Kuhe Ryokan

Traditional Japanese inn with with unusual comforts in Yutagawa Onsen

By Alena Eckelmann    - 3 min read

The memories of a winter trip to Yamagata in February several years ago are still vivid in my memory. What an adventure!

When travelling to Yamagata Prefecture in February most people want to go skiing at the Zao Onsen ski resort or see the "snow monsters' there.

Visiting Haguro-san in winter, one of the Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa, which is covered knee-deep in snow around this time of year, does only make it on the travel wish list of Yamabushi. Appropriately, my friend and I were wearing straw boots during our walk (in warm season it would be straw sandals!), which kept our feet perfectly warm and dry. I had to visit the wara craft maker, Mr. Saito to see how he makes the boots before checking in at my accommodation.

Shukubo lodgings in the small village of Toge at the base of Mount Haguro are closed in winter. Hence, accommodation options are a hotel in Tsuruoka City, such as the Tokyo Dai-ichi Hotel, or better a ryokan in Yutagawa Onsen. I opted for the latter and stayed at Kuhe, a small and friendly ryokan located along the main road of Yutagawa.

Kuhe Ryokan has a website in English, Chinese and Korean, and all major credit cards are accepted. Very convenient!

The Kuhe Ryokan is one of the oldest accommodations in Yutagawa Onsen. It has been in operation for over 300 years. While there are ten Japanese-style inns in this small onsen village, I opted for Kuhe to see whether many years of experience in the hospitality business make a difference, and I did not get disappointed!

My room in traditional tatami style with futon faced a garden, like all rooms at Kuhe. Amazingly, guests do not have to wear slippers while walking around in the building. The constant hassle of slippers on and off, and slippers not fitting a foreigner's feet that you have elsewhere does not exist at Kuhe, how nice!

The hot spring bath was excellent. The onsen water is said to come straight from the ground and it is supposed to be good for your skin. The Yama-no-yu public bath has an indoor and an outdoor bath tub but it was freezing cold outside! If you are shy like me, then you can rent a bath tub just for yourself.

The Japanese dinner and breakfast were delicious. The content of your meals depends on the meal plan you choose. The more you pay, the more lavish it gets. Having said that, each menu is great and menus change every month to cater to each season. All ingredients are locally sourced and the dinner is accompanied by local sake.

All guests take meals in their rooms. This way you have more privacy and you can really take your time and enjoy. Who would have thought some years ago that meals taken in your room become standard in Corona times!

Getting there

Assuming that you travel to Kuhe Ryokan from Tsuruoka Station, take the Shonai Kotsu Bus bound for Yutagawa Onsen (25 min, yen 510) or take a taxi (15 min, approx. yen 3,000).

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Alena Eckelmann

Alena Eckelmann @alena.eckelmann

Founder of Kii Monogatari, my story and the story of the Kii Peninsula of Japan. Originally from East Germany, I came to Tokyo, via Berlin and London, in 2005. In summer 2011 I moved by choice to remote Kumano in the south of the Kii Peninsula where I live, work and play now, and explore every day.The whole of the Kii Peninsula is a Healing Hub for me with its abundance of forest, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, the ocean, friendly rural communities and sacred places. This is where nature meets spirituality, and tradition meets sustainability, the new paradigm for travel post-pandemic. My deep interest is in Japanese nature & spirituality. I love being in nature, in the forest and in the mountains, and I love spending time at temples and shrines.  I am building my life and my work around these two passions. I am a Licensed Forest Therapy (Shinrin Therapy) Guide and a Licensed Kumano Kodo and Koyasan Guide. I am also a Licensed Retreat Facilitator and I am planning retreats on the Kii Peninsula. Last but not least, I have been the Japan Travel Partner for Wakayama and Yamagata since the conception of the platform in 2011! These two prefectures are close to my heart because they are the centers of Shugendo, a spiritual tradition of mountain ascetism. I am a Shugendo Practitioner for over ten years now and received Tokudo in 2016 at a Shugendo temple on Yoshinoyama. Please kindly connect via my Facebook Page Kii Monogatari. Take care, keep well, stay safe! 

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Alena Eckelmann Author 9 months ago
What you see in the pic is breakfast. Dinner is much bigger. The ryokan is very cozy because it is small.
Elena Lisina 9 months ago
Nice place and big dinner as always in ryokan! :)))