Paul's Travel Pics

Monday, December 08, 2008

Hida Takayama - Restaurant and Hotel Reviews




NOTE TO READERS:

All good things must come to an end. After years of offering high quality Kaiseki dinners and great service as a traditional Ryokan, Ryori Ryokan Hanaoka has finally closed its doors, perhaps forever. While this is certainly bad news for visitors to Takayama, many Ryori Ryokans, or traditional inns specializing in gourmet dinners, do exist in Takayama. The following is a list of Ryokans within Takayama City with promising dinner options. As usual the price listed are per person (not per room), including dinner and breakfast. Don't worry if you can't read Japanese -- you can always email the Tourism Office (www.hida.jp/) and ask them to make the reservation for you!

- Ryokan Seiryu - 8,000 to 17,500 yen
- Muhyoukan - 8,888 to 13,500 yen
- Honjin Hiranoya - 10,500 to 16,800 yen
- Ryori Ryokan Komakusa - 13,650 to 15,750 yen


Our fond memories of Takayama was due in no small part to the wonderful, wonderful Ryokan that served us the best meal of the trip. IMHO that's a hard-earned title considering the effort we put into our search for authentic local cuisine in each city, with competition ranging from Kobe's steak teppanyaki, Osaka's Kansai-style broiled unagi, Kyoto's traditional Kyo-zushi, Kanazawa's fresh seafood, and Nagoya's Hitsumabushi etc. At the end, our cheap Ryokan in Takayama came up on top, and I'll pass this information to you in this article, probably the first English review on the Internet for this Ryokan.

Hotel Review: RYORI RYOKAN HANAOKA (Takayama)
Address: Gifu-ken Takayama-shi Hanaoka-machi 2-36
Price: 6600 yen per person including dinner and breakfast
Website/Map: http://www7.ocn.ne.jp/~hanaoka2/
How To Book: Based on experiences from myself and contributing readers, we've found several ways to book:
1) If you can read Japanese, you can book through the popular hotel booking site of JALAN like we did. The price was around 6600 yen per person as of mid 2008.
2) If you can't read Japanese, you can try sending an email in simple English to: hanaoka@vesta.ocn.ne.jp
3)A fellow blogger Poppy has been able to book it through the Hida Tourism Board at hidatio@hidanet.ne.jp. The price was 6800 yen in mid 2009.
3) Alternatively, fellow blogger Mlle was successful in asking the staff at another hotel earlier in her trip to call up Hanaoka and book the room for her. This resulted in a bargain price of 6300 yen in mid 2009.
Just for everyone's reference, at the rack rate posted at Hanaoka's official site is 8000 yen on weekdays and 10000 yen on Fridays and Saturdays.
Directions: Exiting the JR Takayama station, turn left and walk for about five little blocks. You'll see a tall government building (Takayama City Hall) on your right and the police headquarters on your left. Hanaoka is directly across from the far end of the police headquarters ... there is hardly a safer location in ultra safe Japan, and it's only 8 minutes walk from the JR Station.



6600 yen (CAD$66) per person for a 13-course Kaiseki dinner that ranks top in our half-month trip, plus a 7-course breakfast, AND a restful night in a Tatami-mat room with private bathroom? You read correctly. If we consider the room charge alone to be worth 4000 yen per person, then we're only paying roughly 2000 yen for dinner and 600 for breakfast. This was actually the cheapest room-with-dinner-and-breakfast (Ippaku Nishoku) package ever in our travels throughout Japan, a full-fledged Ryori-Ryokan (gourmet inn) at rock-bottom Minshuku guesthouse prices.

How did we find this Ryokan? By browsing through JALAN, one of Japan's most popular hotel booking websites, where it had an incredible user's review rating of 4.9 out of 5 for its dinner ... and a 1400 yen discount below the regular price listed at the Ryokan's official site. To steal a line from The Godfather ... it's an offer we can't refuse!



It's only proper to start off this review with the Kaiseki dinner, which was given the long name of "Hida-gyu Miso Toban-yaki to Shun no Mikaku." Presumably it's got Hida Beef, cooked with Miso paste on top of a Toban ceramic plate, and accented with various seasonal delicacies. So what's in it really?

Okay. Course #1. I would have never expected the first course of a Kaiseki dinner to be a TERRINE ... the Owner-Chef seemed to be eager to announce his fusion creativity here. It's not a fine mousse kind of terrine, but a terrine of coarsely chopped broiled Unagi, pressed under a sushi mold and held together by the natural gelatin from the Unagi skin. The wasabi wasn't even necessary as the Unagi was very well executed and didn't have any hint of the "muddy flavor" (Dorokusa). It was a deliciously unorthodox presentation of Unagi, one which I never tasted before or after.



Course #2. Goma-Dofu ... now we're getting back to a traditional dish ... or is it? My idea of Goma-Dofu is always served with some variation of a soy-based sauce, but perhaps the Chef realized that would be too big of a shock to the palate after the sweet Unagi. This Goma-Dofu was as rich and thick as any I've ever tasted, but complimented by a smooth but only slightly sweetened Goma dressing as a transition to the milder dishes to come. Hmm ... very smart.



Course #3. A Moriawase of seasonal offerings ... I don't know what the Chef formally called this dish. The little square piece of pressed sushi was Masu (Sakura-coloured trout) Zushi, a local specialty of Toyama some 80 km to the north. It should be noted that Takayama is practically in the middle of a mountain range, so any seafood on our plate was conceivably trucked in daily from the Toyama Bay. That includes the conch and the Botan Ebi shrimp, which came with the same kind of impressive freshness I would expect of a Ryokan in Toyama. Our Chef was definite not skimping on quality ingredients here.



Course #4. The Sashimi was impressively fresh for landlocked Takayama ... in fact the freshness probably wasn't very different from what we had at the seafood capital of Kanazawa (see previous article) a few days ago. As you can see there's a slice of rolled squid with seaweed, a Botan Ebi prawn, some lean Akami tuna, and the best of all ... there's a couple pieces of superbly fresh and fatty Buri hiding behind the chrysanthemum. Wonderful quality, and this was only the second most memorable dish.



