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If you are looking for a deeper nature than big urban cities to admire the kouyou – the phenomenon of the leaves changing color in the autumn – Yuzawa city, in Akita Prefecture, will fulfill your desires for a fresh air weekend less than 4 hours from Tokyo.

Nestled in the mountains of the Tohoku region, Yuzawa is full of natural onsen powered by volcanic thermal water and offers sumptuous panoramas that are one more breathtaking than the last. Yuzawa is an ideal destination to experience staying in a ryokan, Japan’s distinctive folk inns. 

I had the pleasure to stay at the Yunoyado Motoyu club, a luxurious ryokan, which perfectly combines the refinement of traditional Japanese architecture, the comfort of modern hotels, and the hospitality of the region’s inhabitants.

Kawarage Jigoku, an amazing white expanse in the middle of lush tohoku forests

Traditional Ryokan: awakening your senses and reconnecting with nature in the greatest comfort

Staying in a ryokan is always a pleasure. In these generally high-end accommodations of traditional architecture and decoration, you feel in touch with nature even in the comfort of your room.

The ryokan Yunoyado Motoyu club

At the Yunoyado Motoyu club, each room has a name inspired by nature, the furnishings are mainly made of wood, and all rooms overlook the green mountains. As soon as I entered my room, I found myself encompassed by a sweet aroma of wood that awakened my senses. And, to satisfy my sense of taste, traditional sweets were left on the living room table as a welcome gift.

The ryokan Yunoyado Motoyu club lounge, traditional Japanese inn in Yuzawa
The ryokan lounge with exposed beams

Yes, I do mean the living room because the rooms are actually two-storey maisonettes! What a surprise it was when, after discovering the large living room and my private onsen, I realized that I still had another whole floor to explore. The sleeping area is on the first floor, with a small reading salon. This layout is ideal for families, as it allows those who are awake to enjoy their activities on the ground floor, while sleepers can enjoy peace and quiet in the bedroom.

The establishment also offers three private outdoor onsen overlooking the mountains, that can be booked at your convenience.

Private Onsen of Yunoyado Motoyu ryokan club

A family atmosphere and local gastronomy

The moment I entered the ryokan, I was touched by the warm welcome of the Yunoyado Motoyu club staff. After taking off my shoes in the hall, I was greeted by two charming Japanese women who were busy preparing dinner. They stopped working for a moment to emerge from the huge kitchen and guided me through long corridors elegantly decorated with lamps, flowers, and typical Japanese details. The staff speaks little English but is very approachable and their laughter filled me with joy throughout the stay.

Managers of the ryokan Yunoyado Motoyu club in Yuzawa, Akita Prefecture

Dinner is served in a private room for each guest and offers a special opportunity to learn about traditional Japanese cuisine while discovering the region’s delicacies.

Private dining room of the ryokan where a traditional kaiseki meal is placed on the table

The meal consisted of 13 courses and we feasted!

Among Yuzawa’s unique specialties which can’ t be found anywhere else, you’ll discover the Inaniwa Udon. The exceptional quality of the water and the know-how of local craftsmen make it possible to produce tasty and very thin noodles, almost as thin as soba.

The feast also included a nabe dish, a family dish that can be enjoyed in winter in Japan and that could be translated as “fondue” in French. It consisted of vegetables and egg-shaped rice balls. The dinner also included very fresh salmon and tuna sashimi, baked river fish, minase beef, local mushrooms, and much more!

Traditional Japanese kaiseki cuisine served in the ryokan Yunoyado Motoyu club
Dishes are heating on the table of the private dining room of the ryokan Yunoyado Motoyu club

A note for vegetarians: such meals always include a lot of animal protein, but the Yunoyado Motoyu club has been able to adapt to the request of my partner who does not eat meat nor fish. If you prefer a vegetarian meal, just make sure you ask them in advance.

For breakfast, if you want to taste the flavors of a traditional Japanese meal, you won’t be disappointed. On the other hand, if, like me, would prefer something familiar, it is possible to request a western version of the breakfast, which is absolutely delicious.

Western breakfast of the Yunoyado Motoyu ryokan club in Yuzawa, Akita prefecture

An ideal location in the heart of the region’s natural treasures

To recharge one’s batteries, nothing beats immersing yourself in nature, and the Yunoyado Motoyu club is strategically located in the middle of magnificent natural scenery. Only five minutes’ walk away is the spectacular Oyasukyo Gorge, while a 45-minute drive will take you to the wild onsen of Kawara no Yukko, described here as an experience.

Still, many surprises are waiting for you… The road to the ryokan that winds through the green mountains is home to a third natural treasure: the Kawarage Jigoku.

The jigoku kawarage and its small volcanic lake of a milky turquoise blue

Strong sulfur fumes escape from the rock of Kawarage Jigoku. Due to volcanic gases, the original color of the rock has faded and now offers a striking landscape which white color contrasts strongly with the colorful nature of the surrounding area. In autumn, the trees with bright red and orange colors stood out even more around the white paths.

The white and arid lands of jigoku kawarage in Akita prefecture
White stone path of jigoku kawarage in the middle of the autumn landscapes of Akita Prefecture

In Japanese, “Jigoku” means “hell“, and Kawarage Jigoku literally means “the hell of Kawarage”. Immediately, we can understand why such a name has been given to the site; volcanic fumes here are so acidic that they prevent any new form of life from developing. A strong smell of sulfur is emitted and it is not always possible to venture onto the mountain itself.

When I was there, the access was closed. However, we were able to explore other trails and discover the magnificence of the site, which, despite its name, looks more like paradise than hell!

Many pilgrims have appreciated the beauty of this scenery, and the mountain has become a sacred place where many monks come to train, making Kawarage Jogoku one of Japan’s three most spiritual sites.

The walk around Kawarage Jigoku lasts about 1 hour and is rarely used by visitors. The conditions are therefore ideal to be immersed in the solitude and magic of the place.

A white stone path of the jigoku kawarage extends towards the horizon in the middle of the green mountains of Akita Prefecture

Access and useful information

More information and reservations on the website of the ryokan Yunoyado Motoyu club (only in Japanese). The price is about 11,000 yen per person for one night, including kaiseki dinner and breakfast.

A rental car is the most convenient means of transport in the region, though it is possible to access this accommodation by public transportion; it takes about 1 hour by bus from Yuzawa JR station.

You can find more information about the Yuzawa region on the website of the Yuzawa Tourism Office as well as the Akita Prefecture Tourism Office.

As for me, I had the chance to discover the region while admiring the autumn leaves in the Oyasukyo gorges, and while discovering the art of traditional Japanese kites with Mr. Ono, in Yuzawa.

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Cyrielle Ugnon-Coussioz

Cyrielle Ugnon-Coussioz

Settled in Tokyo since October 2017, during the week I help foreigners to move to Japan; and I dedicated weekends to my passion: exploring the world in all its nuances and sharing my discoveries!

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