When I arrived at the Kinkiyu Hotel in Kawayu-Onsen, my first reaction was: I’m definitely not in Tokyo or Kyoto. Upon reading such a statement you could take it to mean that my impression was a negative one, but this could not be further from the truth.
The fact that the Kinkiyu Hotel is not like hotels or inns in the large, well-known tourist meccas of Tokyo and Kyoto is one of its greatest strengths. Access to fine local cuisine and traditional tatami style rooms at such places is often prohibitively expensive. Here, at Kinkiyu, the experience is economically accessible to a much larger range of travelers and budgets.
Further to my point on the difference the hotel has from larger cities in Japan are its natural resources and small town charm and hospitality. The nearby sulfurous Mt. Iwo is the natural source that heats the surrounding hot springs and enables the hotel to offer its guests three levels of temperature in its onsen.
While there may be a desire to attempt to match and offer what ryokans provide in urban centers in other areas of the country, I hope the hotel stays true to its small town roots. My room was a spacious and traditional tatami room with an adjacent, additional seating area and small fridge. My room also included a rotary telephone which for me, added to the charm of the place.
When you are here, you are meant to relax and enjoy the amenities and the surrounding nature. Wi-Fi is available in the lobby only and while there is a small television in the room, I would suggest you never turn it on and avoid connecting to the internet all together.
Even though the town is small, it has a lot to offer and requires more than just a day or two. Just outside the main entrance to the hotel and across the street are the Yunokawa River and a warm, public foot spa. Just past the spa is the Kawayu Eco-Center which provides information about the surrounding Akan National Park and the nearby Kushiro River, Lake Mashu and Lake Kussharo. There are nature walks in the town center itself, as well as a 2.5 kilometer (each way) trek to Mt. Iwo where you can watch sulfur spew and vent from the mountain.
I never judge a hotel on a first impression — and that cuts both ways. After just a couple of days here at Kawayu-Onsen and the Kinkiyu Hotel, I settled into the small town pace. Now, after a week, I’ve found myself saying hello to people I recognize on the street, I figured out which temperature I prefer at the onsen and know a neighborhood restaurant where I can get a good lunch and where I can go for a great nature walk.
Don’t get me wrong, the service at the hotels of Tokyo and Kyoto is great but there’s something to be said for small town hospitality and kindness. If that is the kind of experience you are looking for, then I believe you’ll find it here in Kawayu-Onsen at the Kinkiyu Hotel.