Course #5. Even in a Kaiseki dinner, our Chef did manage to squeeze one of the local Kyodo-Ryori (rustic cooking) dish into his presentation. The wild Kogomi fern is a springtime favorite of Central Japan, and the smoked Iburi-Dofu is a specialty of the neighboring city of Gujo. I don't remember how this dish tasted except for the crunchiness of the Kogomi, so it probably wasn't anything outstanding.



Course #6. My wife's favorite -- the Chawan-mushi. I remember the egg mixture being superbly light and smooth, but I don't really remember much about the ingredients at the bottom ... probably just the traditional sliced chicken and Kamaboko fish cakes.



Course #7. Of course a full Kaiseki wouldn't be complete without a Takiawase (slow-cooked) course, this one being a cut of salmon served with bamboo shoot and other veggies. Again it was well-executed, as the fish had stayed firm and plump, and served with a sweet, reduced Dashi soy sauce.



Course #8. The Yakizakana (grilled fish) course -- it looked like a sole on first glance but for some reason I thought it wasn't. Anyway I was sure that it wasn't just grilled, but slightly deep fried with the rest of the ingredients. This was an excellent course as well, as I finished even the crunchy tail of the fish.



Course #9. Finally ... the one dish we've waited for all evening ... the "Hida-gyu Miso Toban-yaki" which this Kaiseki Dinner Set was named after. Several slices of buttery soft, evenly marbled Hida Beef served in a rich, dark red Miso paste, grilled on a ceramic plate (Toban) instead of the traditional dried Hoba leaf.



The incredible softness was no different from Kobe Beef or Matsuzaka Beef, but when combined with the strong Miso, the exquisite combination of flavors was unmistakably Hida. The amount of Hida Beef was a little less than what we had at Shirakawago's excellent Shiraogi restaurant the day before, but when this whole Kaiseki Dinner of 13 courses cost only around 2000 yen (CAD$20), IMHO we're already getting twice our money's worth. I personally would be willing to pay 2000 yen just for this dish plus the sashimi.



Courses #10, #11 and #12. A wonderful clear broth for a change, after having so much Miso soup for the past week. I don't remember how I managed it, but I did finish the Soba noodles and most of the Koshi-hikari rice with marinated anchovies ... and this was after we racked up double digit number of dishes.



Course #13. My wife always had a huge dislike for strawberries. She didn't mind strawberry-flavored snacks, but if you presented her a whole strawberry as a fruit ... bleh. This was the dish that changed her perception of strawberries forever -- a plump, syrupy sweet strawberry with no hint of acidity whatsoever ... and look at its size compared to the slice of watermelon!



This was my most memorable dinner in recent years, with dishes after dishes of top quality Kaiseki courses prepared with the expertise and care of the Owner-Chef. To me the most impressive aspect was the choice of absolute top quality ingredients -- Sashimi with a freshness bettering one of the city's top Sushi-ya (see review of Michiya-zushi below), melt-in-the-mouth Hida Beef, even down to the selection of fruits -- all for an unbelievably cheap price.

So the dinner was excellent, but what about the room?



Located on the 3rd floor along with all other guest rooms, our room was 6-Tatami-mats in size plus a Genkan space at the entrance, a Western-style bathroom, and a balcony facing the snowy mountains to the East. As you can see, all the equipment had the "basic Ryokan" look to it -- an old TV sitting atop a small safe, unremarkable futons, and a little low table with a tea set. But most importantly to us, the room was spotlessly clean and was actually rather new.



Our balcony's view towards the 3,000-metres-high Norikura mountains, the third tallest volcano in Japan after Mount Fuji and Ontake-san. You can get a sense of the small size of Takayama's urban area, as the trees in the middle-ground marks the edge of the wilderness.



The simple bathroom was exceptionally clean again. In Japan, it's pretty rare to find cheap Tatami-mat rooms with a private bathroom -- typically you'll find private bathrooms only at western-style business hotels, or at the more expensive Ryokans geared towards rich retirees and higher-income families. This is one of the important but lesser-known considerations if you plan on booking Tatami-mat rooms.

We did go out for a walk at night, and made one interesting observation ... the locals disappeared, and the ratio of foreigners on the street suddenly increased by four times at night! Apparently nightlife isn't one of Takayama's penchants.



We woke up to another full and sumptuous meal, a 7-course breakfast providing the energy we needed as we prepared for our trip to the national park at Kamikochi this morning. Some of the dishes had become familiar to us by now, including the boiled wild Zenmai ferns (little pink dish at the centre of the picture) and the Miso soup with wild Nameko mushrooms. Being an urban Ryokan hasn't stopped Hanaoka from assuming its duty of introducing the region's traditional Sanzai ("wild mountain vegetables") to its clientelle.



The strong and delicious Hoba Miso had been the star of the breakfast for the third straight morning, but frankly I never got bored of it. The fragrance of the grilled Miso was the absolute best condiment for steamed rice, and as I'm writing this article I'm still regretting not bringing home a stack of Hoba leaves so that I could have this dish for breakfast on weekends. This is one of the Central Japanese dishes I miss the most.



Japanese-style layered egg omelette, grilled salmon, and cubes of dried Hida beef in mirin-soysauce marinade -- nothing out-of-this-world, but excellent as a breakfast dish nonetheless.



My wife's all-time favorite breakfast dish -- the Onsen Tamago (hotspring egg) served in a mouthwatering Dashi broth. Unlike the western poached egg which has a firm egg-white surrounding a soft yolk, the Japanese Onsen Tamago is a seemingly incredible semi-aqueous egg white orbiting around a firmer but still semi-soft yolk. Apparently this is possible since the egg-white start to become "cooked" at a slightly lower temperature than the yolk, a phenomenon recently re-discovered by 21st Century molecular gastronomy, a couple thousand years later than the Japanese.

At the end it was time to check-out and catch our bus to Hirayu Onsen en route to Kamikochi. Prior to getting the final bill my wife was still asking ... is it REALLY going to be 6600 yen (CAD$66) per person? Unbelievable, but true. 6600 yen for the best dinner of the trip, the best breakfast of the trip, AND one of the best views from the hotel room on this trip. The owner may not speak any English (my broken Japanese came to the rescue ... again), but don't let any language barrier deter you from making this your base for exploring Takayama and its surroundings. I seriously doubt you'll find a better deal elsewhere.



