Wednesday, March 29, 2006
The oldest Ryokan
Just after returning from Bali, we were invited to Houshi, the oldest hotel (Ryokan or Japanese inn) in the world. Before reaching the ryokan itself, we stopped on the way to the nearby Natadera Temple.
This temple, the central temple of the local Shingon Sect, was first constructed in 717. It is one year older than the Houshi ryokan! It is nestled in a lovely grove of cedar trees in the hills south of Komatsu City.
The area was still covered with a bit of snow, but we were quite lucky to visit the place under the sun. Natadera Temple is said to have been established by the priest Taicho (who also started Awazu Onsen) when he placed the Senju Kannon (a statue of Kannon Bodhisattva, who had a thousand hands) in a stone cave. Toshitsune Maeda, the third lord of Kaga, rebuilt the magnificent temple. Natadera temple covers a large area and is made up of seven buildings, some of which are national treasures. The temple is famous for its momiji (Japanese maples) in autumn.
After visiting the temple, we went to the Houshi ryokan.
The owner of this place belongs to the family of Akiko’s mother, and I have heard about the place for quite a while — I finally got to see it.
Staying at a ryokan is usually a nice experience, but staying at this ryokan was simply incredible. Every single detail is taken care of to make sure our stay was perfect.
Tea was served upon our arrival, just after being welcomed by the owner, the 46th Zengoro Houshi. (I know my way of bowing is neither very good nor elegant, but I can’t help it, I’m only a gaijin.)
Our room was actually an apartment! A nice Japanese garden is located right outside the sliding window.
Houshi’s history spans 1,300 years and 46 generations! Our host, the 46th Zengoro Houshi and his wife, take pride not only on taking care of the oldest hotel in the world (with Guinness registration), but on the preservation of the resolve that led to Houshi's establishment so long ago. While upholding many fine traditions, they have integrated new ways of doing things to create a harmonious and seamless atmosphere. The two days spent there were one of my most memorable and best experience of Japan.
After a nice ofuro or onsen bath, we met Akiko’s parents for dinner in one of the large room. Here again, the dinner too was amazing. The food is usually an integral part of the pleasure of staying at a ryokan.
Before leaving, we got a chance to visit the special VIP room of the ryokan that is reserved to really special guests such as the Emperor family, etc.
The VIP room, or apartment, is located in the middle of the garden and is actually a different building by itself. It is composed of several rooms separated by sliding paper doors. The place, its detail and its atmosphere represent without doubt the utmost of the Japanese refinement.
From Houshi’s web site:The lives of the Zengoros
In 718, Garyo Houshi, a follower of Taicho Daishi who was to become the first Zengoro, established Houshi as a spa for helping people cure a variety of illnesses. In 990, at the time of the 10th Zengoro, the retired and pious Emperor Hanayama visited Jishuzan Genyaji Temple. He renamed the temple Natadera Temple and in subsequent years often visited Houshi to bathe. At the time of the 17th Zengoro, the Genji (Minamoto) clan and the Heike (Taira) clan began fighting for military supremacy. In 1189 Yoshitsune Minamoto and Musashibo Benkei passed Ataka no Seki. While the 27th Zengoro was running Houshi, a riot broke out. It is said that Rennyo Shonin (Saint Rennyo) disguised himself as a Houshi chef. Enshu Kobori visited Houshi and guided the creation of a garden at the time of the 33rd Zengoro. Around this time old kutani was also created. In 1640 Toshitsune Maeda, lord of Kaga, visited Houshi and a Komon cedar was planted in commemoration. At the time of the 35th Zengoro, Basho Matsuo traveled around Hokuriku and wrote the haiku Ishiyama no ishi yori shiroshi aki no kaze. In 1779, the 39th Zengoro oversaw the establishment of a code called the "21 spa rules." At the time of the 41st Zengoro, the eight most scenic spots in Awazu- Awazu hakkei-were officially designated. Taro Katsura stayed at Houshi and wrote Zengoro at Enmeikaku when the 43rd Zengoro was at the helm of Houshi. Under the guidance of the 46th Zengoro, Houshi joined Les Henokiens, an organization comprised of family companies from around the world with a history of at least 200 years. In 1994 Houshi was recognized as the oldest hotel in the world by the publishers of The Guinness Book of Records.