“Mukaitaki” is a ryokan (a Japanese inn) that has been loved since the Edo period, where it was a designated hot springs inn of the Aizu Han (a feudal domain part of the modern western Fukushima prefecture). Although even members of the imperial family have been known to stay there, it does not have a very formal atmosphere. During the winter season, its biggest event is the “Yukimi Candles” (snow-viewing candles), where 80 candles are lit every night in the snow-covered gardens of the inn, providing every guest with a nice warm feeling. You can also take a nice long bath in their overflowing hot spring, which was used by the Aizu Han as a place of rest and relaxation. This time we’ll be introducing a blissful inn where you can enjoy the Japanese winter with all five senses.
The beautiful architecture of the Japan’s first tangible cultural property inn, Mukaitaki
The historic onsen ryokan (hot springs inn) “Mukaitaki,” located at the Aizu Higashiyama Onsen in Fukushima Prefecture, has been known as the Aizu Domain’s designated place for rest and relaxation since the Meiji Era. It is famous for preserving its own natural spring, the “Kitsune Bath.” Its current wooden construction was put in place during the early Showa period, and it is this construction, registered as one of Japan’s Tangible Cultural Properties, that truly showcases how it powerfully preserves its history in the snow. Although “Mukaitaki” has a history of housing important guests such as members of the imperial family and international summit attendees, with its 24 unique rooms of all different sizes, it is not too big and quite comfortable for guests. Due to its intricate design, it is unlikely for guests to run into each other outside of their rooms, and from the long Japanese-style corridor between the guestrooms and the hot springs you can view the Yukimi Candles in the courtyard in peace.
At Mukaitaki, you can experience a quiet winter moment only found in snowy Aizu, Fukushima.
The quiet light straight out of a dream, the Yukimi candles in the courtyard
Throughout the year, you can see the beautiful scenery of the four seasons at Mukaitaki, but the nightly “Yukimi Candles” in the winter courtyard is a fantastic snowy experience exclusive to this inn. Starting before sundown, the people of Mukaitaki spend hours arranging the snow in the courtyard and lighting the candles one by one. The soft glow from the candles that slowly fills the courtyard at nightfall delivers a feeling pure as white snow to anyone who sees it. The approximately 80 “Yukimi Candles” that are placed on the inclined courtyard from top to bottom gives a beautiful sight in combination with the moon from the guestroom windows, while providing a fantastic sight to those in the corridors of their glow reflected on the white snow. Depending on the angle, you can get two separate views of the candles each with a completely different feel.
Every year the “Yukimi Candles” are lit from late December until around March, and this season will have them from December 21st 2013 until March 1st 2014. Weather permitting, they will be lit every night for a few hours after sundown, so why not stay in a courtyard-facing room to get both the fantastic view from the window and the majestic view from the corridor?
Naturally flowing hot springs! Get nice and warm in the bath at Mukaitaki!
Originally used as an escape for the upper class Samurai of the Aizu Han, the hot spring at Mukaitaki was inherited from the feudal domain and still overflows with its natural soothing hot water, carefully preserved until today.
The number of bathes they have is also impressive!
The hot “Kitsune Yu” springs naturally from the ground and fills the bath without the help of any machinery.
“Nurumeno Saruno Yu” has large windows that let in the outside air, giving it the feel of an outdoor bath.
There also are three private baths available to rent, allowing you to take a nice relaxing bath in private.
None of these baths require any reservation, and are available 24 hours a day. The clear, colorless, 100% natural fresh bathwater is smooth enough to stick to your skin, providing you with lasting warmth.
A rare “flower” found in the bath
Near the spring of “Kitsune Yu,” the sodium calcium found in the water becomes crystalized to form “Yu no Hana,” or “bath flowers.”
Even if you’re not a fan of hot baths, these are very rare crystals of a designated heritage bath, so they are worth a visit.
Each bath has maintained its original appearance, including a beautiful, hexagonal white granite tub, a sink with a history made from hollowed out marble that cannot be replicated today, and on the ceilings, sculptures based on the names of the baths.
The sculptures on the ceilings are carved out of Japanese vermiculate, which is a stone that has the characteristic of absorbing moisture from the steam of the baths and preventing water from dripping back down.
The consideration for the people in the baths that went into their design, as well as the many historic sights, will surely wow you.
Locally produced and locally consumed, the winter Aizu cuisine
“Mukaitaki” has also appeared in the media as an inn with delicious food. Throughout the four seasons, the locally produced, locally consumed food certainly does not make any flashy local cuisine, but what it does have to offer is its gentle flavor that does not include any chemical flavorings.
During this season they have their winter menu, starting with the Mukaitaki-exclusive sake “Bishukako” and its sweet sake, a herring pickled in Japanese pepper famous as a preservative food of the Aizu winter, and “Kozuyu,” vegetables such as carrots and maidenhair in a clam soup, which is often found at celebratory meals in Aizu. The local cuisine will make you feel the warmth of this snowy land.
Hideyo Noguchi, the famed Japanese bacteriologist who once stayed here, was so moved by the taste of the pure rice sake “Bishukako,” that the label includes his handwriting and signature to this day. This delicious sake to accompany the many dishes available is especially exquisite with Aizu’s own “Sweet Simmered Carp,” which has been around since the Edo period. In the mountainous Aizu, carp was regarded as a valuable source of protein, and is said to have been a feast for the feudal lords; Mukaitaki is known for this traditional dish. It comes in a big bowl, but if you can’t finish it all they will vacuum pack it for you to bring home, so don’t hesitate to ask them for it “to go.”
Enjoy winter to its fullest at Aizu, Fukushima’s famed inn “Mukaitaki”
The fantastic sight of the candles in the snow, the natural springs that overflow from their baths, and the local cuisine of Aizu are all only available at Mukaitaki. The best way to get there would be by train, with its nearest station being Aizu Wakamatsu Station. From the windows of the train, you can see the snow-covered Mt. Aizu Bandai!
You can also travel by car, but the area gets a lot of snow, so be sure to check for any weather warnings.
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