8 March, 2019
We stayed at the world’s oldest hotel, Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, on the Valentine’s Day this year. I’m Japanese, but I didn’t know that the oldest hotel in the world, and the second, too, are in Japan until I started looking for a romantic Valentine’s Day getaway in January. In the nutshell, Keiunkan turned out to be one of the most amazing hotels we’ve ever stayed in Japan and the world put all together.
If you are planning to visit Japan, you should definitely consider Keiunkan. According to the Guinness World Records, the hotel was founded in 705 AD and has been owned by the same family for a whopping 52 generations. Their famous guests include Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the most famous shoguns, and Kouken, the 46th emperor. Now, our names are next to Tokugawa Ieyasu and the emperor in Keiunkan’s past guest list. And your names will be, too!
You might ask:
“The oldest hotel in the world must be expensive.”
Well, not really. Here is what I paid for two people: 43,200 yen. This fee includes amazing dinner and breakfast as well as 24H access to their four types of onsen hot springs and two private onsen baths. Have a look at the pictures below and judge if 21,600 yen per person is too expensive or cheap.
Here is the catch (as you’d have predicted) – Keiunkan is rather hard to get to. It’s located in Minobe, the middle of nowhere in Yamanashi Prefecture and could take between 3 to 5 hours from Tokyo by bus or train. The cheapest option is by a highway bus which runs from Shinjuku to Minobe (3h 30 min: 2,900 yen each way) ,while the train fare from Shinjuku to Minobe costs 6,480 each way and takes 3h 30 mins.
We didn’t take a train or bus because the night before the Valentine’s Day, we booked a rentacar to drive to Hakuba, Happo-one, in Nagano, for snowboarding. I planned this year’s Valentine’s Day to be a three day trip: First night in Hakuba in Nagano and the second night at Keiunkan in Yamanashi. On Day 1, we drove 260 km to get to Hakuba and the next day we drove 220 km from Hakuba to Keiunkan on Day 2 the Valentine’s Day.
Keiunkan was indeed a ‘hidden jam’. After getting off a highway in Yamanashi, we drove through a rocky valley for a good one hour. Google map said we were on the right track, but there were less and less buildings as we drove. All we saw was the river, rocks, and some construction sites. Not scenic at all. But then, suddenly Keiunkan emerges:
As we drove up to the main entrance, a young Japanese man runs up to our car with a smile and said:
“Welcome to Keiunkan. Thank you for driving so far. We’ll take care of your luggage and car. Please keep the engine running.”
From that moment on, our stay was just magical. Personal explanations about the hotel by the concierge while shipping welcome drinks in the lobby lounge. A warm traditional tatami room by the river. Changing into yukata and dipping in one of the private onsen bath together for a hour before an amazing dinner. No matter how busy they look, every worker at Keiunkan bothers to stop for a few seconds right there and vows to you everytime we walk past them. They don’t walk-vow. They stop. And vow. And start walking again. I haven’t seen that for years.
Oh the dinner and breakfast, everyone. It’s not a buffet style which is very common at new and old hotels in Japan nowadays. The person in charge of our table said that their chief chef is particular about plates, cutlery and cups, all of them are yearly selected and purchased by him. I think it’s better for you to look at them rather than me talking about it:
After the dinner, we went back to our room, and whala, the futon was laid out for us. Again, nowadays many Japanese style hotels ask their guests to lay out futon to cut cost and labour.
In January, we went on a trip to Hokkaido and visited a sushi shop. At that time I told the chef across the counter table that we were going to Keiunkan the oldest hotel in the world for our Valentine’s Day trip. He’s never heard of the hotel or knew that it’s the oldest hotel in the world. He assumed that it was expensive, so I told him that we paid 43,200 yen for two, including dinner and breakfast. He was rather surprised at the fare, and after a few seconds of thinking busily in his mind, he said:
“I suppose that’s why they have lasted for so many centuries. Never overcharge and continue to offer the best service possible no matter how old they get or regardless of recognition by Guinness World Records. Hokkaido is getting popular and everything is getting more expensive. We should learn humbleness from Keiunkan.”
Steve Jobs famously said “Stay hungry, stay foolish”. He’s Marcin’s all time hero. It’s an inspiring motto, but it might even go better in Japan if we add, “Stay humble”, if we are to last for a long time. Keiunkan is hungry for your satisfaction and comfort. It’s foolish enough to stop and vow each time or use such expensive plates and cutleries.
And they remain extremely humble as if they don’t know that they are the oldest continuing hotel in the world.