Takefue Ryokan, Kyushu

An unforgettable getaway to Takefue Ryokan, fit for a king (21 - 23 September 2014)
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As I had mentioned in my earlier blog post, after Y and I decided to head to Fukuoka, we proceeded to read which was the best hot spring area to head to in the Kyushu Prefecture. The one that seemed the most intriguing was Kurokawa onsen in the middle of Kyushu area, a traditional hot spring town that seemed quaint and not as touristy, its bathhouse tours seemed fun – one could walk around in their yukata and slippers hopping from one to another bathhouse in this town. The question next was where to stay? Yes after looking through all the inns in this town, we realised we didn’t really like any of them (yes maybe have been pampered too much from our previous Ryokan stays), and then found through my favourite ryokan concierge Ryokan Collection – the amazing Takefue Ryokan, 竹ふえ.

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In the car enjoying the wonderful scenery of Mt Aso in the distance on the way to Takefue.

Located around a 2 hour-ish drive from Fukuoka city, it was a pleasant journey marked by our excursion to Fruit Farm Juran, stopping for a soba tea break and finally arriving here in the early evening just before sunset. At first we thought it was located in Kurokawa onsen, but on closer look at the GPS route in our car, we realised it was off from the Kurokawa Onsen area, and after circling and making detours for another 20 mins, we finally found the ryokan, nestled in a secluded area in the hill with a sleek but discreet entrance, with their staff waiting for us outside. We guessed that must be it!

 

ARRIVAL EXPERIENCE

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First glance at the main house as we enter Takefue Ryokan.

Takefue Ryokan is the most exclusive Ryokan I have ever been to, there’s only 11 individual ryokans – all different in terms of layout and housed in 32 acres of vast land with lush bamboo everywhere. Given the many flights of steps throughout this large estate, we were really glad that the staff was there to help us with our luggage.

We were ushered into the main building’s living area, where there were many yukatas laid out on a tray for us to choose from, and guests get to choose a different set for the next night, what a nice personal touch. They also presented me another beary friend – Kumamon, a famous national icon from Kumamoto, a city further south of Takefue, how sweet of them. I noticed how there were the presence of rabbits throughout the premises, and I learnt that it’s because Takefue was built in 1999, the year of the Rabbit. We must have an affinity with Rabbits given there are many in our family including R.

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Reception counter at Takefue Ryokan.

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Lots of bunny accents.

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Yukatas to choose from upon arrival

 SURROUNDINGS

After selecting our yukatas, a Japanese lady who spoke some English led us down to Omachian Ryokan (selected by me after much research on all the room types), located towards the end of the estate. We had to walk through many steps, meandering up and down the grounds. There was something always interesting to see as we walked through the large estate. First, was an ice cream box found just outside the main reception, where we could have unlimited supplies of ice cream! WOW-WEE!!

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Wonderful assortment of ice cream flavours found in the ice-cream box.

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Walking down many steps to our Ryokan.

As we walked down the many flights of footsteps, we found other interesting elements that they created amidst the natural surroundings, such as a foot onsen, and even chilled sodas sitting in a bed of running cold water, for guests to help themselves to on the way to the onsens. There were also a few nice pockets of open courtyards and the Garden Takezono where guests can chill out, the staff told us they have barbeques out here in Summer.

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Foot onsen along one of the many footpaths in Takefue.

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Chilled soda for guests – fantastic after a hot onsen.

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Lovely courtyard to chill out amidst the natural surroundings.

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Garden Takezono, outdoor garden with large plush outdoor seating and hammock for guests to relax in.

The architecture of all the ryokan rooms in Takefue are similar, they take on a rustic red exterior, with black beams and are reminiscent of farm-type buildings. As we continued to walk down, the sun had quickly set and we saw how beautifully the place transformed when it was night time.

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Passing by one of the ryokans as we head to Omachian, our room.

OMACHIAN ROOM

We finally arrived at Omachian, which I selected due to its comfortable large size and the style of the hot bath – it has a large 10 tatami mat room with a 6 tatami mat dining area with a table surrounding a hearth. It also had a modern outdoor hot bath and foot bath – a must for the onsen fanatic in us, that just wanna hop in and out of the open-air bath anytime of the day. Given they had very interesting open air baths that could be booked for private use ranging from cave to a bamboo leaf boat, we had ample choices to choose from in addition to our private attached onsen.

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Finally arrived outside our room – Omachian.

Living area

Once inside our room, our English speaking concierge for the trip – K (can’t remember his full name except it starts with K) took us around the room to show us the various amenities and areas. They had a lovely note written to me in Japanese a pity I couldn’t read it. They served us some Japanese tea and a traditional jelly cake as we settled into the room, and I took the chance to make friends with Kumamon, my new Japanese friend.

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Welcome note for me upon arrival.

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With Kumamon my new Japanese friend.

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The main living area which will be converted to our bedroom at night.

Dining area

As we approached the dining room with the hearth, I noticed how K had already quickly organised our shoes and slippers, talk about Japanese efficiency.

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Japanese slippers to get around Takefue premises.

The mini bar if you are comparing against hotel mini bars, none come close to this. There was a fridge full of various juices, yoghurt drink, all COMPLIMENTARY, plus a soda machine to make soda water and a full box of different flavoured Nespresso capsules to make coffee. They even had another option of local coffee beans that they could make for us for breakfast. They had on display a pair of traditional Japanese paper fans, which K said was a souvenir gift for us to bring home, I was starting to feel so nice and spoiled here.

