9 Days of Rustic Kyushu: Ryokan Yoyokaku

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Given that I've visited Japan quite a few times, I have stayed in several ryokans and had wonderful experiences in several. However, today's featured ryokan ranks as one of my absolute favourite. As it is, I have already decided that should I ever visit Kyushu again (well, I definitely will, just more like a when), I'll definitely book myself another stay in this amazing place.
Ryokan Yoyokaku (洋々閣)
Ryokan Yoyokaku is a traditional family-run Japanese ryokan (inn-like type) nestled in quiet Karatsu. The Japanese-styled wooden buildings date back to at least 100 years. Despite it's age and the beautiful traditional facade, the ryokan offers a wonderful blend of modern creature comforts with warm Japanese hospitality.
Day 1: Fukuoka Airport --> Kawachi Fuji Garden --> Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine --> Karatsu Castle --> Ryokan Yoyokaku (洋々閣)
By the time we arrived at Ryokan Yoyokaku, it had begun drizzling again and we were extremely exhausted. It was fortunate that the ryokan was situated close to the Karatsu Castle and the Nijino Matsubara (apparently one can walk to either attraction from the ryokan), and hence we did not need to travel long to get to the ryokan.
Almost every single English review I read on Trip Advisor about Ryokan Yoyokaku spoke of their wonderful Japanese hospitality, and within minutes of arrival, we experienced first-hand how thoughtful they were. Efficient too.

When we arrived, we were greeted with warmly and the staff already had our indoor slippers ready. We were also shown where to leave our footwear. As  our luggage had rolled through the wet (and sometimes muddy) roads on this rainy day, the staff were very quick to produce cloths to wipe down our luggage. While this probably served a practical function to save them from a later clean-up (and saves their tatami mats and wooden floors), we were appreciative too as it meant we didn't have to deal with the dirty luggage ourselves.

While our driver went to help us check in, the ryokan's owners spoke briefly with us. I guess our exhaustion must have been apparent as they asked about us. When they found out that we were on a red-eyed flight and had little sleep, they immediately offered to lay out our futons so that we could have a bit of rest before dinner. My parents and I declined their kind offer and expressed that we would like to have dinner first instead as we were famished as well.

The owners and staff also observed that my mom seemed to have some leg problems. We were also asked if we would like a table-and-chair setting or the traditional Japanese-sit-on the-floor setting for our meals. Needless to say, my mom was extremely grateful to have a table-and-chair setting as she would otherwise have trouble getting up from the floor with her knee problems. All very thoughtful.
Once check-in was completed, we were shown to our rooms. Even in my tired state and in the darkening evening light, I was already impressed by the lovely grounds of the ryokan. Pictures coming later in the post.

By the way, while the owners spoke perfect English, the rest of the staff did not. Nevertheless, we had quite a bit of fun communicating with the lady who served us using all sorts of sign language. Even with the language barrier, she took really good care of us during our short stay. My parents really adored her and to date, they speak very fondly of this ryokan stay. Unfortunately, we forgot to ask for her name even though we got a picture with her.
The minute we were shown our room, she sat us down and made hot tea for us. She also insisted that we have the crackers offered as she indicated awareness that we were hungry. We were also able to understand that dinner was still at least 15 minutes away and she would come and get us when it was ready.

My pictures probably don't exactly show it, but we were given a pretty huge family room. My parents and I have had experiences where we were given cramped rooms in ryokans, the kind where our futons were packed side by side and still kissing the walls of the room. Hence we were very grateful that we had the huge space.
The sitting area could also open up to the pine gardens beyond. While we were too tired to explore, we definitely enjoyed the lovely view while waiting for dinner. The rooms were also very clean.
By the way, when you stay in a traditional Japanese styled room with tatami mats, please try not to roll your luggage over the mats. This is particularly so if the ryokan is especially traditional. Rolling your heavy luggage over the tatami mats can leave marks in them and ruin the mats. Some of the really good tatami mats are pretty expensive as well.