Food Review: MICHIYA-ZUSHI OKIMURAYA (Takayama)
Address: Gifu-ken Takayama-shi Aioi-cho 25
Hours: 11:00-14:00, 16:00-23:00
Website/Map: From GNAVI (Japanese)
Directions: Exiting the JR Takayama station, turn left, then turn right at the first major street, Kokubunji-Dori. Head straight on Kokubunji-Dori, then turn right at the little lane one block before the river. Michiya-zushi is on the left, just a few steps from Kokubunji-Dori.


If you've read some of the previous articles, you may notice my fetish for those really old and traditional culinary establishments, and this little Sushi-ya in Hida Takayama would fall into this category. At 103-years-young, Michiya-zushi is said to be the oldest existing Sushi-ya in Takayama. At lunchtime, it was as prototypical as a Sushi-ya could be -- one Chef working behind an old counter, a couple of Zashiki rooms, and an old TV playing yesterday's baseball highlights. Some may question the wisdom of having sushi 80 km from the coast, and I would usually agree, except for the ONE famous sushi ingredient you can't easily find anywhere else ...



... Takayama's famous Hida Beef, rumored to melt in the mouth like the finest Ootoro tuna ... which is why the locals proudly call their invention Hida Toro. And it cost just about as much as Ootoro, at 2100 yen (CAD$21) for four thin slices of certified A5-ranked Hida Beef.

Hmmm ... look at this shiny oiliness as the marbling fat was just starting to melt, accentuated by a slight torching of the surface. Unlike Ootoro tuna, the beef didn't turn into a full mouthful of fatty juices, but rather disintegrated into the soft, chewiness of the sushi rice upon the softest bite. My wife, who couldn't quite get over the psychological barrier of having raw beef for sushi, stopped after one piece ... which meant that I got to enjoy every bit of the smooth oily goodness of the other three pieces. Although it wasn't as magical as advertised, this Hida Toro Nigiri was still a delicious interpretation of Takayama's highly prized specialty beef.



Instead of just ordering the Hida Toro for 2100 yen, we found that it could be upgraded to a "Hida Toro Set" for only 1050 yen (CAD$11) more to include another local favorite, the Mushi-zushi (steamed sushi). Originated in Kansai where it is typically served only during the winter, this steaming hot variation of Chirashi-zushi ("scattered" sushi) is served year-round at mountainous Takayama.



Not you typical Sushi! Actually it's not even a typical Chirashi-zushi, as the entire egg was steamed on top of the rice instead of having it fried into an omelette and sliced into thin shreds. The toppings were nothing spectacular, but the Dashi soup stock absorbed into the rice gave it quite an attractive homey flavor. After all Kansai-style sushi is just as much about the rice as it is about the toppings, isn't it?



My wife had the more familiar Nigiri-zushi, a Torimase set for 2100 yen (CAD$21). There was little doubt that the toppings were transported in from Toyama, as the Chef gave us TWO pieces of Toyama Bay's famous fluorescent squid (Hotaru Ika). Though still fresher than anything we could get in Vancouver, according to my wife the freshness of the toppings here was noticeably a notch lower than what we had at Kanazawa's Omicho Market, just a few days prior.

So was this meal worth the 5250 yen (CAD$53)? I thought the Hida Toro was well worth its price to be honest, though my wife may disagree. The Mushi-zushi was interesting if unspectacular, while the Nigiri-zushi could have been skipped. Frankly if we had time for only one meal in this region, I would bypass the Hida Toro and pay a little more for a Hida Beef Steak grilled in delectable Hoba Miso. But since we already tried that the previous day in Shirakawago, the Hida Toro Nigiri was next on our list of must-try Takayama cuisines. And it was as excellent as A5-ranked Hida Beef should be expected, no matter how it's cooked ... or uncooked.

Bill for Two Persons
Hida Toro Set3150 yen
Torimase Set2100 yen
TOTAL5250 yen (CAD$53)



MY WIFE'S CORNER



Ever since late 19th Century, the remote town of Takayama has been consigned to the Prefecture of Gifu, which is famous for its production of top quality Edamame (young soy beans). My wife couldn't take her hands off this cellphone strap once she found it at a souvenir store -- this one is aptly named the Gifu Edamame edition, and is marked for sale only within Gifu Prefecture.

82 comments:

LC said...

Dear Paul,

You are maintaining a great blog!

And I certainly do have a question for you regarding the RYORI RYOKAN HANAOKA in Takayama.

Does this hotel have it's own private bathroom & toilet in the room?

Paul said...

Dear LC,

Yes, all rooms at Hanaoka have private showers and toilets in the room. Take a look at the photo of the near the middle of the article -- that should give you an idea of what you can expect should you choose to stay there.

Cheers,

Paul

LC said...

Oh yes, you are right... Sorry, I was probably too engrossed with the food photos. :P

Sabrina said...

Hi Paul,

We're very interested in this Ryokan and tried to contact them via the site and email that you provided but the emails are bouncing back. Would you happen to know any other means to make a reservation? (there's JALAN but we don't know any Japanese). We'd appreciate any guidance you can provide.

Travel said...

Hi Paul,
Can I ask you to kindly email me at travelingin2009@gmail.com? I have a question regarding the ryokan that shouldn't be posted in your comments. Thanks

msole said...

Paul, your blog is great! Thanks. I'll be going to Takayama and was wondering if I want to eat at Michiya-zushi, do I need to make a reservation in advance?

Thanks!
Magdalena

Paul said...

Hi Magdalena,

Michiya-zushi has 55 seats according to their website, and when we dropped by for lunch last May, we were about the only table. So unless you're running into a special holiday (eg.Takayama festival in mid April, Golden week in late April/early May etc), you shouldn't need reservations.

Enjoy your Hida Beef while you're there!

Paul

Marco said...

Hi Paul,
fantastic articles. I'm planning my own Kanazawa - Shirakawago - Takayama - Okuhida Onsen - Matsumoto itinerary for next spring, so your blog has been a real treasure trove - thank you for sharing all this!
I really want to try to stay at Ryokan Hanaoka and was looking on jalan.net, another great find, and see that they only have about 3-4 months inventory available. I'm figuring that kind of lead time will be fine for Hanaoka, though I don't think it's early enough for Kyoto in prime sakura season (not my personal top choice of time to be there but so it goes). Do you know if rooms open up earlier on jalan.net when it comes to busy times? Or are they more of a clearing house for unsold inventory? Thanks for any info you may have on this as well as your priceless suggestions. And great pics...

