Few places inspire tranquillity more than Beniya Mukayu, an exquisitely charming ryokan that is nestled away in glorious gardens on the outskirts of the ancient spa town of Yamashiro. Beniya Mukayu is set in the mountains of Yakushiyama, on the road from the revered Kyoto to the historic UNESCO World Heritage-listed villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, not far from Kanazawa.
It is an area famous for its delightful ryokans – traditional Japanese guesthouses that represent the ancient Japanese way of life and are set on or near onsen, or natural hot springs. The area has been a destination for those in search of inner peace and physical healing for over 1,300 years. A famous Zen Buddhist temple once thrived where Beniya Mukayu now stands, and the ryokan takes as its inspiration the clean, spare lines of Zen to encourage peace and serenity amongst its guests.
Part of the true ryokan experience is to indulge in the luxury of doing nothing at all. Guests set their own pace at Beniya Mukayu. It is postcard-perfect Japan, one of tea ceremonies, gurgling onsen waters, Zen-like garden, ikebana (art of flower arrangement), tatami (rice straw) mats, zataku dining tables, paper walls, local cuisine – all under one roof. This is a place of unrivalled poetic beauty, inviting guests to unwind and soak up the gorgeous natural surroundings.
Founded in 1928 and still family-run, the 16-room hotel is elegantly designed around a wild garden of red pine, cherry, maple and camellia trees. The traditional tea ceremony performed by the owner, yoga lessons every morning, the finest Kaga-style Kaiseki cuisine served on locally crafted crockery, plus invigorating medicinal spa treatments, combine to make Beniya Mukayu a peaceful heaven.
It effectively blends discreet modern sophistication with the conservative customs embedded in traditional ryokan life, all set against a backdrop of lovely peaceful views of the garden, with the town of Yamashiro in the distance.
A beautiful design that is a pure expression of the serene and graceful dignity of its peaceful surroundings
The epitome of quiet elegance and deceptively simple aesthetic, Beniya Mukayu is the perfect place to experience the tranquil power of traditional Japanese design, subtly infused with a quietly modern sensibility.
Masterminded by the famed architect Kiyoshi Sey Takeyama, in collaboration with the renowned Japanese graphic designer, curator, and board member of Japanese lifestyle brand MUJI, Kenya Hara, there is a very deep and harmonic relationship between architecture and nature. Every aspect of the design was conceived to create an effortless and graceful space.
Spare and minimalist, the hotel’s interior design is infused with spatial beauty and aesthetics. The design represents the contemplative richness of emptiness, the sophistication of reducing to the essential elements and an open, elegant and genuine simplicity.
Clean lines provide a restful restraint, as well as leading the eye toward the vast windows and beautiful views of the lush greenery and verdant foliage. The uncluttered design presents a polished interplay of light, space and airiness, balanced with a seamless, timeless architectural harmony created from a palette of fine materials and neutral colours.
The design of the visually stunning interior uses a blend of traditional materials such as bamboo, clay walls, tatami mats and washi screens, fused with cool concrete and expansive glazing. The variety of textures conveys a sense of warmth.
The Zen-like atmosphere is further enhanced by Kenya Hara’s mesmerising large-scale art installation, Tsukubai Ho-Sun – so hypnotic that one could stare at it for hours.
Stylish bedrooms inspire tranquillity with their Zen-inspired minimalist decor
Each of the 16 rooms is based on the traditional ryokan style of rooms, effortlessly integrating a clean, minimalist aesthetic. This pared-down Japanese aesthetic conjures a calm, almost meditative atmosphere where one may switch off completely and be mesmerised by the surrounding beauty and tranquil ambience.
The views from every guest room change with the seasons – from the sakura cherry blossom season and the lush shades of green in the summer months, to the bronze- and rust-coloured maple leaves in autumn, and the crisp blanket of snow that covers the ryokan in the winter months.
Each of the expansive bedrooms boasts its own private open-air hot spring bath, surrounded by either the authentic Japanese moss garden or the green forest. The spring water is said to possess restorative benefits.
There is a pillow menu to peruse: feather, memory foam or traditional Japanese buckwheat, as well as Japanese kimono robes (yukata) and the Yakushiyama herbal bath and skincare line.
With generous living spaces ranging from 60m2 to 110m2, there is a choice of Japanese-style rooms, Western-style rooms, Japanese and Western-style combination suites and signature suites (Wakamurasaki and Byakuroku).
The Japanese Premier Tatami Garden View rooms are authentically decorated Japanese rooms with tatami floors, bamboo veranda and balcony with private open-air hot spring bath and views into a peaceful Japanese garden. Optional Jacuzzi tub or hammock are available upon request.
