A high-altitude escape from Tokyo's crowds and clamor, Myojinkan is a family-owned, four-seasons mountain lodge that offers guests a choice of four onsen (hot springs) to bathe in.
Opened in 1931 and affiliated with Relais & Chateaux, Myojinkan is unique among ryokans (traditional country inns) in that it offers guests multiple choices in dining as well as accommodations and bathing areas.
Consistent with the facility's emphasis on well-being, it has earned a Green Key eco rating. Myojinkan's structures are all made of real wood rather than plywood; charcoal under the floors helps to purify the environment; and an organic garden stocks the kitchen.
Myojinkan Guest Rooms
With 45 guest units, Myojinkan offers guests a choice of Japanese or Western style rooms.
Traditionalists opt for a classic tatami room, complete with a futon on the floor for sleeping. Western-oriented guests sleep on beds with a mattress and box spring off the floor.
On the fourth floor, our luxe Western-style suite featured a living room with white leather furniture, a fireplace, and a wet bar. The view outside revealed a stream of rushing water alongside the inn.
The bathroom has the largest shower we'd seen in Japan, a walk-in unit complete with both a handheld spray and a wide rainwater head. Adjacent was a standard porcelain tub.
The room contained a 21-inch Panasonic TV, but English-speaking channels were not available. An attached DVD player and Bose radio (Enya was playing when we entered) were furnished. Although there was no wi-fi in the room, it was available (along with an iMac with a Japanese keyboard) in the business center.
Dining at Myojinkan
Although Myojinkan offers guests a choice of modern Japanese, kaiseki, or macrobiotic French cuisine and cultivates organic vegetables on its own farm, the fare may not impress Western palates.
Our dinner, in the haphazardly decorated French restaurant, was a series of disappointments. While visions of escargot drizzled with butter and coquille St. Jacques danced in our head, the reality was a series of spartan plates, some vegetable, some fish, some chicken, and none to recommend.
For that reason and the salutory effects of hot springs bathing, couples who aim to lose weight may find Myojinkan a good place to visit for a few days.
Shinto weddings for observant Japanese couples can be performed at the shrine in Matsumoto City, a half-hour drive from Myojinkan.
Activities at Myojinkan
The main attraction at Myojinkan is its four hot spring public baths (their waters are said to cure everything but a broken heart).
Most of the onsen are located on the third floor of the hotel and look out upon serene woodland settings. One is a waist-deep bath; another encourages horizontal lounging; the third features both indoor and outdoor baths. In these baths the sexes are segregated. Close by is the hotel spa, which offers a range of organic aromatherapy treatments.
Outdoors, on the river side of the hotel, Myokinjan's fourth and largest hot spring permits men and women to bathe together in a natural, private setting.
To see what a variety of onsen look like, get a copy of The Way of the Japanese Bath , artfully portrayed by renowned photographer Mark Edward Harris.
Matsumoto City Attractions
Located in Nagano prefecture, where the 1998 Winter Olympics were held, Matsumoto City is about a half-hour drive downhill from Myojinkan and contains several worthwhile attractions.
Art lovers have their choice of two excellent museums. The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, the world's only woodblock museum, displays dozens of originals of this prized Japanese art including works by masters of the form Utagawa Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai.
Compare their dreamlike "pictures of the floating world" with the modern compositions at the Matsumoto City Museum of Art, also worth a visit. It features works by hometown artist Yayoi Kusama, whose "dot paintings" have earned her accolades and riches around the world.
Don't leave the city's attractions without paying a visit to 400-year-old Matsumoto Castle , designated a National Treasure of Japan. Originally built as a fortress, no one has lived in it permanently. Inside are displays of arms and armor. Outside are grounds for strolling.
Active couples who visit Myojinkan can play at a neighboring golf course. And transportation to Hakuba ski resort, two hours away and an Olympic venue that's part of the Japanese Alps, can be arranged.
Fun fact: Nagano is the home of Fuji apples and also has many vineyards. Other local specialties include handmade soba noodles, and sake made from the pure natural water that flows down from the mountains.
Myojinkan lacks the intimacy and service level of smaller and more traditional ryokans such as Asaba and Gora Kadan.
We couldn't help but notice the elevator that smelled of mildew, the stained carpets, and the evening turn-down that neglected to refresh the bathroom or replace its scant towels.
The worst offense, however, was the French macrobiotic dinner. So many courses, and none of the rabbit food worthy of a second bite.
Comfortable but somewhat run down, Myojinkan is likely to appeal most to couples who would enjoy a variety of onsen experiences including bathing outdoors together. Children are permitted at the hotel.
As mentioned earlier, the food is healthful without being appetizing. Front desk clerks may appear befuddled when dealing with Western guests. Yet other staffers, including our hotel-van driver and a manager named Sanae, could not have been more gracious, helpful, and welcoming to this mountain lodge in a scenic part of Japan few Westerners have visited.
Myojinkan Info and Reservations
81 (0) 263-31-2301
Official Hotel Web Site
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary accommodation and meals for the purpose of reviewing those services.