Isaribi

 

Prologue

With its mild climate, beautiful coastlines and hot springs, the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka prefecture has long been a popular weekend getaway for Tokyoites. Home to some of the best inns and resorts in the region, we made sure to include an overnight stay here on our recent visit to Japan. Specifically, we wanted to experience an intimate Japanese hot spring ryokan by the sea with a good mix of modernity and tradition.

 

Established in 1970, the 12-room Isaribi was a perfect fit for our requirements. Named after the fires that local fisherman traditionally lit at night on their fishing boats to attract fish, come with us as we experience how this small ryokan draws inspiration from the calm beauty of the sea at its doorstep to create a memorable stay for us.

 

Location / Accessibility

 

Isaribi is situated in the small village of Okawa on the east coast of the peninsula, with excellent connectivity to the larger seaside town of Atami via the local Izu Kyuko line from where the limited express trains and Tokaido Shinkansen run to the rest of the country. Besides panoramic views of Sagami Bay, the area’s charm lies in its serene setting where one has the chance to escape the city’s fast pace of life and experience the natural Japan hiking the surrounding hills from the inn, exploring unspoilt forests and majestic waterfalls.

 

Arrival Experience

 

Exiting the train station, we found a staff member waiting outside with the ryokan’s courtesy shuttle. Having no fixed arrival time to the area, we had declined arranging a pick-up in advance and were pleasantly surprised avoid a lengthy walk to the inn and hop onto the van instead. Upon arrival, we were invited to change out of our shoes and ushered to the beautiful reception area overlooking the manicured gardens and the sea further out as the weather outside began to take a turn for the worse.

 

Continuing a centuries-old tradition of offering tea to guests, refreshments of hot matcha and wagashi together with oshiboris were served as our hostess arrived to greet us and complete the check-in formalities. This was primarily focused on our selections among the choices for the kaiseki dinner and breakfast the next morning, as well as a thoughtful confirmation of any food allergies we may have, ending with a tour of the grounds before arriving at our room for the night.

 

Guestrooms

 

We elected to pick a Japanese-style room over a Western-style room when booking the stay to have a local experience in the countryside. Our accommodation for the night was a beautiful minimalist tatami room on the second floor, set-up in its daytime guise with a low table in the center. Entering the room, we are greeted by the defining feature of Isaribi – its panoramic views of Sagami Bay through floor-to-ceiling windows. A plush sofa is set for guests to enjoy the landscape from the lounge area that occupies nearly half the room, from where we viewed a magnificent sunrise the next morning.

 

As is customary at ryokans, the room is turned down at night after dinner service. When we returned from the public baths, our hostess had already kept away the daytime table set-up and laid the futons in its place. Although the mattresses appear thin, our sleep quality was not compromised due to the soft, yet solid support that the tatami floor below provided. Coupled with the light comforter used in autumn when we visited, this made for a very restful sleep after the relaxing soak earlier in the hot spring.

 

To the side of the main room was the vanity and bath where guests can also indulge in the area’s hot spring water in private. Separated into wet and dry areas, the centerpiece was a square hinoki (Japanese cedar wood) soaking tub adjacent to the window that can be opened for an open-air bath to the same views of the sea. Unwinding in the tub shortly after checking in, we enjoyed the warmth of the water enveloping the body in the cool evening air.

 

Accompanying the bath were locally-sourced shampoo, conditioner and body soap. In a nod to the conveniences of modern travel, the ryokan also provided guests with an assortment of toiletries, towels, socks and his-and-her yukatas to change into.

 

 

In the corner of the room was a small tokonoma decorated with a painting and ikebana floral arrangement, while a small writing desk held the telephone and lacquer-boxed stationery set. The refreshment center comprising a self-service tea set was tucked into the drawer in the lounge and below it was a mini fridge, although we wonder if there was a need for this as it was devoid of any beverages and drinks had to be ordered separately via the hostess.

 

Dining

Japanese inns pride themselves on their fine dining, with each ryokan claiming to offer the best kaiseki dinner using only the freshest local produce in the area. At Isaribi, this claim is not at all far-fetched with the exquisite nine-course meal we had during our stay that was as visually stunning as it tasted.

 

Seafood naturally features heavily on the menu given the seaside location and the highlight was the sashimi platter featuring local Ise lobster. Every mouthful of the generous fish slices brought forth the sweetness of the flesh and a hint of saltiness from the sea, made all the more flavourful by the cold sake sourced from Shizuoka prefecture. Served gracefully by our hostess, each course was beautifully presented and particularly memorable dishes included the soft braised beef cheeks and the refreshing sea bream ochazuke.

 

Breakfast the next morning was an equally elaborate and gastronomic affair. The table was set up with a Japanese breakfast spread when we returned from the onsen, comprising a wooden box set, grilled fish, steamed rice and miso soup. Within the box set was nine intricate small plates of pickled, simmered and boiled dishes that were a great accompaniment to the rice, while the soup doesn’t disappoint with its rich lobster-infused broth making for a very satisfying breakfast.

 

Facilities

 

 

Isaribi has a pair of communal onsens, The Moon and The Star, that guests may utilise in addition to their ensuite tub. Gender-segregated during the day, the baths become private use for couples and families during evening hours. Drawing spring water from 600 meters below the inn grounds, the pools are classified as weakly alkaline and extra hot springs rich in iron, sodium, calcium chloride and sulphur. When first entering the water, the body experiences sensations similar to a mild burn and the natural instinct is to jump out into the cold autumn air for relief. Resist this urge and the sensations become one of comforting warmth from within, with longer term benefits believed to be relief from ailments including muscle and joint pains, coldness and chronic gastrointestinal disease.

 

Service / Staff

Like much of Japan, the service at Isaribi was excellent and dedicated despite language barriers. Being in the country, the staff’s command of English were expectedly lower compared to the major cities, but this did not stop them from doing their utmost to provide an enjoyable stay for us. Through a mix of simple phrases and gestures, our hostess still managed to transcend the language barrier and take care of the various aspects of the stay with her warmth and sincerity. We particularly love how the service here is effortlessly unobtrusive and guests enjoy a high degree of privacy, yet the staff are conveniently within reach when needed.

 

Verdict

We could not have been more pleased with our stay at Isaribi. The service and attention to detail shown by our hostess and the staff were second to none and serve to enhance the physical attractiveness of the inn. While pricey at nearly USD 500 a night, there was good value to be had considering the tranquil seaside location and quality of the dining. We thoroughly enjoyed our time here and would not hesitate to recommend the ryokan for a luxury escape away from the city.

 

Isaribi

31-4 Okawa, Higashi-Izu, Kamo-gun

Shizuoka, Japan 413-0301

+81 557 23 1363

https://www.isaribi.co.jp/

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