Nestled in the heart of Gifu Prefecture's Hida Mountain Range is the Kazeya Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. The area, known as the Japan Alps, truly takes on an alpine atmosphere with the white birch, cedar, and pine trees dotting the idyllic countryside and the almost European style architecture of the houses and hotels. What sets the Kazeya apart from the many other ryokan in the area, aside from the peace and quiet of its more isolated location, is the cozy, intimate air of the beautiful newly renovated building resting in the shadow of the looming mountains.
Unlike many of the larger, more hotel-like ryokan crowded together in the Shin-hotaka area, the Kazeya offers rooms for up to only eight groups at a time, making for a more personal, home-like quality. The friendly, English speaking staff welcomes you with a cup of tea, and goes out of their way to answer any questions and to make sure that their foreign guests, which make up around 80% of their clientele during the weekdays, feel comfortable and familiar with Japanese ryokan customs. The rooms have traditional Japanese style tatami mats and soft, fluffy futons which are prepared while the guests are having dinner.
One of the main purposes of visiting a ryokan is to sample foods from different areas of Japan, and in this area, the Kazeya excels. Breakfast and dinner are served in a large, Japanese style dining room. The many, many courses consist mainly of regional specialties like Hida beef, locally raised chicken, and fresh mountain vegetables, and combine both Japanese and Western styles to create a unique and delicious meal.
Another reason to stay at a ryokan is to soak in the healing mineral waters of Japanese onsen, or natural hot spring baths. The Kazeya features two public outdoor onsen, one for men and one for women, as well as two private onsen, which can each be used by only one group at a time. In addition, two of the guest rooms offer private patios with onsen overlooking small, personal gardens. The warm, clear waters ease your stress and help you rejuvenate and unwind.
Central to the concept of the ryokan is the idea of quiet relaxation, but for guests looking to get out and explore the area, a ten minute bus ride will take you to the Shin-hotaka Ropeway, a double-decker gondola that carries you up the slopes of Mount Hida, Japan's third highest mountain range. At the first base station, you can eat lunch, explore the area, or enjoy a free outdoor foot bath before continuing up to the top. Hiking is easy if you stay in the area, but serious mountaineers can set out for intermediate and advanced level routes.
Back down the mountain, you can explore the many hiking routes and scenic viewpoints by foot or by bicycle, which the Kazeya offers to its guests. The nearest bus stop, a three minute walk from the hotel, can take you to the Hirayu Station, where you can transfer to popular local attractions like the traditional town of Takayama or the world heritage site Shirakawago. The most direct way to access the Kazeya Inn itself is by train from Takayama Station and then by bus for the one and a half hour ride to the Shin-hotaka Onsen Guchi stop.
The surrounding countryside differs wildly with each season, with heavy blankets of snow in the winter, beautiful flowers in the spring, lush, green countryside in the summer, and the amazing red and yellow bursts of color in the fall. There aren't many restaurants or convenience stores in the area, but that's part of the isolated quiet and charm of the Kazeya. The whole purpose of a stay at a ryokan is to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and to experience the Japanese appreciation of the beauty and stillness of nature, and the excellent food and warm waters of the Kazeya Ryokan will keep you stuffed and relaxed until it's time to head back to the real world.