A lovely stay at Onyado Chikurintei Ryokan

A blissful 2 night stay in this beautiful modern zen like ryokan in Takeo (5 - 6 Sep 2016)

For my annual ryokan trip this year, it was with good ol’ pal LY whom we haven’t travelled with to Japan since our Izu girlie trip in 2013. Talk about how time flies! Given it’s been 3 years on since our last ryokan trip, we felt we deserved to pamper ourselves with a more luxurious one. Efficient me who loves researching on ryokans found some lovely ones, and in the end, it was a unanimous vote to stay at this modern chic ryokan called Onyado Chikurintei in the island of Kyushu in Takeo city, located in the Saga Prefecture. Takeo Onsen is also well known as a hot spring destination stemming back to 1300 years, which made it all the more compelling to come here.

Onyado Chikurintei was awarded the highest honour of receiving 5 Pavillions (it looks like 5 house symbols in red) from the Michelin Saga 2014 Guide  in Ryokan category. They have also hosted the Royal Family a few times, and interestingly, which honestly blur me only realised after I had stayed there – the room we chose to stay in – Takasago was used few times to host the Japanese King and Queen as well as the Japanese Royal Prince and Princess for dinners when they stayed in the most luxurious room of the ryokan – the Shuho room.

This chic luxurious ryokan is nestled in a serene area near the Mifuneyama Rakuen – a park which sprawls out on the western foot of an ancient sacred mountain known as Mount Karafune. According to the travel websites on this scenic park, Mifuneyama Rakuen was built over a period of approximately 3 years by Shigeyoshi Nabeshima, the 28th ruler of the Takeo Domain, as part of his holiday home. Ironically, I was hoping to do a walk around the park in the daytime, but we seemed to have too many things to do, and only managed to see something really interesting at night, which I will share with you further in this article.

First views of the exterior of the ryokan.

As we drove up the ryokan, two ladies dressed in traditional Japanese yukata, quickly came out to help us with our luggage and valet parked our car for us. We were kindly asked to remove our shoes at the entrance and switched to the Japanese slippers prepared for us at the doorway.

Japanese calligraphy words greets us at entrance

Down the quiet hallways

Given we were here in early September, I think we were probably one of the few “crazy” ones here as it’s still summer with temperatures averaging around 30- 35 degrees celsius, so we only noticed another couple that was staying here during our stay. Perhaps it’s a blessing as I think the rates would have costed a lot more if we went during Autumn or Winter which is more peak period. I liked how we saw a lot of nature from the time of arrival at the entrance through to entering our room in the ryokan. It really helped to set the mood for us immediately after a long and tiring day of driving from Fukuoka Airport.

Beautiful gardens around the ryokan.

Given we were here in early September, I think we were probably one of the few “crazy” ones here as it’s still summer with temperatures averaging around 30- 35 degrees celsius, so we were probably the only guests other than another couple that was staying here. Perhaps it’s a blessing as I think the rates would have costed a lot more if we went during Autumn or Winter. I liked how we saw a lot of nature from the time of arrival at the entrance through to entering our room in the ryokan, it really helped to set the mood for us immediately after a long and tiring day of driving from Fukuoka Airport.

Admiring the hallway at check in area.

Lots of beautiful pottery displayed at the front desk.

As we walked in to the ryokan, we lingered at the front desk area, admiring the beautiful pottery on display. One of the ladies who could speak English gave us some brochures on Takeo and nearby Arita area, both extremely famous areas for pottery with many kilns and specialty ceramic shops! We were so excited to visit some of the shops planned for the next day, especially Y who was looking for some beautiful bowls, and serving tea and coffee cups.

Lounging around in the guest lounge area, sipping my umeshu.

We couldn’t help but explore what else was in the ryokan. After checking out the women’s public bath, we went into the lounge known as “Kaguya”, which had some beautiful relaxing cane furniture for us to sit around in, and help ourselves to the complimentary selection of Dutch Water Drip Coffee, small sized beers, my favourite “umeshu” (plum wine) as well as Japanese tea.

Complimentary beverages in the lounge

Beautiful details such as the handcrafted lights

Very quickly after, we were ushered to our room – Takasago, which I chose because our gal pal – LY had insisted she wanted to sleep on futon mattresses to enjoy the 100% full Japan ryokan experience. Honestly, Y and I be would be happy with Western beds in a Japanese style room, which they also have available, but we chose this room and decided to “bear” with the futon mattresses which turned out to be pretty comfortable at this ryokan, thank goodness! Definite high marks from Y who has a lot of back issues and their mattresses were fine for her.

Arriving at Takasago – our room for the next 2 nights.

I chose Takasago, as after looking at the Japanese style rooms with open air bath – only 3 to select from, Takasago was firstly the largest of the three, and it has the most spacious outdoor open air bath with a verandah overlooking the nearby Mifuneyama. Their Japanese western style rooms also look really luxurious and is a good option for those who want to have the best of both worlds – Japanese dining with the comforts of Western bedding. Our room like the other 10 rooms in the ryokan have a very clean and modern Zen like design, with minimal furniture – simple dining table for 2, and by the large sliding doors overlooking the garden is another pair of seats for us to sit and enjoy the serene surroundings. One of the Japanese ladies served us tea and some Japanese sweets and also showed us what was available in our room, including a torchlight if we wanted to walk outside to Mifuneyama at night.

Relaxing in our room.

Torchlight and binoculars provided for bird watching.

We felt totally serene savouring our tea and enjoying the tranquility. Our room was complete with not just one but 2 bath areas for shower and washbasins – which makes it perfect even for a family of 4 to stay here. One of the toilets were attached with an indoor wooden bath, while the other toilet was connected to the gorgeous outdoor public bath. We couldn’t wait to soak in the outdoor bath and clean ourselves up before dinner gets served in our room!

