Kusayane no Yado – Ryu no Hige (草屋根の宿 龍のひげ) is a unique ryokan. It’s not in Yufuin proper, instead about 10 minutes drive to the west, its old name was Sansou Yumuta no Mori (Mountain House of Yumuta Forest) before it revamped as a high class ryokan in 2012.
草屋根之宿 龍之鬍鬚 是一間很特殊的旅館。不在由布院 (湯布院) 主區域內，而是往西開車10分鐘處，前身又叫山荘 ゆむ田の森，在2012年重整成一間高級旅館。
Actually, Kusayane no Yado – Ryu no Hige is not its full name, the ryokan has two areas, Ryu no Hige are cabins while its other half Bettei Yumuta (Annex Yumuta) consists of an separated wing of 5 double rooms. The full name is thus Kusayane no Yado – Ryu no Hige/Bettei Yumuta (草屋根の宿 龍のひげ/別邸 ゆむた). The meaning of Yumuta is not known, my guess is that it’s Yu meaning hot bath and Mu for village, or a homophone of Yu-Me (Dream) as Yu-Mu. (Correction: Found out it’s 湯無田 as in hot bath, nothingness, field)
其實 草屋根之宿 龍之鬍鬚 還不是全名，旅館有兩區，離屋叫龍之鬍鬚，另一區一棟5間雙人房的分館稱別邸 ゆむた。合起來為草屋根之宿 龍之鬍鬚 別邸ゆむた。ゆむた意思為何不知，猜測是湯的ゆ和村的む，也可能是夢ゆめ的諧音。(改:問了Rika是ゆむた原漢字是湯無田)
The ryokan earns its name by the beard of dragon grass (リュウノヒゲ, lilyturf) grown atop the roof of its main hall, the grass shields the building from the sun and acts as an insulation in winter, making the inside cool in summer and warm in winter.
When initially looking at the comments a few things stood out. The comments are very consistent, they talk about how the place exceeds expectations, how good the food is (and how much there was) and how well the staffs are.
Every room (Ryu no Hige and Annex) faces Mt. Yufu and has a half open air onsen bath.
There’s something very personal about the place, the way its facebook posts are written and the way its website is built.
It doesn’t promise luxury, nor does it promise tradition or history. There’s no hundred year old main buildings, no Japanese garden with little streams or zen pebbles. Actually there’s no garden at all, just landscaped footpath connecting the cabins. It doesn’t even have a bar or reading space or lounge area. It barely has a lobby. In short, it has essentially no public spaces for guests to stroll or hang about.
It’s often said, make the guests them feel at home. Many hotels, resorts and ryokans certainly strive to do this, with plenty of services and hospitality and asking about how they may serve you. What makes Ryu no Hige stands out is this is the first time I’ve felt the true meaning of the saying. It is the combination of the comfort of its cabin and the delicately balanced distance of its staffs that truly makes one forget every worry in the world and more at home than home.
What will immediately strikes you after turning off the road, down and up the small path into the carpark, is how low profile the place is, figuratively and literally. There’s only a single sign by the main road pointing out this is where you should turn. Atop the hill at the entrance of the carpark, there’s a small hut where the staffs already awaits your arrival.
There’s no planted flowers or other rock decos, no signboard saying welcome or where to go. The whole carpark could pass as a scenic lookout carpark on the side of the road.
Next you’ll notice the ryokan is missing, that’s because the main hall is actually situated slightly downhill and has such a low profile that with its grass roof, blends perfectly into the surrounding landscape. Blink, and you’ll miss it’s even there.
A moss lined path graciously curves to the entrance of the hall, plain and devoid of furnishing save for the ryokan’s name to one side. The colours are subdued throughout and easy on the eyes. The interiors similarly without excess wall pictures, statues or other trinkets, only a few vases of flowers dotted the space, elegant without hinting utilitarian.
The staffs initially thought we were from China, probably because in my email I mentioned we speak english and chinese. A friendly, spirited Taiwanese young lady was assigned to us and showed us to our room and gave us a detailed introduction to its features.
Ryu no Hige has 5 cabins, each slightly different, of the twins, Tsukushi (つくし) and Warabi (わらび), Warabi was traditional Japanese style while Tsukushi which I chose for us was described as modern Japanese style.
I had chosen Tsukushi instead of Warabi because it had a clearer view of the mountains. Warabi was situated closer to the main hall, there’s another cabin directly in front and below, though not obstructing, could see the roof of it.
The inside of Tsukushi was made of fir wood (I think?), from the floorboards to the furnitures and pillars and frames, the colour light and soft. There’s a foyer, on the wall hung a shoe horn doubling as the space’s only decoration. Step onto the raised floor, to the right was the door to the toilet and baths, in front leads into the main room.
