingly new class of Japanese resorts infused with modern style, and is dedicated to keeping the traditional Japanese hospitality.