A luxurious ryokan awaits you in Tohoku.
By Koko Shinoda
Between Yamagata and Miyagi prefectures lies the Zao Quasi National Park.The park is named after Mount Zao (Zao-zan) a volcanic complex that stands 1,841m at the highest. The central volcano of the group includes several lava domes and a tuff cone, Goshiki-dake, that contains a crater lake named Okama. Also known as Goshiki Numa (Five-Color Pond) the 360m-wide lake is the main tourist attraction of the area. Also very popular with visitors is the Zao Shizen-shokubutsu-en, a botanical garden that is a perfect place to admire the Japanese alpine flora.
Zao is roughly divided to Yamagata Zao and Miyagi Zao, and the ridges of Miyagi Zao have turned into slopes graced with powder snow that is ideal for skiing and snowboarding. At the foot of Miyagi Zao lies the Togatta hot springs village, which was discovered 500 years ago by the pilgrims to Mount Zao, who used to stay there to rest from their mountain journeys and purify themselves. Nearby there is a fox village, where you can walk around with hundreds of friendly foxes.
There, hidden in this vast private forest, is the luxurious onsen ryokan, Chikusenso. It was established over half a century ago and the Showa Emperor once stayed there. In 2011 it went through a modern renovation and the current hotel, featuring a new stylish Japanese touch, was born. The three-story building literally melts into the forest landscape, with its hills and rivers. Outside, protected by a thick natural vegetation, there are two large outdoor baths and several private baths.
The graceful entrance of the hotel leads to a lobby lounge where a fireplace is surrounded by an ancient brass bell and full-size windows look out on the forest. The Chikusenso has 32 guest rooms with comfortable western beds that perfectly complement the classic but contemporary Japanese interior. Some rooms come appointed with private outdoor baths or precious lacquered bathtubs indoors.
A soak in the bath is one of the real pleasures of the ryokan. The fresh spa water is slightly effervescent, which soothes your skin, and relaxes both body and mind. From the outdoor baths, you can hear the flow of the river and the mountain breeze through the woods. After exploring the mountainous charms of the Zao area, the onsen waters guarantee a peaceful sleep.
Morning arrives with the songs of wild birds, and a quick jump into the onsen to wake up. Dressed one of the ryokan’s comfortable yukata, you can feast on a sumptuous and refined kaiseki style breakfast, featuring local and seasonal ingredients.
It only takes one night to realize that Chikusenso is a hidden jewel in the Zao region.
For more information about Chikusenso, visit http://mtzaoresort.com/en/index.php