Paul said...

Marco,

Based on my experience of booking through Jalan, most of the hotels would start puting up a small part of their bookable rooms on Jalan a couple months before, often at a discount. For busier times, I don't think they open up their booking period ahead of time since they know they'll be fully booked at the end anyway. In that case you'll just have to check your desired hotel daily and snap up the room as it becomes available. That's what I did when I booked our business hotel in Kanazawa.

Also check Rakuten Travel which has some hotels not registered in Jalan. JTB and Rurubu have some good ones too, though usually at less of a discount.

Hope this helps!

Paul

Marco said...

Thanks for the info. And fwiw I'm finding tripit.com very useful for planning out my itinerary. Worth checking out for your next journey.

Mlle Vrooman said...

Hi Paul!! Awesome blog, lots of help on our trip! We stayed at the Hanaoka- we had another hotel employee call when we got to Japan to make reservations. We got an even cheaper price of 6300 Yen/person! And there was no price differential reserving outside of JALAN. I second Paul's incredible recommendation for the hotel. I would say to stay for 2 days- we stayed for 3 and found out that the meals cycle (we ate the same dinner and breakfast- the one you have pictured for days 1 and 3). Day 2's meals were even better with hida beef tartar and some of the best tempura I've ever tasted. I'll have pictures of day two on my blog- http://www.travbuddy.com/travel-blogs/56463/Kenroku-en-and-the-most-amazing-dinner-EVER-Kanazawa-16
Thanks again for the advice!! Have a great time on your present trip!

Paul said...

Hi Mlle:

I'm glad you enjoyed the Ryokan as much as we did. In fact it still ranks as my wife's favorite hotel anywhere. A lot of readers seem to have trouble booking it due to language barriers, so the way you did it would probably work well for other non-Japanese speakers too.

I'll be interested in seeing your Day 2 pics when they're up!

Paul

poppy said...

Hope this will make a tiny contribution to this great blog. I tried booking the Hanaoka ryokan after reading this blog and managed to book it easily with the Hida Tourism Board: hidatio@hidanet.ne.jp

Hope you non-Japanese speaking comrades out there find the link helpful. They did quote a higher price though Y$6800 pax for 2 person sharing. I'm wondering if it has to do with it being a busy period in end Nov or just a fee. Regardless, having experience much difficulty trying to book accomodation at non speaking establishments, I'm happy to pay the premium if need be.

Paul said...

Poppy,

Thanks you so much for this information! Many readers has been telling me their difficulty in booking this little gem of a Ryokan. I've added your experience into the article and hopefully everyone will have a less stressful time when trying to plan their stay in Takayama.

Thanks,

Paul

poppy said...

I'm really please to have booked it but can't help feeling gutted that I will never be able to get the lowest price out there (eventhough it's staring in my face!) simply because of language barier. I actually contemplated translating my reservation into Japanese (via babel) and faxing to the ryokans...thought the better of it in case they send me some funny response like yours :p

Anonymous said...

Could not find a suitable section so I written here, how to become a moderator for your forum, that need for this?

Paul said...

Dear Anonymous,

This is just a very informal place for people to make comments on my post or ask questions, so there isn't really any formal moderation. You're welcome to help answer questions and post your comments on the region of travel discussed.

Paul

料理旅館 花岡  said...

前略
こんにちは。ポールさん。
料理旅館花岡です。
先日は、ご来館いただき、誠にありがとうございました。

先日、アメリカのお客様がご宿泊の際に、『Paul's Travel Pics』のコピーを持ってきてくださり、ブログの存在を知りました。

様々な国の素敵な写真に、思わず見とれてしまいました。英語の得意でない私たちでも、とても楽しむことができました。

あなたの大切なページに、当館を掲載していただき、光栄に思っています。
綺麗な写真入りで紹介していただき、本当にありがとうございます。

ところで、私たちは英語が得意ではありません。よって、メールでの返信は困難です。
1つお願いがあります。
これまでにメールをくださった方々に、大変ご迷惑をおかけしました。
大変申し上げにくいのですが、下記のアドレスからは予約ができません。
[削除する]
JALANをお勧めいただけると有り難いです。
誠に身勝手な申し出、どうかお許しください。

ポールさんの益々のご活躍とご健勝を、心よりお祈り申し上げます。

まずはお詫びまで。
乱文をお許しください。
                  草々
            料理旅館 花岡 

料理旅館 花岡 said...

料理旅館花岡です。
早々のお取り計らい、お引き立て、心より感謝致します。
微力ながらも、家族で力を合わせてお客様へのおもてなしに努めて参ります。

どうかお元気で。
失礼いたします。
            料理旅館 花岡

Nicole said...

Hi Paul,
Thanks so much for your blog - I wish I had found it when my partner and I were living and working in Hokkaido for 5 months a year ago - we travelled for a month when we were done and I would have loved to have visited some of the places you mention.
Fortunately, I will have the chance to next year as i am organising a trip for my family in May. If it's not too much trouble, can you let me know what you think of our itinerary? We will be travelling using JR passes. I am planning 2 nights in tokyo - 1 night in Hida Takayama - 1 night in Kanazawa - 1 night in Kyoto - 1 night in Uji - back to Kyoto for a night - Osaka for 3 nights - Koyasan for 1 night - Hiroshima for 2 nights - Back to Tokyo for 2 nights before we head home. My parents are older and I don't want to cram too much in but want to give them a really good look at Japan. Also, do you know how easy it is to use the baggage courier system (Takyubin from memory) to forward bags from hotel to hotel so that we can only take overnight bags to the smaller towns? And do you recommend any ryokan in Kanazawa? Thanks so much for your help. Cheers, Nic :)

Paul said...