The Western Premier Garden View rooms offer pure Western luxury with authentic Japanese moss garden views. They feature a balcony with skylights and hammock, a comfortable sofa for relaxing and private, open-air hot spring bath.
The luxurious Zen Style Executive Suites offer an authentic Japanese tatami living area and an indoor bamboo veranda with Western-style bedroom, walk-in closet and private open-air hot spring bath with views into either a traditional Japanese garden or the town of Yamashiro.
The indulgent Wakamurasaki Suite features floor-to-ceiling sliding doors with views toward the mountainside cherry and maple trees, as well as a Japanese tatami living and dining area, a bamboo veranda, Western-style bedroom and double-vanity bathroom with large walk-in shower and private open-air hot spring bath.
The luxuriously furnished Byakuroku Terrace Suite features floor-to-ceiling sliding doors that open onto an expansive outdoor terrace and miniature moss garden, as well as a Japanese tatami and bamboo living area, shoin library and relaxation space, Western-style bedroom and double-vanity bathroom with walk-in shower and private open-air hot spring bath.
Guests are encouraged to embrace the Japanese way of life, wear their comfortable yukata – which are given to everyone upon arrival – and to fully immerse themselves in the slower pace of life adopted here.
Dining is not only delicious, it is art form
The superb dining room, Kaiseki Horin, maintains the minimalist theme. Here, however, in contrast to the white interiors of the lobby, it is beautiful dark wood, black chairs and little lanterns to light the room.
With a variety of menus available according to the time of year, the exquisite cuisine at Beniya Mukayu revolves around the seasons and focuses on simple, fresh local produce from the surrounding gardens. Thanks to the hotel’s proximity to the Sea of Japan and the high calibre of the local seafood, there is a focus on fish and seafood.
In spring, one may enjoy kegani crab and sea urchins. Summer holds highlights such as Noto summer oysters. Soups with seven types of special mushrooms from the region will appear on the autumn menu. In winter, expect dishes of female snow crab, steamed Kaga lotus root soup with turnip and cod soft roe served in a hot pot. Throughout the year, the inn offers superb in-season sashimi and sushi.
Everything is presented with so much thought and care, and the exquisitely crafted cuisine that is served in a highly stylised Kaiseki manner. A traditional, intricate multi-course ritual, the lavish Kaiseki dinner with countless stunning, delicate dishes is perfectly crafted to show off Kaga cuisine and the local seasonal produce at its best. The Sommelier can choose multiple, extraordinary and never-before-tasted sakes to complement the Kaiseki dinner.
Each dish is beautifully presented on locally made Kutani porcelain or Yamanaka and Wajima lacquerware, representing a true sense of the cuisine culture in Kaga. Some of the food is prepared by the highly knowledgeable staff members right at the table, to dazzling effect.
The food is accompanied by a selection of drinks, including Japanese sake and wines, that are picked to enhance the flavours of the dinner and for full immersion into the Kaga region.
A Cooking Class Taste of Japan is offered in the hotel’s main kitchen. Guests may learn techniques used in traditional Japanese cuisine and create a handmade menu of maki sushi, miso soup and nigiri sushi. After cooking, guests will enjoy their own crafted dishes for lunch in the Horin restaurant or, in summer, on the garden terrace.
Traditional tea ceremonies
Guests are invited to join the special tea ceremony in the small tea house located in the magnificent ornamental garden, performed by the owner of Beniya Mukayu, Mr. Kazunari Nakamichi, who is also a tea master. Matcha tea is served in a traditional Japanese ceremonial fashion – a symbol of Japanese hospitality Omotenashi – the attentive yet discreet customer care for which Japan is renowned.
Fabulous spa and onsens that indulge body and mind
Another highlight of Beniya Mukayu is the fabulous spa, which offers a number of unique treatments that have been developed especially for the hotel, using products created by the owners with the help of a prominent biochemist.
Spa treatments range from shiatsu massage, aromatherapy massage and reflexology, to the Yakushiyama facial and body treatments.
The ryokan retreat is situated in the foothills of Yakushiyama, which means “Mount of the healing Buddha”. The Yakushiyama signature treatments are based on ancient herbal medicine, practised and honed by the monks of the area. The treatments use hot spring water, rich in life-invigorating minerals, and a custom blend that is personalised to the needs of each client. Curative herbs from the sacred Hakusan Mountain and individually selected medicinal herbs and plants are utilised.
