Sakaya Ryokan in Nozawa

Arriving At Ryokan Sakaya

When we finally arrived at Sakaya, the sun had already set but the lobby was warmly illuminated and welcoming. We met with the owner of the inn and he helped us settle in.

Our room was stunning and the largest room we’ve ever had in Japan. It was practically a medium sized apartment. It was definitely larger than some of the apartments Kevin and I lived in back in the States.

When you enter the room, there’s a small area to take off and store your shoes. Step up onto the tatami mat and you’ll find lovely wet bar with a refrigerator, sink, drink ware and pitcher of filtered water.

Off to the side, opposite of the living and sleeping area, there is a bathroom area. It has a completely separate toilet, vanity and showering areas. The shower room is a standard Japanese shower and tub combo.

Back in the living quarters, there’s an extra large room for lounging. It’s complete with a low table, chairs that sit directly on the floor, tea ware, green teas and some local snacks. Each day the snacks changed. We we particularly found of the apple crisps.

The other side of the lounge area was lined with several more chairs and another table. There was a flat screen tv mounted on the main wall and a sunken seating area with yet another table.

To top it all off, there was another room that could be completely sectioned off from the rest of the space. It was a simple tatami room with a large closet that stored the futons and linens.

Visiting Ryokan Sakaya In Nozawa Onsen, Japan | Motherfern.com

Journey To Nozawa Onsen

We had the pleasure of partnering with Ryokan Sakaya, a beautiful traditional inn that has been in business for 18 generations.

Nozawa is located in Nagano prefecture in Japan. It’s not the easiest place to get to. If we were to have taken the train, it would have been a series of train transfers, followed by a local bus that may or may not be in service, so we decided to rent a car and drive from Kyoto.

According to Google Maps, the journey should have only taken us a little under 6 hours. We thought if we left in the middle of the night, we have time to make a short detour to Shirakawa-go and still make it to the ryokan by early or mid-morning.

We were wrong. 

So wrong.

We ended up traveling for over 13 hours that day. We always seem to under estimate just how many times we need to stop, how long each stop will take and how much a toddler doesn’t like sitting restrained for long periods of time.

Just in case you are thinking about driving from Kyoto to Nozawa Onsen, the tolls each way ended up being around $150 USD.

Visiting Ryokan Sakaya In Nozawa Onsen, Japan | Motherfern.com
Visiting Ryokan Sakaya In Nozawa Onsen, Japan | Motherfern.com

Arriving At Ryokan Sakaya

When we finally arrived at Sakaya, the sun had already set but the lobby was warmly illuminated and welcoming. We met with the owner of the inn and he helped us settle in.

Our room was stunning and the largest room we’ve ever had in Japan. It was practically a medium sized apartment. It was definitely larger than some of the apartments Kevin and I lived in back in the States.

When you enter the room, there’s a small area to take off and store your shoes. Step up onto the tatami mat and you’ll find lovely wet bar with a refrigerator, sink, drink ware and pitcher of filtered water.

Off to the side, opposite of the living and sleeping area, there is a bathroom area. It has a completely separate toilet, vanity and showering areas. The shower room is a standard Japanese shower and tub combo.

Back in the living quarters, there’s an extra large room for lounging. It’s complete with a low table, chairs that sit directly on the floor, tea ware, green teas and some local snacks. Each day the snacks changed. We we particularly found of the apple crisps.

The other side of the lounge area was lined with several more chairs and another table. There was a flat screen tv mounted on the main wall and a sunken seating area with yet another table.

To top it all off, there was another room that could be completely sectioned off from the rest of the space. It was a simple tatami room with a large closet that stored the futons and linens.

Visiting Ryokan Sakaya In Nozawa Onsen, Japan | Motherfern.com

Dinner At Ryokan Sakaya

The hotel employee that helped us with our luggage noticed that we were all way too tall for the provided yukatas. So she took our measurements and went off to find us yukatas that would fit properly. When she returned, we quickly changed and scurried downstairs to the dining area.

For the entire stay, our meals were served in our own private dining room. We are still undecided over wether the meals or onsen at Sakaya is the star of the show. They were both such spectacular experiences.

When we walked into our dining room, each one of us gasped. We were completely unprepared for how extravagant our dining experience was going to be. Nearly 100 tiny dishes we strategically placed on the table. Brilliantly colored seasonal vegetables and local specialties blessed each dish. Kevin and I counted over 30 individual dishes for each of our meals. Milo’s meal was somehow even more luxurious, complete with a giant fried shrimp.

I chased our toddler around the private dining room, strapped him into his highchair and we tried to develop a plan to tackle this feast. We ate course after course of meticulously prepared delicacies and when we finally thought we were done, they came out with another course! We spent over 2 hours of what felt like non-stop eating.