Nicole,

Thanks for your trust in my advices. I think your itinerary is great for a matured group - lots of cultural sights and not too crammed. One thing I learned traveling with my wife is that for people who are not hard core backpackers, it's good to minimize the number of hotel transfers. For example, Kyoto and Uji are so close that I'd be tempted to string 2 nights of Kyoto together, then 1 night in Uji, then perhaps moving to Koyasan, then go relax in Osaka for 2-3 nights. Since Osaka is somewhat similar to Tokyo (though southern Osaka is very retro and unique) I'd suggest perhaps staying only 2 nights, and spending one more in Central Japan. Perhaps a leisurely daytrip to Shirakawago, or an extra day in Kanazawa if you plan on visiting Shirakawago on the way to Kanazawa and therefore leaving very little time in Kanazawa. Tempting options abound.

You should have no problem with Takkyubin -- it's so ubiquitous that most hotels and larger Ryokans can arrange it for you -- and you probably speak some Japanese already from working in Hokkaido.

Ryokan in Kanazawa ... what are your requirements? What is your budget per person? Would you want dinner to be included or would you rather eat out? Do you require a toilet inside the room, for if you don't there are a lot of traditional Ryokans in Kanazawa ... I passed by one in the Kazuemachi Chayagai area and itlooked really atmospheric. Not cheap though if you're looking at a room for 4 people.

Paul

Nic said...

Hi Paul,
Thanks for getting back to me with really useful advice! I'll definitely see what shuffling around I can do as my parents are over 60 and definitely not into backpacking!! The reason I had snuck Uji into Kyoto was because of the Aoi Matsuri festival but I will definitely see what can work.

As for the Kanazawa ryokan, I'm looking at a budget of about 7,000 per person if possible and with a private toilet (mum's request!!). With the seafood market sounding so amazing, dinner isn't essential but like you, we all definitely love good food so if you knew of a ryokan with good dinner included, that's fine too and the budget could go up a bit!! And we would be booking two rooms rather than one big.

Thanks again so much for your help!

Nic :)

Paul said...

Hi Nicole,

Since a private toilet is a requirement, you'll have to skip over the traditional old Ryokans where the entire establishment shares one bathroom and a few public toilets.

We stayed at City Inn Kobayashi which you probably already read about. They don't speak any English and offers the basics in terms of comfort. Very close to the fish market though.

Another inexpensive place I considered is called Hinodeya. They have 2/3 person Japanese style rooms with private bathrooms, and is within walking distance from the train station.

http://www.hinodeya.info/english/english.html

Another one I considered was Dormy Inn, which is a hotel rather than a Ryokan. Also very cheap and close to the train station.

http://www.hotespa.net/business/en/inquiry/index.html#4

From any of these ryokans/hotels you'll need to take the Loop Bus or some other local bus to get to the major sights. Walking from the market to the hotel takes about 15 minutes.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Paul,

we tried getting into JALAN.net to book Ryokan Hanaoko online. For booking on 3rd April for 2 pax with meals was quoted at Y6,600 & we tried to make reervation. But it require some kind of ID or paswword. Do we need to be a member to be able to book online? If so, how to become one? If not, would appreciate if you can help us to book 3 rooms (- 1 twin sharing & 2 rooms for triple sharing) for our group of 8 persons -check in 3rd April 2010 & check out 6th april (3 nights stay). U can send confirmation to my email leongly99@gmail.com.
Thanks a lot
Jenny

Paul said...

Hi Jenny,

You need to first register an account with Jalan. It takes a little time and effort, and may require a translation website to help you on the side, but it's well worth it for the wealth of places it allows you to book. You just need to provide an email address, translate your name into Japanese (eg. ジェンニー - English characters won't be accepted), and provide an address in Japanese (eg.米国 - again English characters won't be accepted).

Now here's the bad news -- Apr 3 is full -- so you'll need to find another Ryokan for that night, or perhaps rearrange your schedule a little. Let me know how that goes.

Paul

paiyan said...

Dear Paul,

Thanks for the very, very useful info on your blog! My wife and I are planning to visit Takayama as part of our honeymoon trip in May 2010.

I've somehow managed to contact Ryori Ryokan Hanaoka directly via email in English. I emailed the Hida Takayama Tourist Information Office and they forwarded me directly to Hanaoka. Got a response from Hanaoka in English within the day and have 4 nights booked with them in May!

Seems like you can now book them directly via email in English? Does this sound right to you?

Paul said...

Dear paiyan:

It's wonderful for you to be able to get a reply in English -- in fact you're probably one of the first. Previously I was providing their email address, but it was causing them too much trouble and they asked me to remove it from my blog and direct people to book through Jalan. Now it seems that emailing the Tourist Info Office to ask for help also works well.

Congratulations on your upcoming wedding and honeymoon. Wish you a happy ever after.

Paul

Robin said...

Hi Paul, I really enjoyed reading your blog & pics.
Do you know if the restaurant at RYORI RYOKAN HANAOKA is opened to people who don't stay there?

Paul said...

Robin,

Hanaoka isn't a restaurant, and so they don't serve walk-in customers. I know they've got a little dining hall and so they probably do some small company functions upon early reservation. So walking in during dinner time is out of the question, but if you're staying in Takayama for a few days you could try dropping by and see if you can book tomorrow's dinner.

Paul

Prin said...

Hi again Paul,

I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on my accommodation plan for Takayama/Shirakawago?

Option 1:
Apr15 - ~11am arrive in Takayama & walk around old town, 3:50-4:40 bus to Shirakawago, check in to Hisamatsu / onsen / dinner
Apr16 - Shirakawago walk & lunch, 3-3:50 bus to Takayama, 4:43 train to Tokyo

Option 2:
Apr15 - ~11am arrive in Takayama & walk around old town, check in to Hanaoka / dinner
Apr16 - 9:50-10:40 bus to Shirakawago, 3-3:50 bus to Takayama, 4:43 train to Tokyo

I'm just really torn between the two & how I should spend the night, as both have their own strengths & similar price. As you've experienced both, I'd truly appreciate your view.

Thanks so much!

Paul said...

Prin:

This is a very difficult decision ... each place is worth at least a full day's time IMHO, and you only have one day's time for both.

Do you think you'll get another chance to travel to Japan? If the answer is yes, Takayama is a little easier to get to, and the general region offers so much that you can easily plan another trip there. Shirakawago on the other hand is a really unique place, without equals in Japan. Spending a night there is an experience you'll remember for a long time.