The spa also includes an indoor Zen garden called entei, featuring a circular pool with a never-ending flow of spring water.
Exquisite amenities and thoughtful services
The vast yet very peaceful lobby is beautiful. Guests may access the terrace and garden from the lobby and enjoy a stroll.
The wonderful library boasts a large collection of traditional Japanese and international art, graphic and design literature.
Awaken the senses and restore the body’s natural balance with a complimentary daily morning yoga session, guided on the terrace by the ryokan’s owner. The terrace is the perfect retreat for quiet relaxation and meditation, offering views of the surrounding greenery and the perfect spot to enjoy sunsets.
Beniy Mukayu has a beautiful Japanese garden stylised to be natural: cherry blossoms in spring, full green in summer, bright and red in autumn and snow white in winter. The landscaped gardens are embellished with elegant water sculptures.
Beniy Mukayu’s own brand spa and beauty products, gorgeous yukatas (casual, light kimonos) and a selection of beautiful local ceramics and artworks are sold at the onsite boutique.
The staff at Mukayu embrace the concept of yasashi, or friendliness. This is a family business, and the staff welcome guests like family. In operation for more than 80 years, Mukayu is run by the third generation of the Nakamichi family, under the friendly, watchful eye of the Okami, or proprietor, Kazunari and Sachiko Nakamichi.
Fascinating activities, both close at hand and farther afield
Beniya Mukayu is perfectly placed in the midst of tranquillity, but a close drive to an array of wonderful cultural sites, such as the sacred Mount Hakusan, Eiheiji Temple and Hida-Takayama.
The owners of Beniya Mukayu are committed to preserving their region and ancestry whilst sharing local traditions through unique experience. They support the local economy through artisans, organic farmers and local producers. To discover the region and its origins, Beniya Mukayu offers tailored experiences that demonstrate the family spirit of the culture, such as exploring the history of Yamashiro Onsen.
The Yamashiro Onsen experience includes visits to Yakuo-in Onsenji Temple, the site upon which Mukayu stands now, and the inspiration for the hotel’s unique Yakushiyama treatments – conceived from the rich history of healing hot springs.
Guests may also visit the Yamanaka Lacquerware Artist Studio to admire the traditional technique. Yamanaka Lacquerware is created by professional artists with at least seven years of experience, and includes making the wooden base, priming, coating and lacquer painting. The wood-turning lathe technique is the main feature of Yamanaka lacquerware. Some lacquerware may take up to 10 years to complete, since it is created with such imagination and talent.
One of the inn’s experiences is the Hokyoji Temple, located in a secluded mountain region. This Soto Zen training temple was built in 1278 and is the second-oldest Soto temple in Japan. The atmospheric surroundings are very sacred, and as such, they normally do not accept outside visitors (advanced reservation is required).
Other activities include hiking one of the many rugged trails in the hills of the Ishikawa Prefecture; grape picking and MooMoo Makiba Ranch; the Kamisuki Experience, where guests may explore nature and enjoy Washi Japanese paper-making; visit to the Maruhachi Tea Factory to view the tea-making process and do a tea-tasting; and a soba noodle-making class and lunch.
Further afield, Kanazawa, a 50-minute drive from Beniya Mukayu, is a thriving historical centre and the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture.
Idyllic and convenient location
Beniya Mukayu is located in one of the most famous onsen cities in the Kaga area – Yamashiro Onsen. A 5-minute walk from the retreat, the quaint spa town of Yamashiro is 1,300 years old, and is famous for its mineral hot springs and its Kutani-yaki porcelain.
The region is best-known for its hidden mountain onsens. Here, between the shadows of Mount Hakusan and the waters of the Japan Sea, are the serene gardens and forested hills of towns such as Yamashiro and Kaga – intimate destinations that house some of Japan’s foremost luxury ryokans in Kanazawa.
The closest airport is Komatsu, 15 kilometres from the inn. Tokyo Narita International is about 600 kilometres away.
Beniya Mukayu is easily accessible by train from Kyoto and Tokyo. JR Kaga Onsen is the closest train station, seven kilometres away or about a 15-minute drive. It takes four hours by train from Tokyo.
Refinement and poetry for all senses
Striking the perfect balance between luxury, indulgence and serene immersion in a tranquil natural environment, Beniya Mukayu will treat its guests to the comforts of quiet luxury in a setting of discreet modernist elegance and fine sensibility, underscored by the age-old grace of an authentic, ancient Ryokan. With a deep sense of place, Beniya Mukayu is an unforgettable retreat where one may relax, rebalance and rejuvenate the body, mind and soul.