If you wanted to stay at a traditional Taisho-era onsen ryokan for the weekend how much do you think it would cost you? ¥10,000 a night? ¥15,000 a night? Would you believe me if I told you it could be had for less than ¥3,000 a night? I forgive you for calling me crazy, but it’s time you learned about the K’s House Ito Onsen.
The K’s House is a hostel/guesthouse chain that has been twice voted the best hostel chain in Asia (I’ll vouch for and strongly second that award). It has 8 locations throughout Japan but it’s Ito Onsen Guesthouse in Ito City on Shizuoka’s Izu Peninsula, has to be the most special location of all. The refurbished all wood building was built around 1912, and it is the Japan travel brochure you get overseas come to life. Everything from the the gracefully rough support pillars, stair rails and door surrounds that still show their original tree’s shape; the spacious tatami mat rooms; the bright sunrooms overlooking the Matsukawa River; the sliding rice paper doors; and the gorgeously crafted carvings and wall mosaics all grant visitors that devilishly elusive experience of the “real Japan.” And being an onsen ryokan, there are 2 private baths and one public bath (one pool for men and another for women) for all guests to enjoy.
The building is on the list of nationally important cultural assets and the owners of the K’s House could probably charge whatever they wanted for you to stay here, but each night in the 6 person dormitory will only cost you ¥2,950. You won’t be sacrificing comfort for that price either. The futons I slept on were cushy and deep, the sheets clean and crisp, the winter comforters plush and warm, the summer blankets soft and light, and the A/C unit capable of cranking out enough of whatever temperature air needed to keep the room comfortable. Privacy wasn’t an issue as each sleeping area is walled off from the one next to it by a traditional wooden screen. The room itself, with it’s own entrance hall and private sunroom/balcony fosters a “tree house club-like” sense of comradery with the other dormitory guests. They won’t be strangers for long.
The staff of the K’s House are equally wonderful. Many of them are bi or multi-lingual, and all of them are highly knowledgeable of the area in which they are working and can direct you to the best sites and restaurants and the fastest and most cost effective ways to get to them.
Ito is on the JR Ito Line south of Atami. The quickest way to get there is by the Limited Express Odoriko which goes there directly from Tokyo. The local train will get you there in about 2 hours at a cheaper price with one train change at Atami. Investing in a Kanto Area Open Pass (¥8000) might pay dividends on any trip to that area. All the people I’ve directed to the K’s House Ito Onsen have come away with big smiles, awesome stories to tell and a burning desire to make a return trip. I myself have been twice and am looking forward to my next trip to Ito. Big Japan experience, little price. Happy travels!