One of the toilets linked to the outdoor bath.

I love this shelf for towels. 

Second toilet. 

Indoor wooden bath connected. 

I can hear the onsen calling out to me!

Can’t wait to dig into my dinner served!

Dinner for the first night was the classic Chikurin Kaiseki dinner, the standard course when one books this room. As you can see below, here’s a list of what we had.
Cold starters: 
1. Sashimi accompanied on side bowl – innards.
2. Broth with tofu skin, which was very tasty heightened by the yuzu spice which gave it just the perfect punch.
3. Grilled fish with cheese melted over – such a surprising but good combination
4. Bowl with cold steamed roots and other vegetables
5. Cold green soba noodles with fish and shiitake
Hot food:
1. Salad with Yuzu dressing.
2. Fish head soup
3. Famous Saga steak – yes another plus point about staying in this ryokan. The steak absolutely melted in our mouth.
4. Salmon roll
5. Rice w pickles
Dessert: Milk pudding with honeydew inside

Our second night’s luxe Kaiseki dinner including lobster!

For our second night, we had reserved in advance an upgraded course, known as Kihin Kaiseki which included Lobster as well, one of my favourite foods! Some of the highlights from this dinner included:
1. Lobster sashimi to start off
2. Simmered broth with fish and tofu
3. Abalone topped with a cheesey eggy topping – I know it sounds wierd, but it tasted pretty good.
4. Chilled crab- the flesh was nice and sweet but took us a while to eat this, no mean feat especially when doing it seating on tatami mat.
5. Anago – one of my favourite Japanese fish.
6. Unagi sushi wrapped in leaf
7. Saga steak served with Japanese rice, fish soup, pickles, and rolled egg

On our way to Onyado Chikurintei after arriving at Fukuoka Airport, we stopped by at Fruit Farm Juran (see my 2014 post on this), where I had last visited with Y and R in 2014, and we brought LY there to her delight. We plucked as many as we figured we could eat during our stay in Kyushu plus we also purchased some Muscat grapes as well from there. So yes, after our very big dinner plus breakfasts on both days, we asked the ryokan to serve us the large juicy grapes for us to dig into. We were so stuffed, you can imagine having to eat so much fruits after a very big meal but so satisfying!

Stuffing my face with our plucked Kyoho grapes plus fruits from the ryokan dinner that was served to us over 2 days. 

Breakfast on both days was still fairly hearty, all served in one go, usually with some selection of raw fish, cooked fish, my favourite tamago (rolled egg omelette), Japanese soup, rice with pickles, and tofu. On the first day, the tofu was done in a creamy soup which was so delicious, while for the second day, they served the more typical Agedashi Tofu (soft silken tofu coated with flour and fried, in dashi stock). We even had a fried egg and sausage on the second day, talk about east meets west in this breakfast selection.

Breakfast on the first day!

Raw squid and tamago in the spread.

Simmered tofu in a creamy soup – delish!

My second day’s breakfast complete with fried egg and sausage. 

As I mentioned earlier in this post, there’s something interesting I have to share that we discovered during our stay here. Although we didn’t have a chance to explore Mifuneyama during the day, we were really blessed to witness a really amazing light show at night after dinner on our second night. Every season, this gorgeous garden has beautiful flora to look out for during the 4 seasons – awashed with pink hues of cherry blossom and azaleas in Spring, gorgeous hues of maple leaves in Autumn and camellia in Winter. And in summer this year, they had a special light festival designed by Teamlab that ran from July 15 to September 25, 2016.

Quaint looking teahouse in the garden that becomes a bar at night.

We booked a table for drinks on our 2nd night at the teahouse in the garden which overlooked the pond, and it’s such a wonderful idea to have a traditional looking teahouse that becomes a bar at night. It’s really convenient as we just needed to walk through a footpath in our yukata to the garden from the ryokan, although I have to acknowledge it was a bit scary given it was so dark. We arrived in about less than 5 mins at the ‘bar’, and ordered a Kyoho grape martini while fanning ourselves and admiring the large dramatic pond in front of us, just accented by some colors on the waters which looked like giant Kois. To our fascination, they were projections on the water. Much to our luck, our next table of guests with 3 gentlemen, had specially requested for the special music light show to be done on this night, as it is usually only reserved for the weekends. The gentle kois slowly evolved to dancing rainbow colors on the ponds complete with music and it was such a joy to watch. It’s such a pity I couldn’t video it as it was too dark.

Amazing technicolor lights projected at Mifuneyama Rakuen Pond.

Last dip in our room’s bath before saying goodbye!

It was hard to say goodbye after staying 2 nights at this lovely ryokan, accented by the really special light show we got to see at Mifuneyama Rakuen Pond, which was such a treat! I think it is definitely a ryokan I don’t mind being back to, and what is interesting is after our stay here, we met 2 chefs – from Caravan in Karatsu and Gyoten Sushi in Fukuoka who both had been here and also raved about the ryokan.

The very hospitable staff saying goodbye and constantly bowing till we drive off. 

If you are already tempted to stay here after reading my review, click on their website link below and you can enquire about available rooms! We paid different rates for both nights for our stay in Takasago room, given it was also due to the upgraded lobster course on the second night – First night: 49,410 yen per person, second night: 60,210 yen per person.

Onyado Chikurintei 4100 Takeocho Oaza Takeo, Takeo, Saga Prefecture 843-0022, Japan, Tel: +81 954-23-0210, http://www.chikurintei.jp/en/
Refer to Mifuneyama Rakuen’s website if you wish to time your stay with the different season’s activities at the garden.
Read my next post on where to explore when staying here, from beautiful ceramics to yummy beef!

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