Sakado, 1-6, Minami Uonuma-shi, Niigata
In Minami Uonuma in Niigata Prefecture you can find ryugon which is an old ryokan created from traditional style buildings salvaged from around the region. It has recently undergone a renovation and now combines the best of the old with modern styling inspired by Yukiguni culture and living.
Old Meets New
Many luxury accommodations take you to a place far removed from their local area by transporting you to a private world. At ryugon the exact opposite occurs; the local region is the inspiration for the design cues. The old building was impressive in itself, and now the blend of the old with the new makes for an interesting contrast. The whole project is a collaboration with various creators given free reign to express the local region in the way they saw fit. The art on the walls, the shape of the furniture, even the architecture all show aspects of the region. A good example is one of the walkways between two wings. Previously the walls were put up to keep the snow out. Now they have been taken out which make the walk much lighter and in winter also allows you to experience the snow piling up outside.
A Seamless Connection to the Local Culture
Being part of the local and regional culture is an important part of the mission at ryugon, and to this end they have a variety of courses to help you learn and discover. Tour the area on an electric bike, explore the town, or take a cooking class with some of the local grandmothers who chat away while helping you prepare a delicious traditional stew and the famous local rice cooked in the time-honored method.
Proximity to Nature
The stylish rooms look out onto the well-tended Japanese gardens. The ryokan sits at the base of Mount Sakado, and the border between the mountains and the gardens is deliberately blurred as the two blend into each other. The verdant, quick growing flora, and the winter snows make managing a property in Yukiguni a challenge. Pretty ponds line the building but in winter these provide much needed assistance in melting snow and stopping it overcoming the sturdy wooden framed buildings.
Explore the life and culture of Yukiguni through one of the unique local experiences available.
Learning to Cook with the Locals
Just inside the impressive entrance gate to ryugon is a cooking space complete with a traditional rice stove. Here there are lessons with the local ladies on how to prepare a delicious local stew and cook rice using the old method. The food itself is delicious but by far the most memorable part of this experience is the interaction with the ladies who have lived in Yukiguni their whole lives.
As a modern design hotel ryugon has no shortage of comfort, and it has managed to blend the best of the old style with many new touches, while maintaing a common theme throughout.
Relaxation in the Public Spaces
The renovation at ryugon has breathed fresh air into the beautiful old building and also ushered in a new style - not just design-wise, but also in the way people use the ryokan. The traditional way of enjoying a ryokan was to relax in your room. While this is still an amazing way to spend your time, there are inviting public spaces throughout ryugon. Bright areas with comfortable seating, chairs that make you wonder how they feel to sit on, surfaces that dare you to touch them. All have been inspired by the snow and the region. Instead of stretching out in your room, savor the atmosphere in the public areas and sit around the bar or irori with a good book or charming companion.
Classic Cuisine in a Modern Setting
The main dining room is a showcase for Yukiguni gastronomy: local ingredients specific to the season gathered from the surrounding mountains, vegetables kept in snow-filled storerooms to bring out their sweetness, traditional forms of preserving and serving food that have been passed down through the ages. The previous Ryugon used a form of charcoal grilling to cook river fish and other ingredients around an irori hearth. This now forms the heart of the dining room and is a much loved part of the local cuisine.
Slow Life in Atmospheric Surroundings
The old beams of traditional homes from around the region were reassembled to form the original Ryugon building. They still make up the backbone of the building but the spaces in between have been tastefully renovated to offer complete relaxation. The beauty of the old style room coupled with the modern decor and conveniences of a top class accommodation encourage a truly relaxing stay.
Room service can be done from the tablet in the room. You are also able to book your learning experiences. The local culture magazine called Snow & Journeys also has the back issue catalogue available to browse. (They are in Japanese but the photos alone are worth a look.)
Try the audio tours available on handheld devices. There is an interesting guide to the points of interest in the ryokan, or a tour that you can use to learn about the local area, either on foot or using an electric bike.
The artworks that depict scenes from life in Yukiguni deserve your attention. They are day-to-day sights in the area, but when taken out of context, that single instance can be mistaken for an impressionist painting.