It’s was like a dream.

Back In The Room

When we returned to the room, three futons were neatly laid out on the floor and fitted with the softest linens I had felt in I don’t even know how long.

Milo leaped onto the futons like they were a pile of leaves, giggled and then got super fussy because he knew he couldn’t actually sleep there.

He’s still in a crib, so we wisked him off to get ready for sleep and put him to bed. Once the babe was asleep, Kevin and I collapsed on the futons and rolled around like puppies.

And then dessert came!

We still aren’t exactly sure what dessert actually was, some sort of subtly sweet gooey pudding and maybe mochi.

But it was small, came with tea and was the perfect little treat after such an indulgent meal.

The Onsen

Sakaya has three onsens on site. A ladies only onsen, an onsen just for men and a private onsen meant for families to enjoy together. After dessert I ran off to the lady’s onsen before it closed for the evening.

I was surprised to see that I had the entire bathhouse to myself.

There’s a large dressing area, lined with cubbies for your belongings on one wall and vanities with cosmetics and blowdryers along the far wall. As customary with any onsen, when you walk into the bathing area you are supposed to shower first. Don’t forget to bring your wash clothe that was provided in your room if you are staying at a ryokan.

There were several undivided shower areas along the far wall. Each area contains a mirror, wooden bench, wooden bucket, body wash, shampoo and conditioner. After washing up you are free to enjoy the hot springs.

Sakaya had 2 hot spring areas inside. One was closer to the water source, deeper and significantly hotter than the other. The second area was a bit shallower but a more manageable temperature. Outside there is another hot spring, this one was my favorite.

I had the chance to relax in the cool autumn air and do a bit of stargazing. After I tested each other the hot springs, I stepped into the sauna and repeated the whole process over again.

It was a wonderfully warming and relaxing experience, something I don’t often find the time for since becoming a mama.

Once my onsen ritual was complete, I went back out to the changing room, dried off and put on my yukata.

Kevin was patiently waiting back in the room and I was time for he to relieve him of babysitting duty so he could experience the wonders of the onsen.

SAKAYA Ryokan in Nozawa Onsen
Visiting Ryokan Sakaya In Nozawa Onsen, Japan | Motherfern.com
Visiting Ryokan Sakaya In Nozawa Onsen, Japan | Motherfern.com

Breakfast At Ryokan Sakaya

We woke in the morning and we truly sad to leave the comfiness of our futons. Somehow we managed to put on our yukatas and stroll down to the lobby for coffee before breakfast. Each day Ryokan Sakaya has a small coffee and tea station open during morning hours for guests to enjoy at their leisure. Milo made his way back to the toy corner and was thrilled to sit playing with toys and watching the koi fish, while Kevin and I took a few photos and relaxed a bit.

When it was time for breakfast, we were led back to the same private dining room. Breakfast was a traditional, simple and surprisingly filling. It consisted of grilled fish, several types of pickles, fruit, nori, tofu, miso soup and rice. It was such a treat. I could eat traditional Japanese breakfast everyday, but there are very few places in Kyoto that still serve it.

Nozawa Onsen
Nozawa Onsen

Exploring Nozawa Onsen

After breakfast we set out to explore the town. Nozawa is built over countless natural hot springs. They’ve built many creative and attractive draining systems and flower lined gutters throughout the town, undeniably adding to the charm and creating a beautiful rushing water sound everywhere you turn. Nozawa also has 13 public onsens scattered throughout the city. They are intended for locals to use but guest are allowed to visit each one of them. On the same block as Sakaya, the most famous onsen sits. It is an impressive display of traditional architecture.

The center of town is lined with little eateries, gift shops full of local treats, a tiny liquor store and a few scatter foot baths. If you walk up hill from the center of town, you will find stunning mountain views, as well as a complex of temples and shrines. We spent a leisurely afternoon wandering around the area before making our way down to the other side of town and finding a famous hot spring that locals cook their food in, mostly cooked here are the famous onsen eggs and local vegetables.

The hot spring sits directly across from Sakaya’s sister ryokan and is a stunning display of preserved history. Several little shops line that path leading away from the onsen egg hot spring and before you know it you are greeted by yet another foot bath. We relaxed at the foot bath for a few moments to watch the setting sun, while Milo splashed around at our feet.

After our little soak, we scurried back to Sakaya and made it just in time for dinner. They served an entirely different spread and it was just as magical as the night before.

After another evening of indulgent eating, we made our way to the family onsen to relax even more. The temperature of the onsen was too hot for Kevin and Milo, so they went off to the men’s onsen and left me to enjoy the quiet.

Nozawa Onsen Foot Bath
Foot Bath At Nozawa Onsen