About once a year, my wife and I like to set off into the countryside and leave all work-related thoughts behind. This year we sought comfort in the Neo-Oriental Resort in Yamanashi. It had sounded ideal on the website: a private cottage with a balcony and our own rotenburo. That last bit was all I needed to read before I was hurriedly making a reservation.
When you arrive at the resort, you are greeted by not one but two Romanesque fountains, all cherubs and nymphs and spouting water. Anywhere else and I might have thought this was ironic kitsch, but I have been to enough weddings in Japan to know that one can never assume ironic kitsch. Rather, it looked a bit, oh what’s the word … tacky.
The resort consists of a large number of individual cottages, some owned privately, some owned by the resort itself and some which are owned privately but are also rented out by Neo-Oriental. They are scattered throughout acres of woodland, built upon beds of soft leaves, pine needles and fallen branches. We checked in and were given the key to our home for the night. We drove down a path, between late-blooming cherry blossoms, yellow rape flowers, and a few vivid pinks and purples. Many cottages seemed empty, all looked tranquil.
Ours was nice. Very nice. It comprised a good-sized bedroom with two beds, and a living room with flat-screen television, coffee table, a sofa and two chairs. There was a refrigerator and kettle and if it all felt a bit too western you could recline in a lovely tatami room with shoji doors and a central kotatsu. But outside was where I would spend most of my time. For on a well-proportioned balcony there was a round table and chairs, a barbecue and the outdoor bath – a wooden square, constantly supplied with piping hot water and shielded from the neighbors but open to the sky.
We did nothing for most of the day. We sat and read, we ate and drank, and we luxuriated in that joy of joys, sitting outside in hot water. Not all cottages here have the outdoor bath, but even those without can enjoy a soak and a sigh. The reception area of the resort, you see, is attached to its own onsen which can be used for just 500 yen. When we checked in, though, for some reason they gave us a half-price coupon. 250 yen? Well it seemed silly not to give it a try too.
There, you could soak in two large tubs – one outside, one inside – and sweat away in a sauna before submersing yourself in an icy plunge pool. I’ve never been much good at the cold pool plunge and inched myself in slowly making small squeals as I did so. An elderly man bathing nearby looked alarmed. I can’t say I blame him. I was emitting high squeaks and grimacing as though I were lowering myself with carefully controlled pain onto a long spike.
Freshly scrubbed, I returned to our own cottage where I sat in the private tub, a cold beer in my hand and my belly full of barbecued meat. I rested my head against the edge of the tub, breathed in the woody aroma of hinoki and leaves and looked up at the dark sky. Through a gap in the overhanging trees, a half moon shone brightly. My little groans of blissful pleasure and small burps of beery meat were the only sounds.
For those not wanting to cook for themselves, there is the option of an all-you-can-eat and drink barbecue restaurant in the grounds. The cottage with the outdoor bath, and the tabe- and nomihodai can be had for less than 20,000 yen for a couple. It may not be the cheapest deal you will find, but as I lay in the bath again this morning with just the day’s fresh sunlight and birdsong for accompaniment, I felt no buyer’s remorse.