The living room had two areas, the tatami sleeping area and a living space with sofas. Japanese paper sliding doors could either be closed to create two separate spaces or completely slid to the side to create one continuous wide open space. To note the slide doors slides into the walls and to the side of the closet so when fully opened there are no doors in sight, it is truly without boundary (save for one pillar in the corner).
The side facing Mt Yufu consisted entirely of glass doors that keeps out the cold air. Spotless, there’s not a smudge or spot to be found on them. The eyes gazes past them without the slightest hinder, to the deck outside, over the railing and drawn to the rolling mountains in the distance, all in one breathless wonder filled sigh.
A water cooler sits in the corner. No need to fetch water from the basin. There’s a TV in the living area and another smaller one by the tatami for those needing some bedtime drama.
There’s tea and drip filtered coffee on the shelf. On the tea table packets of delicious Japanese sweet cake from a famous shop in Yufuin.
Return to the foyer and open the other door. The wash basin/vanity is on the right, upon sits rows of care products, and an entire travel set of Shiseido. On the opposite side of where one came in is another door, the light automatically turns on when one enters the toilet. To the left is another door, here there are racks with 3 set of baskets and towels, a small changing room space before one enters the bathroom. Open this final door and one at last enters the bathroom. The first half is the shower area, the other half lies a huge onsen bath, enough for at least 5 people to comfortably bath in at same time (though Tsukushi is limited to 3 guests only).
Note the number of doors mentioned. The bathroom, change room, toilet, wash basin/makeup room are all separated, there is no concern about affecting each other. A person can be on the toilet, another drying hair before the vanity, and another changing out of their clothes to go into the bath, all while another person is sipping coffee in the living room and yet another sleeping in the tatami room (again, this cabin only allows up to 3 guests).
The glass doors in front of the bath can be slid open (again, completely into the wall) and the right side window opened to create a half open air bath. Or if feeling cold, slide out a few or shut them completely. The mountain view could be enjoyed while one baths.
The onsen water here contains a little more iron and has a reddish tint, with a slight sulfur smell. Of course, it’s kakenagashi, to be enjoyed even in the middle of the night.
Two forms of yukata was prepared. The more common yukata and the samue (shirt and pants) combination if one felt yukata to be a little cumbersome. Plus haori and tanzen.
I don’t have too many photos to show. Once inside the whole person becomes so relaxed I often forget to take photos. All a person feels is the mountains, the woods, and the comfort of the cabin.
Sometime before dinner I hopped over to the lobby to ask for a sewing kit for mom to fix her shirt’s button, at the same time also asked if they could help me book the popular B-Speak cake rolls for tomorrow. Originally I had trouble explaining the sewing kit to the lady at the desk (this is a little bit above my Japanese….), thankfully the Taiwanese young lady came back and helped with the situation. I cannot thank her enough, and feel a little bad because we caused her a lot of extra efforts, as will be mentioned further down.
Dinner is served at 6:30pm. No exceptions.
The meal is served at the main hall in semi-enclosed rooms. The walls do not extend to the top of the rooms, probably to help with ventilation.
The first dish was a warm boiled fish in soup dish. Immediately it warms the body and gently eases the stomach in readiness.
Perhaps because the young lady was also from Taiwan, she asked if we would like our rice and miso soup to come first (instead of last as is usually the case for Japanese meal) which my parents gladly accepted.
There’s a hot water kettle/thermos and tea set in one corner so one could help oneself to some tea at anytime.
It’s little details like these which initially seemed insignificant that leaves a strong impression.
I ordered some sake, something which I never usually do.
Sashimi, in addition to the wasabi there’s a yuzu and pepper too for use on the fish with stronger taste (very spicy and very good, it’s slightly cool and sweet from the yuzu first then the pepper kicks in). The young lady looked up each of the fish’s name (and each ingredient in every dish) in chinese to help explain the dish to us. (I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember all of them)
生魚片，山葵之外還有一種香橙加胡椒子的佐醬搭配味道較重的魚 (很辛很有味，一開始香橙涼涼甜甜的，然後才感到胡椒後勁)。Rika還查了每種魚的中文 (還有每道菜的各個材料) 好一一為我們解釋。(很慚愧的我沒能記住幾個)
Fried pumpkin, pork with dandelion leaf. The slight bitterness of the leaf counteracts the fatty pork perfectly.
The main dish. Ryu no Hige’s signature meat grill. The beef and chicken were from Kagoshima (southern Kyushu).
The chicken was what’s called a chi-tori, meaning local chicken, very meaty and bitey.
The beef was very good, succulent and seemingly just melts in the mouth.
Yes, all this for 3 people. Some people might be able to finish this, we don’t have a shot. We’re told that if we cannot eat it all, they will use the meat to cook a new dish for us for breakfast. It’s almost like their trademark as many many people mention this in their comments. So if you ever visit, only cook what you will eat, leave the rest for the next day.
