A land that overflows with nature's bounty, exceptional produce, astounding hospitality, and wonderful hot springs. Our trip there in 2013’s winter was the best we’ve had in Japan yet. The ryokans, in particular, touched us deeply—stunning beauty paired with heartfelt care and outstanding hospitality.
Patek Philippe’s line about merely looking after it for the next generation is better applied here. The ancient, rambling gardens are filled with exquisite black pines, and the wooden buildings distill Japanese architecture into hallways and rooms of quiet beauty. Takashi Nakazato, a pottery master and national treasure, is a family friend, and meals are served on the Nakazato family’s museum quality pottery. An indulgent Saga beef shabu-shabu is served for dinner. Den and Harumi, the proprietors, lavished care upon us, even driving us to a railway station 3 stops away to show us Karatsu’s pride—a natural windbreak planted with a million black pines.
Harumi-san has a particular love for the English language, and fills her the website with stories
2-4-40 Higashi-Karatsu, Karatsu-shi, Saga-ken, Kyushu, 847-0017, Japan
Karatsu is 90 minutes from Fukuoka airport via Japan Rail
Ishiharaso is a wonderful counterpoint to Yoyokaku. Both draw from the same hospitality and architectural tradition, but Ishiharaso makes a very contemporary interpretation of it. Seriously good taste in design has been lavished on this property, and nowhere is it more evident than in the avant-garde basement dining rooms. Occupying a enviable gorge-side location, the pride of the property are its baths. Directly above the hot spring source, with no dilution or exposure to air before reaching the baths, the waters make for a profound experience. Moreover, the settings for the onsens are stunning.
4376 Kareigawa, Hayatocho, Kirishima City, Kagoshima Prefecture, 899-5113, Japan
Ishiharaso is 15 minutes away by taxi from Kagoshima airport or Hayato railway station
Kurokawa Onsen is a gorgeous hot spring town in the middle of the Aso volcanic region, and Yamamizuki is a standout property in this town. The star is the outdoor riverside bath, overlooking rapids and exceptionally tranquil. To be shoulder deep in the curative waters with snowflakes falling gently around is wonderful.
A highway bus serves Kurokawa Onsen from JR Aso station multiple times daily. At the Kurokawa Onsen bus station, call the ryokan for a pickup
Other Kyushu standouts
Kagoshima is a great city—friendly, delicious, sunny, with a photogenic live volcano across the bay (Sakurajima), a gorgeous garden (Sengan-en), and beautiful kiriko cut-glass (Satsuma Kiriko, in Sengan-en)
Fukuoka is also great—cosmopolitan but not overwhelming as Tokyo sometimes can be. The shopping is superb, especially in the small streets behind Iwata-ya departmental store in the Tenjin area
Beef Taigen in Fukuoka’s Canel City is jaw-droppingly good value. Meals are standadised, and the only choice is of the cut of beef. And what cuts—luscious black fur Kagoshima wagyu for ~2,000-3,000 yen.