Hanaoka does offer great food ... however you can easily get a Kaiseki type meal elsewhere in Japan ... albeit at a higher price.

Paul

Prin said...

Dear Paul,

Thank you again for your advice!
I think I'm going to go with focusing on Shirakawago & spend the night at a gassho-zukuri minshuku. I think you're completely right, it's just too unique an experience to pass up!
My sister wants to go to Japan for autumn as well.. Maybe I can tagalong again.

Again, thanks a lot! This has been a great help!

Shan said...

Hi Paul, your blog really makes me look forward to my japan trip in may. =D I would like to ask, what address and phone number did you fill in when booking through JALAN? seems that they don't accept overseas addresses.. and the format for their phone number seems different so i'm sort of at a loss.. Thanks for tyour help!

Paul said...

Shan,

As I remember, JALAN accepts addresses entered in katakana. So I just typed my foreign address translated into katakana. In the postal code field and phone number fields I probably entered the postal code and phone for my first hotel upon arrival. Be creative and you should get past those steps.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

After reading your blog about Hanaoka and Takayama, i wish to go thr and stay and eat Hida beef. But my parents are coming with us and we're flying to Osaka. Plan to go to Kyoto and Kobe and maybe Uji.It seems quite far and troublesome and expensive (transport) just to get to Takayama. Is there somewhere nearer with Ryori Ryokan (around the same price) and Onsen (like the one in your blog)?
Is Arima Onsen worth going and staying overnight?
Is there any nice Onsen in Uji? i would love eating those Matcha desserts.

W

Paul said...

W:

One cool thing about Japan is that pretty much every region has its own regional cuisine and local Onsen. Arima Onsen is a popular choice for those staying in Kansai -- it's relatively expensive, but many Ryokans there serve the local Kobe beef or Tajima beef. That's probably the most popular Onsen town in Kansai. I don't remember any large-scale Onsen town around Uji.

Paul

Cola said...

Dear Paul,

I booked Hanaoka for my Sept trip to Takayama as well thru Jalan (after a lot of fiddling with the japanese..osigh).
There is 1 box at the reservation page that can put in question to the ryokan and I asked them if they can take in courier lugguage (takyubin service); however they didn't get back to me and it has been 2 weeks already.
Do you happen to know if Hanaoka accepts traveller's luggage even before they check in (it arrives a day earlier then we do)?
I'm not too sure if i should phone them with my uber poor jap. I doubt if I can get my idea across and I cant find their email anywhere on the internet...

Thanks for the advice!!
Coco

Paul said...

Coco:

My guess is that it should not be a problem, as this is common practice at a lot of Ryokans. We didn't Takuhai our luggage to them, but we did drop by at 11:00am when they were busy doing cleanups, and the owner was extremely polite in taking in our luggages. When we returned in the late afternoon our luggages were neatly placed in our room of course.

Paul

Cola said...

Hi Paul,

thanks for the quick response!
I think I will just get my friends to help with a note in jap. I can at least copy and paste then...
Thank you!

料理旅館 花岡 said...

拝啓
日増しに秋の深まりを感じる今日このごろ、ポールさん、お元気でお過ごしでしょうか。
平素はひとかたならぬ御厚情を賜り、まことにありがとうございます。
月日が経ち、ようやく下記のメールアドレスからの予約が受け付けられる状態となりました。
hanaoka@vesta.ocn.ne.jp
皆様に愛される旅館を目指し、専心努力して参ります。
これからもどうぞよろしくお願い致します。
ポールさんの益々のご発展、ご健勝をお祈り致しまして、まずは略儀ながら、お知らせまで。
                          敬具

Katrien said...

Hi Paul,

Thank you so much for posting not just beautiful, evocative pictures and wonderful travel tales, but also information for fellow travelers! Your blog has been a great inspiration for my own trip, and thanks to you I have decided to spend 2 nights in Takayama during my trip, and to stay in Ryokan Hanaoka. I am looking forward to everything, but especially the food. :-)

I too emailed the Hida Takayama tourist office (in English), my email was forwarded to the Ryokan itself, and I got a prompt and clear reply from the Ryokan in English. My rate for a weekday stay in November is 7,200yen with breakfast and dinner, which I think is excellent.

Paul said...

Katrien,

Thanks for dropping by. When you return, would you let me know whether they provide a slightly different dinner on the 2nd night please? I'm just curious.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul

Thanks for your info and blog. We've came back from Takayama and my parents loved it. The train trip from Nagoya to Takayama was very enjoyable (beautiful scenery). Ryokan Hanaoka was very clean and pretty new. The tv is now a flat screen tv. My parents stayed there 2 nights while we stayed 1 night. The 2nd night dinner was different - it had tempura and crab which weren't included in the first night dinner. We found that the owner seems to do everything himself - cook, clean, etc.
We also stayed at Hida Hanasato no Yu Takayama Ouan hotel which was very nice too as it had hotspring baths.
The food at Hanaoka was very good and we had hida beef yakiniku at a restaurant there and it was great. Glad that we went to Takayama!
W

Paul said...

W:

Thanks! Now I know what the 2nd night's dinner is, at least for the Autumn/Winter crab season. Glad you and your parents enjoyed central Japan.

Paul

Andreas Kiehl said...

Hi Paul!

Thank you so much for your food reviews! Because of your review we booked a Room at the ryori ryokan hanaoka via the Hida Tourism Office (7000 Yen for a Large 10 tatami mat room, weekday) and I'm writing this from our room, just having finished breakfast.

Both Dinner and Breakfast were really excellent! The owner really does seem to run the whole place by himself (impressive!) and understands / speaks enough english to explain everything for us non-japanese speaking gaijins.

I can fully recommend this ryokan to everyone - we changed our initiary to squeeze it in.


Thanks again Paul!

Andreas

Paul said...

Andreas:

Thanks for reporting directly from the Ryokan! Have a great time the rest of your trip!

Paul

Katrien said...

Hi Paul,

I was rereading your evocative blog posts and thinking of my trip to Japan last autumn, and realized that I never got back to you about the Hanaoka second day meal.

So, I uploaded the pictures we took at dinner on the second day: http://katrien.imgur.com/ryori_ryokan_hanaoka

The dishes that stood out were the crab legs and the Hida beef sashimi, which I was a bit nervous to try, but it melted in my mouth.

