It takes a full day on foot to really take in all the scenery and beauty that goes with the 3000 acres that is Dazaifu Tenmangu. If you’re just an average traveler like me, you’ll probably be surprised how fast time goes by, how much area you’ve covered and how many shots you’ve taken with your camera.
Feeling a little drained at the end of the day, there is no better way to rejuvenate than by spending a night or two at a Japanese onsen (温泉 natural hot spring). Luckily, the Hotel Grantia Dazaifu (ホテルグランティア太宰府) onsen resort hotel is just over 1km from Dazaifu Station, the general starting point for any trip within Tenmangu.
At the Dazaifu Station tourist information center, located on the right as you exit the gates, ask for the Hotel Grantia Dazaifu shuttlebus. During regular business hours, you can expect at least two pick-ups every hour, and the rides to the resort are free. I don't recommended going by foot, as the hike takes you up a steep, zig-zaggy hill and through non-descript neighborhoods with road signs that cause more confusion than clarity. If you’re driving, be sure you have GPS or a very good map.
Though the Hotel Grantia is part of the Route Inn Group, a large chain of business hotels throughout Japan, it is surprisingly competent at making non-Japanese-speaking guests feel, not necessarily unwelcome, but rather out-of-place. Take it in stride, as the staff rarely have a chance to meet non-Japanese guests from abroad. It’s actually enjoyable to communicate at the most basic levels, using lots of scrap paper and grade-school sketching!
Perhaps more intimidating than the language barrier adventure is the navigational challenge of finding your way to your room. Laminated, impromptu signs litter the hallways and elevator wall – even the Japanese guests suffer the same plight, trying to make their way around the hotel. Why such a maze? The resort has built its newest annex away from the hotel entrance, to sprawl upward the terrain of the hill behind. That’s fine, but the problem is that it takes a good two minutes to get to your room, and another two minutes to return to the front desk where the hot spring entrance is located.
The lowest-priced single room is satisfactorily smart in style, clean and relaxing … for a person on a business trip. Even though it does feel a little cramped, one shouldn’t complain, though, because Route Inn rates are competitive, and a stay at this resort, with a natural hot spring and all-you-can eat breakfast, is priced reasonably. If I had gone a grade up, I would have had the option of enjoying one of the spacious, Japanese-style tatami (straw-flooring mats) rooms which I caught glimpses of on treks to and from my room.
The hot spring itself is the main reason to stay here. If you want to avoid the rush of bathers, go between 6 and 7am, and after 9pm. Those unfamiliar with Japanese bathing etiquette can find a “Do’s and Don’ts” list in their room, but if you don’t mind raising eye brows, do as you please. You probably won’t be yelled at. The worst that can happen is perhaps a gentle gesture from a senior citizen to not bring your towel into the water. You'll know you've committed a serious faux pas when everyone suddenly leaves as if you had a contagious disease!
Compared to other onsen resorts, the bathing water in the indoor pool felt slightly tepid at 41°, but outdoors, it felt just right with the cool evening mountain breeze. The next morning the water temperature was 43° and felt absolutely divine. The soft water streaks silkily and pleasantly and is said to relieve not just regular aches and pains, but also alleviates gout, hypertension, skin disorders and numerous others.
For those who want to maximize their stay at the Hotel Grantia, there are numerous facilities and amenities: karaoke room, massage therapy, ganbanyoku (岩盤浴 Korean-style hot stone spa for the ladies), mahjong room, performance hall, relaxation room, internet access, PC rentals and more.
Breakfast was a tasty array of Japanese and western fare in an all-you-can-eat buffet. The staff was very helpful and accommodating, as I had gone over the time limit for an extra helping or two.
Aesthetically, the Hotel Gratia is simple, even a little Spartan with a just a touch of Japanese modern sense. The real reason to visit the hotel resort is to simply rejuvenate in a soothing onsen after a long day on your feet at Tenmangu. For that, Hotel Gratia does the trick