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Dining room with a hearth in the centre of the dining table.

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A pair of Japanese fans for us to take home.

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Soda machine, selection of coffee ranging from local beans to Nespresso capsules.

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Solid Titanium cups to serve drinks.

Bath and toilet 

Next, came the introduction to the toilets, K explained there was a set of complimentary Hermes toiletries as a gift to me, and in addition they had L’Occitane bath and facial products for us to use. The toilets were separated, with a set of basins for washing up next to the bath and indoor onsen, and a separate room with the toilet, and a sink with spring water to wash one’s hands.

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Indoor and outdoor onsen

Our room came complete with an indoor onsen next to the bath shower area, and a modern outdoor onsen with a foot bath. We used the outdoor ones more so, and it was pure bliss just to sink my paws into the foot bath and read a magazine or book. I love how they gave us a sake tub to hold the sake bottle and our sake cups after meals so that we can have it in the onsen. Such a fantastic idea.

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Indoor onsen next to our shower area.

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Outdoor onsen in the night.

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Outdoor onsen in the day, with a sake tub to hold sake

Cuisine  

The 2 nights stay came with 2 dinners and 2 breakfasts, and they were so elaborate that it’s really hard not to get fat during these 2 days at Takefue. The cuisine here is formal Kaiseki, and we were told every season’s cuisine is different, using the fresh seasonal produce at its best for that season, including the local mountain vegetables in some of the dishes.

I wished I could read the beautifully printed menu for us every time the table was set up for meal, but K was kind enough to explain every course that was served to us during all the meals. Our dinners would include raw sashimi, and a mixture of cooked food ranging from my favourite Hokkaido crab to Japanese beef (which is a must try), that we cook ourselves.

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Description of the menu in a bamboo holder.

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1st Kaiseki dinner for the stay.

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Yummy local beef sizzling as we cook it ourselves over the hotplate.

The most interesting for me was 2 dishes – raw abalone that was literally moving, or as I would like to say it was dancing as we cooked it. And their final ending dish for both dinners – rice mixed usually with mushrooms or other local vegetables served with pickles to end off the meal. It was served in a sleek bamboo cylinder but it opened up to 2 parts displaying identical portions of the rice and the pickled vegetables with a litted neonish interior. To make it more dramatic, when K served it to us, he intentionally switched off the main dining room light, so that there was more drama when he opened the bamboo holder. Rather theatrical, but we found it quite fun.

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Signature rice with pickles – housed in a bamboo holder.

Breakfast was just as sumptuous usually with a cooked fish, tamago, porridge or rice and some other small cooked dishes. It was quite cute we could cook our own “scrambled eggs” or “omelette” over fire, except it was hard to put out the candle underneath, and my fried egg with ham kinda got over done.

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Digging into my 1st breakfast kaiseki.

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K breaking the egg over the ham in my little hot pot.

The stay at Takefue would not have been complete without celebrating Y’s birthday which was on the 24th. Y and I coordinated with the Ryokan in advance to  prepare a special 3D Bear Cake (cost 10,000 yen), which we saw on their website and got us really excited. On our last night here, K presented it after our dinner and it was so CUTE, and none of us could bear to eat it except R who had no qualms slicing off the neck.

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Of course, during the 2 nights stay at Takefue, I also asked K to kindly prepare the Kyoho grapes which we plucked from Fruits Farm Juran to serve to us after every meal.

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Sleep 

Even the sleep experience was very personal, from providing a diffuser scent of our choice to allow us to sleep better, to placing a little paper crane at each futon bed after setting it up was very thoughtful. On one of the nights I even had a Japanese shiatsu massage, to knead out the aches from the long journey so far. It made me sleep all the more soundly.

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Lavender diffuser to help us to sleep better in the night.

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All tucked into my tatami bed and ready to sleep – with the little paper crane, one for each of us.

Given the scenic and beautiful surroundings, we would take a walk either before or after dinners to one of their onsens and admire the landscape and sit in the garden. It’s lovely sitting out in the Garden Takezono and admiring the waterfall which looks transformed with the lights at night.

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Sitting by one of the water features in Takefue.

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Me and R chilling out at the Garden having a soda.

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The waterfall and water feature in the garden transformed at night.

Saying goodbye was hard, The immaculate service by all the staff, the authencity of the ryokan to the surroundings, the fabulous hot springs and the delicious kaiseki cuisine served here made the stay unforgettable. To top it off, they gave us a pair of cute ceramic sake cups with a little rabbit in the centre of the cup. From Kumamon to this, we were all touched beyond words. It is my BEST RYOKAN STAY without a doubt and I would recommend it to anyone who does not mind splurging just to get a little taste of’ ‘heaven’ here.

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Leaving Takefue, sad and hoping I can return again soon.

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Sitting by one of the passageways, reluctant to leave Takefue.

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Gifts from Takefue – Cute sake cups with Rabbits in the centre.

 

Takefue Ryokan, 5725-1 Manganji, Minami-Ogunimachi, Aso-gun, Kumamoto, 869-2402 (2 hours plus drive from Hakata city in Fukuoka), can also be accessed by train.

Cost of stay in Omachian room – 50,400 yen per person per night, inclusive of breakfast and dinner (3D Cakes range between 10,000 – 13,000 yen)

Book through The Ryokan Collection to enjoy a slightly better rate (They can also advise on transportation route depending if you plan to drive or take the public transport).

 

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