The food at Hanaoka was so fantastic, and the owner so pleasant, that I really can't thank you enough for bringing this ryokan into the spotlight.

Paul said...

Katrien,

I'm glad you enjoyed Hanaoka. Thanks for sharing the photos and showing me what's in the rest of their repetoire. The Hida beef sashimi definitely looks inviting!

Paul

Anonymous said...

Paul,
You have a wonderful blog and it has helped greatly in my planning for our coming trip to Japan (in 2 weeks time). I visited the website for Hanaoka and get the idea that they do not cater for meals nowadays as the owner is busy helping his daughter (?). Are you able to help confirm that since I was using google translate and I am not sure if I understand correctly. I hope I am wrong and will be able to try out this place and the food. Thanks for your help.
WT

Paul said...

WT:

I visited http://www7.ocn.ne.jp/~hanaoka2/ and it doesn't mention anything about his daughter or the stoppage of serving meals. In fact when I go to their Japanese booking site at Jalan.net all the lodging options with 2 meals are still available. Can you send the link where you saw the message about his daughter?

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
It is on the same website at you posted but at the top of this page:http://www7.ocn.ne.jp/~hanaoka2/hana2.htm

Thanks for your help.

WT

Paul said...

WT:

The translation site you used got everything backwards! The owner is saying that he has recently begun to teach his daughter to cook, and perhaps one day she will become the proprietress of a Ryori Ryokan.

So you can rest easy that you'll get a great meal at Takayama.

Cheers,

Paul

Anonymous said...

Million thanks for your help to clarify it! This was google translate. So now I am going to try to book it. Just hope I get through with the booking easily, else I may have to pop in here to get some help again. :)

WT

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
Just wanted to let you know that we stayed at Hanaoka and enjoyed the dinner and breakfast very much. We only regretted not spending more time in Takayama and staying in Hanaoka for an additional day to sample more food. Well, perhaps that gives us a good reason to go back to Takayama sometime in future.

Thanks for a great recommendation and do continue to blog about your travels as they are really useful for other travelers like me. I will be checking in on your blog frequently.

Merry Christmas to your and your family!

WT

Paul said...

WT:

So you did get your reservation at Hanaoka! I'm glad you enjoyed the meals and I agree that Takayama is worth more than one visit. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Paul

Janet said...

Hi Paul,

I was so impressed with your blog!! It made me want to leave home now go there immediately..

I am interested in the Ryokan which you have mentioned but I tried to go into the website and there is nothing that says that I can write to them..is there any other website..i may have missed it if it is stated there but i just can't seem to spot it..

As I want to go there during December..is it possible or will it be too cold? Is it a good idea to stay at one spot and then do a day trip to Gujo hachiman and shirakawago? This trip I will have 10 - 12 pax with me and we want to experience the snow and everything..

Please advise me..

Many thanks

Janet

Paul said...

Janet,

I've just heard unconfirmed rumours that Hanaoka may have closed down. As you have quite a number of months before your trip, you may want to look for another Ryokan/Minshuku and just keep looking out for Hanaoka in case it somehow resurfaces elsewhere in Takayama.

December is not the coldest, though you'll have to dress in more layers.

Not sure why you're picking Gujo Hachiman out of so many other attractions nearby (hotsprings, Hida Furukawa etc) ... I'm not sure if the Nouhibus from Takayama to Gujo Hachiman stops anywhere near the town centre so you may have to figure out the local transportation. Shirakawago is within daytrip distance from Takayama, but there is no guarantee of snow either (January-February is a better bet).

Paul

paiyan said...

Hey there Paul,

Sad news, but I think it's been pretty much confirmed. Post on the Hida Takayama facebook page this morning said it all - they closed down two weeks ago. :(

No wonder why they turned me down to stay this weekend when I'm there. Thought they were fully booked but turns out different..

Paul said...

Thanks for the news Paiyan. It's sad news indeed.

Paul

paiyan said...

Definitely. If you don't mind me piggy backing onto your previous post regarding a question from Jenny - the Nouhibus from Takayama does not stop anywhere near the town centre. From memory it was at least a good 20min walk into the town centre from the "Inter" bus stop where the Nouhibus drops you off at! Gujo Hachiman was a beautiful, serene little town but I'd say a day trip may be pushing it a little time-wise unless you're stopping by on the way to Nagoya..

Paul said...

Thanks Paiyan. I've never been to Gujo Hachiman so your advise should be very useful to Janet.

Janet:

If you see this, please read the above comment regarding the distance between the Gujo Hachiman's highway bus stop and the town centre.

Paul

Steffy said...

Is it confirmed that the Ryokan is closed? This is unfortunate :(

Paul said...

Steffy,

The hotel's booking page on Jalan.net has been taken down, so this is probably for real. Yes this is quite a disappointment ... Hanaoka was a great Ryori Ryokan.

Paul

paiyan said...

Have just been back from Takayama and paid a visit to Hanaoka. They are definitely shut. :(

Paul said...

Paiyan,

Thanks for the confirmation :(

Paul

Kimberly Xie-aka-Kinna said...

Oh dear! I was getting all ready to book hanaoka after your glowing reviews, but to hear that it's closed....T_T Do you happen to know of/have any other Ryokans to recommend?

Kimberly Xie-aka-Kinna said...

Esp. Ryori Ryokans.

Paul said...

Kimberly,

While there are many Ryokan in Takayama, there aren't many that specifically call themselves Ryori Ryokan. Here's one that is barely walkable (15 minutes) from the train station. The price is around 15,000 yen, but judging from the photos they do serve more expensive ingredients (wild Ayu in summer, Matsutake in autumn). No English website, so if you're interested you're better off booking through the tourist association.

http://hida-komakusa.com/

Good luck!

Paul

Piggyeatalot said...

If you want anything under US$100 per night with half board, it's probably Hodakaso Yamano Iori. You can check it out on my blog

It certainly not as good as the food that Paul posted in here though but the service is great!

Anonymous said...

Hi Everyone,
My husband and I went to the Ryokan in November, 2012 and I can recognize some of the bowls and plates in the pictures. The food at dinner and breakfast was stunning. I even took a picture with the owner/chef.
When we arrived no one was in but we just left our luggage on the second floor and went sightseeing. When we arrived back, everything was in our room.
What a wonderful place to have been.
CV,California

Paul said...