Soon, we were ushered to the dining room which overlooked the fantastic garden. Apparently, the only pictures I took of the dining room were with my parents in it, so here's one (picture below) of my dad enjoying a "conversation" with the lady who served us.
My mom and I were instead extremely taken with the menu. That's the white piece of paper in the picture above and while it does not seem like much, the calligraphy is wonderful! That's what captivated me enough to want to bring it home with me.
I've also brought home a pictorial brochure of the ryokan as a memoir.

Dinner was a traditional kaiseki affair using local ingredients. In fact, there were several ingredients that even my mom as a great cook and me as a foodie could not recognise.
Despite that, food was another highlight of this ryokan stay. Perhaps we were famished, but dinner was absolutely delicious! Even my mom who is a fussy eater devoured almost everything (she doesn't take raw fish so the sashimi plate came to me). We had a good time unfolding the exquisite presentations and discovering new tastes. Dinner was really a wonderful experience of sight, smell and taste!

Once we were done, we immediately retired to our rooms. While we were having our dinner, the staff had used the time to lay out our futons. As I had asked for a room with an attached bathroom, cleaning up was a convenient affair. In some ryokans, rooms do not come with an attached bathroom or guests need to state in their booking that they would prefer an attached bathroom. If you're particular about that, please ensure that you enquire before making your bookings with Japanese ryokans.

Given our exhaustion, my parents and I were quickly asleep on the comfortable futons. My mom was extremely impressed by the state of cleanliness of the rooms, including the futons. And that's high praise coming from the Queen of Cleaning herself! The air-conditioning in the room was also great! Unlike in some other Japanese hotels/ryokans, we didn't wake up in the middle of the night, kicking the duvets off us.

Needless to say, we were up the next morning feeling extremely refreshed. I even had some time to head to the onsen for a soak. Unfortunately, I couldn't grab pictures of the onsen. It was a small area but cozy and had all the required amenities.

Once I was done, we headed back to the dining room for our breakfast. This time round, while it was still cloudy, I had enough morning light (actually more like I was no longer tired) to snap a shot of our dining room view (picture above).

We were served dishes together with a barley-like gruel for breakfast, see picture below. Again, the food was so good, we finished everything that was presented to us even though we were not used to having such a sumptuous breakfast. I now regret not going for a second helping of the tofu and the porridge-gruel.

In fact, my mom was so taken with the barley-like gruel, she had me go find out from the kitchen/owner where to get the grain! I've got to admit, the porridge was good, I didn't mind helping her ask either.

In the end, the owner sold us a packet of the barley when she realised how much we liked it! In my photo below, that's the pink packet on the right. It also got my mom so inspired that during the 9 days in Kyushu, she was always on the lookout for other grains. That's how we ended up with the middle 2 packets and a bag of sesame seeds (first packet on the left).


Mom just cooked lunch yesterday using the packet of grains we bought from the ryokan. Yummy and healthy!

When I was done with breakfast, I went around to explore the gardens. The entire ryokan is built around a lovely garden  with koi ponds. Hallways, sitting and waiting areas were done in glass to offer guests lovely views of the garden as one walked along. Everything felt surreal, it was so peaceful and beautiful!

Should you, like me, have the urge to explore the gardens, outdoor slippers were also already placed along strategic spots near the garden exits. I understand that there were some pine trees that were even older than the ryokan itself!

Unfortunately, I had spent so much time outside in the gardens, there was little time left for me to explore the ryokan itself. By the time I found out that there were pottery showrooms, I had to rush back to get ready to leave.

Apparently, Ryokan Yoyokaku is also famous for its pottery showrooms! When I'm back, I'm definitely going to pay more attention to their pottery showrooms!

It was all too soon that we had to depart to a fanfare of goodbyes. Ryokan Yoyokaku was definitely one of the highlights of this trip and I highly recommend the ryokan to anyone wishing to visit Karatsu or to experience warm, Japanese hospitality. They make you feel right at home.

Tourist Information

Ryokan Yoyokaku
Website: http://www.yoyokaku.com/
Address: 2-4-40 Higashikaratsu, Karatsu 847-0017, Saga Prefecture
Local Address: 〒847-0017東唐津2-4-40
DID: 0955-72-7181
Fax: 0955-73-0604
Email: info@yoyokaku.com

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