By Nicole Bauer
I am always in search of special places to stay, places with atmosphere and a real Japanese feel, places that have that certain something. Shukubo Aso, a farmhouse at the foot of the volcano Mount Aso, lives up to it, being one of the most atmospheric places to stay I have found in Japan so far.
Shukubo Aso is a 300-year-old extremely well maintained traditional inn offering 12 Japanese style rooms. The simple design and the natural materials used create a fantastic atmosphere: timber flooring in the main building and the hallways, tatami floor in the rooms, mud-colored walls and sliding paper doors in front of the windows—Japanese simplicity at its best.
You won’t miss any comfort though; there were a TV and a small fridge in the room as well as a heating stove and an air conditioning unit. The owners of this place understand to integrate well any modern facilities, without interrupting or disturbing the traditional Japanese feel.
So we tick the box for atmosphere, but what about the food? They served us a perfectly home-cooked menu, with almost all elements from the traditional Japanese cuisine—it was absolutely amazing! We started with a small portion of sashimi from three different kinds of fish. The tempura that followed was by far the best I've ever had; the batter was thin and crunchy, just enhancing the original taste of the vegetables. All vegetables (and rice) are organically grown on the farm and seasonality plays a big role. After that we continued with some small grilled salted fish (similar to the ones you get at festivals), egg curd, a soup with pasta squares filled with vegetables as well as other cooked vegetables like taro, bamboo shoot and sansei (wild mountain vegetables). Further more there was fresh tofu with mustard, a tiny peace of smoked salmon and another green vegetable I have forgotten the name of. Last but not least we had some Higo beef (low-fat beef from Kumamoto) grilled on a hot lava plate in the sunken hearth right in front of us—oh so juicy! That sounds like a lot of food? That was a lot of food, believe me, but I don’t regret anything. The quality of the ingredients and the way everything was cooked and presented was simply outstanding and is something I am still dreaming of today.
If you ask me, this is a must-stay if you are in the area. I would definitely go again.
To end such a wonderful evening, what could be better than a hot spring bath just before going to sleep? The natural hot spring water at Shukubo Aso comes from the nearby volcano and contains plenty of minerals to relax body and mind. Apart from two public baths (gender separated), there are two private baths, which you can book for an hour and enjoy together with your partner or friend. I can tell you, after that, I slept so well, maybe better than ever before.
Shukubo Aso is a genuinely friendly family-run business with three generations under one roof. They are eager to share their knowledge of the area, their culture and cuisine in general. There is no English website unfortunately. You should give them a call to make a booking, or ask someone who reads Japanese to help you with the online booking. The location is perfect too by the way, just a 10-minute walk from Aso Station and a perfect base for any excursions to the volcano.
If you ask me, this is a must-stay if you are in the area. I would definitely go again. Calculate with about ¥12,000 per person, breakfast & dinner included.
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Travelling abroad to discover new places, getting to know different cultures and learning foreign languages has always been my passion. I was born and raised in Germany; however, for a few years now I've been very lucky to be able to spend my life abroad. I lived for some time in England and Italy before moving to Japan in October 2009. It took me a while to adapt to this very different world; however, travelling up and down the country has helped me to not only adapt, but to actually fall in love with this country Japan. It has also reawakened my interest in photography, so whenever I get a chance I pack my camera and discover something new. Japan is full of beautiful but less well-known places. To make these more discoverable for everybody, I'm very happy to be able to share my stories and photography on this site, and open a world of extraordinary experiences, which would be difficult to find in a guidebook. For any queries regarding Tokyo as a travel destination or any of my published articles, please feel free to contact me.