923 Yuzawa Yuzawa-machi, Minamiuonuma-gun, Niigata
Takahan is an iconic location in the history of the region and of Yuzawa. It is one of the oldest continuously operating lodgings in the country and boasts a history of over 900 years with the same family being in charge since the discovery of the onsen. They are the custodians of the hot spring which has been a source of comfort and healing for centuries. It is a true family-run operation with children, parents and grandparents all involved in day-to-day operations.
The Origin Story of Yuzawa
The ancestor of the family who manage Takahan was looking in the hills for some ingredients to make medicine when he stumbled upon a volcanic hot spring coming out of the ground. From that discovery an onsen and later a lodging was developed and the area was named Yu-no-sawa (or hot water stream). In an early map from 1089 you can already see the name Yuzawa was being used and the town gradually grew up around the onsen. The name Takahan is taken from some of the characters of the ancestor’s name.
A Naturally Occurring Spring with Highly Regarded Water
The spring here is unusual as it is found coming out above ground whereas the vast majority of springs have to be dug for. The water temperature is a near perfect forty three degrees so it needs no heating, cooling, or circulating. The abundant flow completely refills the baths in a matter of hours. In the times before doctors the onsen played an important role in healing and wellness, and the ryokan has its roots as a place for farm labourers to come and relax after a grueling season in the fields. The water is also well-known for the silky feel on the skin.
The View from the Ridge
The actual spring source in the valley was the site of the original buildings but 300 years ago, due to landslides, Takahan was re-sited to its current position sitting on a ridge that overlooks Yuzawa town. In a mountainous area this location puts it out of any potential danger, and both the local shrine and Takahan occupy these secure positions. Being on the ridge also gives it some amazing and rare views up and down the valley and across to the surrounding mountains. It is a beautiful spot to admire the four seasons and has made it a popular stop-off point for writers and poets throughout the centuries who have come here to admire the scenery, benefit from the hot springs, and seek inspiration.
Explore the life and culture of Yukiguni through one of the unique local experiences available.
Guided Tour of Takahan
There are generations of history and culture on display in this historic ryokan. Takahan is probably best known for its connection with Yasunari Kawabata and his Yukiguni novel, and there are many artifacts relating to him in the Kasumi-no-ma museum, which is the room where the author penned his story. There are also works from many other famous writers and artists, carvings from an historically important local castle, and an ancient shrine to the deity of the onsen that dates back six hundred years. These and the stories around them makes for a fascinating glimpse into the history of the area.
Takahan offers classic onsen ryokan style accommodation. The family run atmosphere gives it a homely feeling, and with its years of helping weary travelers relax, it is a great place to rest and recover.
Onsen Water Straight from the Source to the Baths
The hot spring baths at Takahan are well-known for the quality of the water and many guests come back again and again to enjoy the baths. In the past the hotel offered stays of a week or two weeks for people to enjoy the health benefits of the waters and get a good break. They still have long stay plans for those that want to fully indulge in onsen relaxation. The female bath has an indoor and outdoor onsen. The male bath has an indoor onsen, a cold water pool fed by a mountain spring (that used to provide the drinking water for Takahan), and a sauna, as well as great views of the valley and the sunrise. Drinking the onsen water is also supposed to provide health benefits to the stomach, as well as being an effective cure in the case of over-indulgence in the delcious local sake.
Delicious Multi-course Dining
The health benefits of a stay at Takahan are not limited to the baths. The food also plays an important part. The ingredients are locally sourced, seasonal, and prepared in time honored fashion in the traditional Japanese ryokan kaiseki style. The presentation is immaculate and always reflects the current time of year.
The beams from the old wooden Takahan before its modernization are now used as seating in the lobby. There used to be a vast dining hall with hand-cut beams sturdy enough to support the weight of the winter snow.
The shrine to the deity of the onsen is located in the Kasumi-no-ma Museum. This small shrine is about 600 years old and was moved inside to avoid snow damage. There is a small shrine at the foot of the mountain where it used to stand (which is also the start of a hike to the top of Yuzawa Kogen with an interesting local history connection.)
The old photographs on display in the Kasumi-no-ma museum give an interesting look at the history of the area. They show the old wooden Takahan as well as views down into the valley before the area was developed.