By Febry Fawzi
My curiousity about staying at a traditional ryokan brought me to the homely Hatago Ichiban ryokan. Located in Tochiya (Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture), Hatago Ichiban strategically abides in a very tranquil location. Moreover, Chichibu is like a gem untouched by many travelers passing through Saitama. The city offers a spectacular landscape with precipitous cliffs, embraced by mountains, not to mention the richness of the area's history. The answer to where you could experience all of this beauty is simply: Hatago Ichiban.
I have dreamed for a long time about staying at a Japanese traditional inn. Experiencing the tatami-matted rooms, having my own onsen bath, wearing yukata, and tasting the delicious dishes, all of my wishes could become true as I first stepped into the Hatago Ichiban. When I first arrived here, I could clearly see how warm it is to be there. The receptionist welcomed me and gave a quick tour around the ryokan sight. There are three different buildings at this ryokan sight, all of them just a stone's throw one from each other. One is for lobby and the restaurant, the other two is for the guest rooms.
I was first introduced to where to go for dinner and breakfast, then the receptionist invited me to see the public bath and accompanied me to my room. Just like any other ryokan, all of the rooms are in traditional Japanese style, with tatami flooring and comfortable futon bedding. They also provide some extra entertainment and amenities such as a living room with Japanese traditional tables and chair, widescreen TV, electronic kettle and porcelain to accompany your tea time, air conditioner, and standard toiletries.
One of my favorite things here was the dinner and breakfast. The full set menu of mixed traditional and Western choices will tease you to try them all. There are different menus for every day of your stay and most of them source ingredients from the local farmers of Chichibu. Since Chichibu is surrounded by the mountains, most of the region around this city relies on agriculture. So you will get fresh ingredients and also local flavours and recipes.
Don’t miss the chance to experience their comfortable public bath or onsen. They have two separate pools, with one of them outdoors. If you want to blend with nature, try the outdoor pool, where you’ll get a chance to smell the freshness of the bamboo grove by the poolside. Relax yourself and fall into the tranquility of Hatogo Ichiban.
Chichibu offers a picturesque landscape but that's not all. This city also offers an Edo period pilgrimage excursion. There are 34 Buddhist temples which are dedicated to the God of Mercy. These has been visited by many Japanese believers over the ages. If you don't have much time, then you'll be lucky staying at Hatogo Ichiban because it's just next door to the No.1 temple on the route. Every evening you'll hear the shrine's bell echoing amidst the serene sunset.
Speaking about how to reach this ryokan, if you are heading from Tokyo, you just need to take the limited express on the Seibu line to Seibu-Chichibu Station, then continue the journey with the local bus. A bus to Minamo Station will guide you to the front of Shimabuji Temple, across the street from Hatogo Ichiban. For those driving, it is approximately 30 minutes by National Highway No. 140.
After staying for two nights at Hatogo Ichiban, I felt so refreshed. I will never forget this kind of experience which was just like I had dreamed about. Accompanied by mild weather and the dancing autumn foliage, I could feel the warmth of this place from the facilities and services provided.
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