The grill is deceiving, it’s the infrared flameless type which provides an even and strong heat.
Soft boiled egg with chicken? The egg was done just right, the yolk soft and slippery and the white slightly firm to give a contrasting texture.
Salmon fillet sandwiched with potato. Slightly charred persimmon with orange and tomato. In the middle is chinese mustard (芥菜). All on white cauliflower sauce. The chinese mustard is a little peppery.
Soba sushi. Rice wrapped with soba noodles on a soup of cooked buckweat. It’s a refreshing dish, the texture of noodles and rice in the mouth was very interesting.
Japanese Spanish Mackarel (Scomberomorus niphonius 鰆) fried then boiled with mushroom and red bell pepper. It smells incredible and is full of flavour, yet does not have the oily feel of fried food.
Fried daikon mochi. It’s not as sticky as regular mochi making it quite easy to eat, and soaked up a lot of flavour of the stock.
Pudding with rice puffs (ポン菓子). It’s a very light sweet taste, the rice puffs gave it a very fun texture.
Delicious would not do the chef justice.
After the most creative and delightful dinner we return to our room. It was night, the bright full moon silhouetting the black mountain peaks, a thin wisp of cloud capped Mt Yufu. The tranquil landscape was like a scene out of a book.
Everything was quiet, with the thick glass doors nothing can be heard of the highway in the valley or guests in other cabins. There’s a stereo system next to the TV, it can play CD, usb, and more conveniently bluetooth. It springs to life with Ghibli orchestral music. A curious thing, never having felt the need for familiar music in hotel or ryokans, now it felt the most essential thing.
房裡很安靜，厚玻璃門隔音效果很好，聽不到山谷裡的大分高速或其他住客。電視旁有一套音響，可以放CD, usb, 更方便的是有藍牙。音響啪的開始放送宮崎駿交響樂曲。很有意思，從前在飯店或旅館時從不覺得需要聽點熟悉的音樂，現在卻覺得沒這不行。
There are a dozen guest books in the room, filled with praise from amazed guests. We asked dad to write something since he had the best handwriting, but he forgot.
The bed was warm, soft with good support. Each bed had two futons, a harder base and a softer one on top.
It was then it dawned on us that despite the heater was on, the room was not stuffy. I remembered something I had read on their website. Looking around I soon found the answer. Beneath the TV shelf was a set of grills, which at first looked abit like designs for a drawer. Put your hand closer and you can feel a gentle cool breeze. Each cabin has an under floor air cycling system that brought in fresh air from the outside to keep the room comfortable.
I woke up around 5 (fell asleep very early night before). My parents had not yet risen, I slid the doors close till there was only a small gap and turned on the living space lights without affecting them. Made some coffee, and sat on the couch and waited for the sunrise.
It was the most remarkable view. The sun was behind the mountains and the peaks cast shadows on the cloud above, like rays of dark light. The snowy peak glimmered in the golden light, the whole of Mt Yufu was basked in a warm reddish glow.
I went for a bath, the cool morning air fresh and golden sun on the face.
Breakfast was served at 8:30am, again no exception.
There was a platter of various sides, a curious mix of japanese and western dishes that matched well together.
The rice came in 3 bowls, two large one small, without prompting. The small one for my mother.
Our unfinished meat from the night before came as a marinated stir-fried dish, a straightforward approach that focused on the taste of the meat.
During the meal the young lady brought to us a map of Yufuin, annotated by hand in chinese using many coloured pens, of the various shops and recommended sweets, cakes and other foods. It’s hard to imagine the effort it would have taken to translate and write them all out in detail.
Back to the cabin, enjoying the music and scenery, chatting with my parents.
At last, it was time to say farewell to this small, unforgettable ryokan. I call the front desk to let them know we will be checking out, and the staffs came over to help with our luggages.
Before getting into the car I remembered to say, “Osewani nari mashita”, thank you for all the care given. I wish I knew better sentences to describe my gratitude for the experience.
They helped direct us back out the car and waved us goodbye.
Most excellent food, most excellent room, most excellent view, excellent value, most perfect service. Even now there’s the urge to book a flight and visit again come summer.
Ryu no Hige Website 草屋根之宿 龍之鬍鬚官網：http://ryunohige.com/index.html
Tsukushi cabin for 3 on weekdays is 84000Y (28000Y per person). This may seem a little high, be assured it’s worth spending one night here than two at a regular ryokan in the 10~20k per person range.
One thing to note, the telephone number in GPS navigation is incorrect. You must set the location manually or use the mapcode [269 292 760*44]
另外要注意GPS用電話的住址是錯的 需要手動設定或用mapcode 「269 292 760*44」