Before the nuclear meltdown that gave Fukushima global notoriety, the area was better known for its towering mountains, lush greenery and abundant hot springs.
While many people still avoid the coastal area where that disaster occurred, central Fukushima, where the capital city, which is also called Fukushima, is located and the breathtaking Aizu area to the south are well worth a visit.
And if you fancy a trip to Fukushima, Onyado Kawasemi (御宿かわせみ) is not a bad place to find lodgings for the night.
Situated a short drive from Fukushima city, this Japanese-style inn is wrapped around a Japanese garden, complete with a pond and a glass museum on
extensive grounds marked by an outsized, yet delicate, willow tree. The pride of the place are the house ducks, which live there year-round, swimming sedately on the calm waters or chasing each other in a playful game of tag.
The décor is fairly typical of sophisticated Japanese ryokan, with expensive-looking pottery on show here and there and clean wooden spaces that prove just how modernist Japan was way before the term was even invented.
There are plush armchairs in the lobby, featuring white velvety cushions resting on heavy black wooden frames. The tatami guest rooms are spacious and include a delightfully fresh-scented hinoki (Japanese cypress) bath, which allows for a rather different experience to the communal baths, both inside and in the open air.
The outside baths, one for women and another for men, sit in their very own Japanese garden each with a separate sauna, which is unusual for even the most progressive of ryokan. The hot spring is the simple type, meaning it is clear and odorless, and it is mildly alkaline.
Dinner is kaiseki, featuring high quality ingredients from all over Japan. The rice, in particular, was superb.
Onyado Kawasemi used to serve Fukushima rice but since the nuclear accident, switched to koshihikari from Niigata. Whatever it was, it was good enough for me to re-fill my bowl, even though I am someone who only eats rice once a day, if at all.
Our experience at Onyado Kawasemi was mostly good, although it has to be said that the service needs to be improved for this ryokan to qualify as among the very top notch.
That is not to say that the staff was not extremely polite, accommodating and helpful. As would be expected in Japan, they were.
But the dinner service, which was in our room as is usually the case at Japanese ryokan, was marred by the inability of our room attendant, known as a nakai, to understand that we did not want a chilled red wine but one that was at room temperature.
To make matters worse, we were billed for two half bottles of red wine, when we only had one, a mistake that was clearly due to our nakai’s inability to keep track of what her guests were actually asking for.
We also found inconsistencies in the décor.
Although Kawasemi’s owner clearly has a taste for fine pottery, somebody, if not the owner, also likes tacky glassware and “cute” objets, like the cartoon-like kingfisher illustrations featured in paintings and decorative pieces scattered throughout. Kawasemi, is Japanese for kingfisher.
Nevertheless, a stay at Onyado Kawasemi is definitely more comfortable,satisfying to the palate and aesthetically pleasing than the average countryside ryokan.