Mention Shoningahama and you’d likely draw blank stares from even seasoned travelers in Japan. But don’t let that put you off. Shoningahama is a coast in Beppu, a resort town famed for its hot springs in the southernmost main island of Kyushu, and the Oita prefectural government describes it as Beppu’s only remaining “natural beach.” It was also named after a noted Japanese Buddhist monk who reportedly first stepped into Kyushu in the early 13th century via this coast.
But there’s even more to lure you here: Amane Resort Gahama, a seaside onsen resort that seamlessly blends contemporary luxury with local history, art and nature. In other words, a modern retreat with a traditional Japanese soul, one that will leave an indelible mark on your travel experience.
A New Beginning
Amane Resort Gahama is a 15-minute drive from Beppu Station and en route to the much-touted trail of eight jigoku (hell) geothermal pools. It first opened as Gahama Terrace in 2016 (“Terrace” plays on the Japanese word, “terasu,” which conveys the resort’s desire to “shine a light upon” the coast). It was rebranded under its current name in November 2019.
Although it began operations three years ago, the resort traces its story back to Japan’s prewar era.
A prominent textile maker, Kunitake Kintaro, had hired Kyoto artisans in 1927 to meticulously construct a seaside villa, which eventually became one of the symbols for Beppu’s holiday retreat culture. Subsequently, Kyushu Electric Power bought the villa in 1953 for use as a company recreational facility. In the following year, it built an additional wing in the English architectural style, complete with a fireplace, an expansive atrium and a large bath area.
Fast forward to the 2000s, however, and talk of demolition emerged as the villa had obviously seen its heyday. To preserve this important cultural and architectural symbol for Beppu’s future generations, the idea for Amane Resort Gahama was born.
Today, the Japanese wing of the original villa built in the early Showa period has been preserved. It is used as a tea house, offering guests a rare opportunity to bear witness to the superb artistry and skills of prewar Kyoto builders.
Meanwhile, the Western wing, constructed in the post-war era, is now the Gahama Salon. The English-style atrium has been retained in its original elegant form, while the large bath area has been turned into a beautiful gallery filled with coffee table books.
Architecturally, the resort is a marriage of East and West. It’s also a fusion of both traditional and contemporary Japanese styles, creating not only a soothing space but also a chance for guests to experience the rich history and culture found here.
That VIP Feeling
What also sets the resort apart is its ever-attentive staff. From free valet parking (even though the carpark is right at the entrance) to ready drinks and snacks once you step into its brick wall-flanked entrance, it’s hard to miss their tireless hospitality the minute you arrive at the resort.
Inside its immaculate grounds, a collection of 17 exclusive villas and maisonettes dot the massive property equivalent to the size of almost 10 Olympic pools. Each villa stands apart from the other, ensuring total privacy and serenity. You’d hardly see or hear any other guests while surrounded by sweeping views of either Beppu Bay or Japanese pine trees in the garden.
“You’ll likely lose track of the amount of time spent soaking in the outdoor rock onsen just meters away from the sea”
In each villa, get pampered in your own indoor and outdoor hot spring baths drawn straight from the source, and relax in a Western-style lounge room or a Japanese tatami room. To help lull your senses further, each unit is elegantly appointed with outstanding amenities, yukata robes, pajamas and full minibars.
For your stay, we recommend opting for a spacious two-story seaside maisonette, where you’re bound to end up spending too much time lounging on the balcony upstairs thanks to an uninterrupted view of the bay. You’ll also likely lose track of the amount of time spent soaking in the outdoor rock onsen just meters away from the sea. (For early birds, you might just be lucky enough to catch sight of local fishermen pushing off in their boats for the catch of the day.)
If you are a family or a group, fret not. Consider the parkside villa, which comes with its own private pool (the only one in the resort). You could also go for the antique villa, which is built in the style of a traditional Japanese home complete with a beautiful garden right in front of the living area. In addition, the resort recently unveiled 16 rooms in its newly built 10-story Gahama Tower for guests who like above sea-level accommodations. The highest floor has an exclusive suite with all-round views of Beppu Bay for a truly exquisite experience.
Washoku & Whisky
No holiday retreat is complete without gourmet cuisine, and Amane Resort Gahama does not disappoint here, either.
Kappou Matsuhide is a Japanese fine dining restaurant with gorgeous counter seating. It is led by Chef Sugimoto Takashi, who has devoted his entire career to the art of washoku (Japanese cuisine). He uses only locally sourced and seasonal ingredients from Oita Prefecture so that each dish reflects the delicacy of each season and imbues a sense of appreciation for the abundance of nature.
Order the omakase (chef’s choice) course with beef as its main, and find out if Oita-bred Bungo beef deserves the first prize it won at the 2017 Wagyu Olympics (yes, there is such a thing!) in the champion cow category. But if seafood is more your thing, check out the fresh catch of the day from the chef behind the counter. Since winter is here, you might be in luck to enjoy monkfish liver, a creamy Japanese delicacy.
Post dinner, make your way to the resort’s poolside bar for a nightcap. Imbibe an original cocktail or sip on Japanese whisky as you sit and gaze at pine trees with light shimmering in the pool.
Times may have changed and things might be completely different but we’re pretty sure the original villa owner, Kunitake, would be all smiles were he here to witness this brand-new heyday.
More information at gahamaterrace.com