By Peter Ellegard
I feel like a latter-day samurai as I put on the blue yukata – a leisure-wear kimono – laid out for me on my bed ready to head off for dinner.
The route from my room to the restaurant leads me through an exquisite Japanese walled garden along an open-sided corridor paved with quince wood bricks below a wooden gabled roof sheathed in traditional tiles and via public areas crowned by massive curved beams.
Yet just outside the double-glazed sliding doors of my room an automower is trundling around the manicured lawn, a reminder that where I am staying is very much a mix of the 20th century and bygone times. A letter on the bed explains that there is a fleet of these Swedish-made grass-cutting robots, fondly nicknamed ‘Shibakari-kun’ , working 24 hours a day to keep the gardens looking neat and tidy.
Created by the giant Yamaha Group over 40 years ago in the wooded mountains of western Shizuoka Prefecture and owned by it since then, the Yamaha Resort Katsuragi Kitanomaru is a throwback to Japan’s past and reminiscent of an ancient castle, the sense of peace and tranquillity it imbues a world away from the frenetic pace of life today in Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
The historic ambience is authentic. The buildings, handcrafted using traditional skills some 200 years ago, were rescued from demolition and transported from different sites in the Hokuriku region to their present location when the hotel was built.
Guests arrive through a moated nagayamon gatehouse typical of samurai residences in old Shizuoka after a winding drive lined by cherry trees pink with blossom in spring. Those without cars are picked up by free shuttle from Kakegawa Station 15km away.
Katsuragi Kitanomaru has just 49 rooms, some of them Japanese-style with screens, straw tatami mats and low furniture. My room is one of the Western-style ones, still with screens but with dark wooden furniture and other natural wood accents that give it a calming and relaxed feel.
Rooms feature flat-screen TVs, DVD players and free minibars plus tea and coffee-making facilities. As with every Japanese hotel I have stayed in, the toilet is in a separate cubicle and self-flushes as well as the lid opening and closing automatically, while an electronic control unit on the wall is equipped with a bank of buttons that allow you to select bidet mode and warm the seat among other options!
RESTAURANTS AND BAR
The restaurant is informal, for which I am grateful sitting in my yukata and slippers, and serves food made from locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients. I dine with my guide, who speaks little English, so we communicate with smiles, nods and hand gestures as we savour the delicious dishes of our five-course kaiseki tasting dinner. Sashimi, lobster and wagyu beef slip down a treat, although I turn down a wine from the extensive cellar to wash it down with a local beer.
SPA AND WELLNESS
Chill out in the resort’s three hot spring baths. There is one inside and two outdoors, one of which faces a beautiful bamboo garden. Guests can also use a mist sauna. Sadly I have no time to use any of them on my trip, as they would have been perfect after my taxing round of golf.
Katsuragi Golf Club, which is adjacent to the resort and also owned and managed by Yamaha, offers two golf courses – the championship Yamana course that I play and the more forgiving Ugari course. A courtesy shuttle runs hotel guests to the grand clubhouse and back.
Yamaha-made buggies take four golfers and their clubs plus a female caddy, who drives it but also controls it remotely as it runs along a track guided by a cable buried underneath. From personal experience, it is very unnerving if you are alone in the buggy and it suddenly takes off on its own!
Yamaha is, of course, known for its musical instruments and audio equipment, quite apart from its motorcycle heritage, so it isn’t surprising that a building in the resort is wired for sound and dedicated to aural pleasure.
Guests can reserve time to enjoy listening to the company’s latest sound systems or play instruments including a grand piano in the room, which has been optimised for acoustics.
Embracing Japan’s innate omotenashi culture, which means to welcome and unreservedly look after guests and stems from the country’s traditional sado tea ceremony, Yamaha Resort Katsuragi Kitanomaru is an intoxicating mix of the past and present where you can forget all your cares and worries in peaceful luxury.
If an Englishman’s home is his castle, this is Japan’s equivalent.
Yamaha Resort Katsuragi Kitanomaru
2505-2 Ugari, Fukuroi
Shizuoka 437-0121, Japan
T: +81 538 48 6118