Adventures in Aichi-ken continue as we head further south to Gamagōri, a place I had truly never heard of until Emi added it to our itinerary due to our penchant for onsen. A population of just 80,000 or so, the largest onsen resort town in Aichi, perfectly perched along the coast. Onsen with an ocean view, who knew?
Due to time constraints and my own inability to brave the cold temperatures, we spent the majority of our overnight excursion, within the walls of our ryokan. The ryokan of choice, Nishiura Onsen-Gimpaso, is literally next to the water, overlooking Mikawa Bay. I couldn’t tell you how old it is, but there were many tell-tale signs that indicated its heydays could have been in the late Showa era. This is the second time Emi and I have stayed in a ryokan together and my fifth ryokan experience, overall. I’d previously only associated ryokan stays with ultra-luxury and being small and family-run. While being a bigger box doesn’t exclude a ryokan from its family-run approach (Gimpaso had three buildings, but the service still felt very home-style), what I liked the most about this particular trip was the remnants of a not-long-ago history that you could still feel.
Our room is Japanese-style with tatami and thankfully warm. We’re facing the ocean again and seeing the crisp blue, knowing how icy it must be outside and to have it contrasted against our indoor heating is somehow very comforting.
Gimpaso has four public onsen and two privates. We were able to reserve the private baths, 星物語 and 月物語, Star Story and Moon Story for a pre-dinner and post-dinner soak. Both are also 露天風呂, outdoor baths that look out at the ocean which by this point was no longer visible in pitch-black night.
Dinner comes included with our stay and this we had teppan-style, at Ao. Its namesake comes from the blue of the sea and the blue of the sky, referencing the freshness of the local produce they use in cooking. They offered us a course menu, where you can choose the main dish. I’ve been trying to be better about adhering to my allergies rather than eating as I like and putting my body through the suffering later, so Emi had informed them of my dietary requirements beforehand. The result was surprisingly wonderful, as they ended up cooking all of my dishes super simply, allowing the natural flavours to shine through.
Breakfast the next morning is your usual elaborate ryokan fare of a trillion different little things to eat. I’ve stopped eating breakfast now but I definitely couldn’t go pass this, especially when so much care has been put into my dietary requirements again. You can play spot the difference quite easily between my dishes and Emi’s.
After checking out and before we drove away, we comply with Emi’s only request of me, to brave the elements for a few minutes by taking a walk out towards the sea. It was surprisingly not terribly cold, or perhaps this is more of a testament to the Uniqlo heat tech singlet I was wearing understand, plus the 2-metre-long scarf coiled around my neck.
Ryokan stays, once upon a time, were once only available as the icing on an already very indulgent trip to Japan. It’s a real joy to be able to go to one whenever I want, now that I am a Tokyo resident. Working in the international hospitality business, we’re obsessed with engineering “unique” and “local” experiences through an almost factory-made formulaic approach to accommodation. Ryokans themselves, whether affordable, mid-tier or high end, seem to just exist organically, with a story. I think that’s their je ne sais quoi, that something which we cannot just manufacture in a vacuum.