As I was travelling in a large group with my friends, we chartered a bus to pick us up from Niseko to reach the town of Jozankei 定山溪. The purpose of visiting this place is to have a day in a traditional onsen resort that can be found all around Japan. Since Jozankei is more or less between Niseko and Sapporo, we made a night layover in an onsen to refresh our tired legs. The bus alighted us at the Daiichi Hotel Suizantei after a relatively long ride through some beautiful valley scenery. There was one rest stop along the way that had a food stall and supermarket in addition to those who required bathroom breaks.
Upon reaching the hotel, we had to wait for our room to be ready since it was a huge bunch of us checking in. Thus we had to wait by the lobby for a while. With lunch time approaching, the receptionist suggested we have lunch first before collecting our keys later.
Lunch was at the in-house restaurant which serves bento boxes and rice bowls as per the norm for most restaurants in Japan. However no English menu was available though the receptionist who was able to speak English helped in the translation. It was way above and beyond her scope of duty and we truly appreciated her help. I got myself a Tempura Soba set, though in hindsight, the Bento set which 2 of my friends ordered was the best deal!
After the lunch, we were assigned our rooms and provided an overview of the facilities. The order for our dinner, which was included in the rate we paid, was also taken. Basically it was a Japanese set meal and depending on the rate of the hotel, one would be assigned a different set. Though there are choices between fish or beef for each set. Dinner would be served at the same restaurant we had lunch at. In every floor, there is a small lounge with great views of the valley. Lounge chairs were placed to overlook this view. Newspapers, Japanese magazines, sweets and some green tea were provided in the lounge for guests who wish to relax in the lounge.
In addition to the main onsen at the mezzanine floor, guests were able to book a private session at each individual floors. There is a small onsen suite on every floors which could be reserved for a nominal fee. The room we had booked was a tatami room which means there are no beds, though it was a very nice and spacious room. Beside the foyer lies the sink and the toilet. Being an onsen, there are no shower area in the rooms, and guests are expected to shower in the onsen or book the private onsen should they need the privacy. In the day, the main floor functions as a living room. though the chairs are in the Japanese style where guests are seated cross-legged. Along one side of the wall is a wardrobe containing the yukatas and pouches for your belongings. Like my stay at the Hyatt Regency Hakone, 2 sets of yukatas are prepared for every occupant in the room – one for sleeping and another for use in the onsen compounds. Being winter, a knitted sweater was also provided, along with socks.
On the other end of the wall is a sliding closet where the futon bedding was stored along with the pillows. Beside the closet is a small room that can be used as a dressing room and a place to store luggage. A small alcove with a western-style sofa and coffee table overlooks the view outside and this area is where the day tables and chairs are moved to during turn-down service when the main tatami floor is converted to a bedroom. Inside the room, there is also a bar fridge near the entrance to store any cold drinks. And as a welcome amenity, the hotels provided some ginseng biscuits and mochi which was very good.
The first main attraction here was the onsen and while the onsen in the Hyatt Regency Hakone was spacious enough, the onsen here is divided into several areas. Don’t expect an empty onsen here though. Split over 2 storeys, the onsens in both floors alternate between male and female use and they switch in the evening. This allows guests in the hotel to experience both floors when staying just for a night. I just visited the lower level onsen floor during the evening and it was a fantastic experience. On the left upon entering is a large shower area able of accommodating around 16 people. Beside the shower area is a squarish warm dipping pool. The main onsen is at the other end with wall decors of rocks that extend all the way to an outdoor onsen area. Beside the main onsen pool is a small cold dipping pool and an enclosed sauna room. Along the walkway to the outdoor onsen is an area set up with 3 stone ‘beds’ that one can lie one while soaking in the hot water of the onsen. But the most popular spot in the onsen is definitely the outdoor area which is fantastic to spend the evening in even during winter!
After spending the evening in the onsen, I felt really refreshed, and what made the onsen experience here better was the provision of massage chairs and a very comfortable lounge space that one can rest in just outside the onsen. The hotel also has a convenience store and gift store beside the lounge for those requiring some drinks and snacks to go along with their rest and relaxation. Another one hour at the massage chairs from the onsen was all it took to relax the sore muscles after nearly a week of snowboarding!
The second highlight of the stay was the dinner served in the hotel’s restaurant, Kuwanoki. Everyone had a set dinner and for our rate it included a set course meal with a Japanese style hotpot, while some of them had a more traditional Japanese course. The meal for me started with soba,
an amuse bouche, a tray of appetizers, sashimi combination platter, the main course of grilled beef served with rice, pickles and a glass of wine. The meal ended with a plate of desserts.
The meal was a fantastic way to wind down at the end of the day and to celebrate the near end of my snowboarding trip in Japan. The ingredients were fresh and the food was fabulous, and by the time the main course arrived, I was quite full, but the beef was one of the best I have ever had in any restaurant and with the sweet onions, garlic chips and sea salt provided as accompaniments, they tasted divine!
With the conclusion of the meal, we took a walk around the property and lounged for a while in the lobby as that is the only location within the hotel that has wifi access. By the time we returned to our room, turn down service has converted the living room into a bedroom and 3 futon beds have been laid on the tatami mats! Even though it was a futon bed on the tatami mat, the padding was soft and it was comfortable to sleep in.
The next morning, I woke up refreshed and our stay included breakfast in the same restaurant again. Breakfast fare had one of the most diverse Japanese offerings compared to my other hotel stays which is to be expected. There was a variety of grilled fish which is commonly found amongst bento breakfast sets, along with congee and miso soup. To end, I had yogurt added with blackberry and honey which made for a really good combination. My stay in this traditional Japanese onsen resort was great and even though it is by no means a luxurious property, the onsen and food alone is worth a stay here.