CV,

Thank you so much for the update. Other readers had previously reported that Hanaoka had shut down, but since you stayed there in Nov 2012 they must have re-opened. This is great news.

Did you book through the Tourism Association?

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hanaoka's closed. Tried making a reservation through Hida-Takayama Hotel Association and received this reply:
残念ですが、料理旅館花岡は、閉館しました。
旅館は、やっていません。

It's such a pity. Stayed there for 2 nights in 2009. The food's really great.

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

I'm planning my next Japan based on a condensed version of your trip :) I'll be travelling down from Kanazawa (1 night), Shirakawa-go (1 night), and 2 nights in Takayama. For Takayama, I've shortlisted 4 places:
1)Spa Hotel Alpina Hida Takayama;
2) Sumiyoshi;
3) Asunaro Japanese Traditional Inn; &
4) 民宿しもたや Shimotaya Minshu
The reviews of the last one on Jalan seemed really good. However, I can't understand Japanese well (I use google translate) and I'm wondering if Shimotaya might be too inconveniently located. Would like to seek your help and opinion on this please. Appreciate much, thanks!

Amanda

Paul said...

Amanda,

Shimotaya is located about a 12 minute walk from the Hida Ichinomiya station, which is one station away from Takayama. While the distance is short and the train fare should cheap (200 yen or so), train are infrequent in this region and you need to plan your trip according to the train schedule. Also the bathroom and toilets are shared. But if you don't mind these drawbacks, 7300 for a Minshuku with 2 meals is a good deal, especially when the reviews are all praising the food.

Paul

Lils said...

Hi Paul, I enjoy your photos and writing on your (Japan) travels a lot.

I emailed Ryokan Hanaoka and also the Hida Takayama Tourist Information Office as a "back up" right after reading your blog but so sad that the Info Office wrote back that Hanaoka has closed down.

Then I read the comments from people on your blog.

Maybe they were not making money from the sumptuous dinner and breakfast you all had or maybe he's gone to be a Michelin Chef :)

Anyway, just want to say thank you for your tips - great stuff! and maybe you want to update your blog to say that they have closed because I don't know if more people like me write to the Tourist Info, will they get mad HAHA!

Cheers,
Lils

Paul said...

Lils,

Thanks for the info and suggestion. I've added a blurb at the top with some alternate choices for readers visiting Takayama. You may want to take a quick look at these as well.

Cheers,

Paul

Rainerust said...

Hi Paul,

Great blog and I love what you've introduced of Central Japan. My friend and I are heading up in a couple of weeks and we're doing a trail pretty close to what you've done with a few exceptions (starting from Tokyo - Hakone (1 night) - Kanazawa (1 night) - Shirakawago (1 night) - Takayama (2 nights) - Matsumoto (2 nights with a day trip to Kamikochi cos I couldn't find any accommodation below USD100 per pax and everything seemed out of my budget) - back to Tokyo).

Based on our itinerary we realised we will arrive in Takayama on 10 Oct - just missing the matsuri night. Clearly we are having problems with accommodation booking (as you can just imagine). If we still want to experience the matsuri, are there any alternatives e.g. staying at a neighbouring town and taking a bus back? I've been trying to Google the information but it was getting too confusing for me to wade through all the information and I have no sense of distance sigh. Clearly my Japanese needs some work!

Appreciate your advice! Pity Hanaoka closed down - we would have loved to stay there thanks to your rave reviews.

Cheers
Raine

Paul said...

Raine,

Sorry for the late reply ... we've been traveling the past few weeks.

The Matsuri does present a big problem in terms of booking. You could try booking the nearby towns such as Hida Furukawa or even as far as Gero. Gero, which is a popular hotspring town about an hour away by train, should have tons of hotel rooms. Hida Furukawa would be my choice but it's a smaller town and I'm guessing a lot of the hotels will be full by now.

Good luck,

Paul

Eliseu said...

Dear Paul
Congratulations for your so interesting blog. It seems we have the same interests and similar philosophy of life.The difference is that I'm much older...
I'll start my first trip to japan next 9 Oct and after Tokyo I'm thinking to take a bus to Matsumoto, then kamikochi, Takayama, Shirakawago, kanazawa, Kyoto...
I coudn´t find accomodation either near kamikochi or in Shirakawago. So I have to visit these places as a short stopover. As from what you can remember of these 2 places do you think is there at the bus stations any luggage deposit where we can leave our case while waiting the next bus?
Thank you very much for your help

Paul said...

Hi Eliseu,

From memory there should be a luggage deposit place at the Tourist Info in Shirakawago. In Kamikochi it's in the form of lockers at the bus station. The domestic tourists are highly dependent on these lockers so finding them is generally not an issue. You're more likely to run into the situation of the larger lockers being all occupied, in which case you'll have to ask the Tourist Info to help.

Paul

eliseu said...

Thanks Paul for your help.To avoid these kind of problems w'll be travelling to japan with 2 light cabin cases.
I've just got a mail from japaneseguesthouses informing that they had found me a shinjuko (Yomosiro) at Ainokura for 17.600 jpy. I was not thinking going there but as this is the sole possibility of staying in a gassho house I'm facing this possability, althoug a bit expensive. Now: how did you get there from Kanazawa? I'm afraid that I have to go via Takaoka which is a waste of time and money.
Another question please: do you think that a day visit to Narai from Matsumoto can give us a good idea of what the other Nakasendo post towns are? We'd love to hike between Magome and Tsumago but the time is always short.
Thanks again

Paul said...

Hi Eliseu,

From Kanazawa we took the train to Takaoka then transferred to another train to Johana, then a Kaestunou Bus to Ainokura. It's not straight forward, and you need to judge whether you're willing spend the time and money. We absolutely loved our experience at Ainokura though, and 8800Y per person for room, dinner and breakfast is a fair price.

Narai is a cool and authentic town, perhaps even more authentic than Magome and Tsumago in the sense that Narai is less developed in terms of shops and services for tourists. If you can't get to Tsumago and Magome, then Narai is not a bad place to spend a couple hours.

Paul