Last week I paid a visit to Akanejuku, a traditional Japanese inn/ryokan in Gakenoyu Hot Springs located in the southern part of Matsumoto. Akanejuku sits on the side of the mountains underneath Takabocchi Highlands and overlooks the Japan Alps to the west. With the panoramic outlook of the Japan Alps and city of Shiojiri and Matsumoto below, it probably offers some of the best views you can find from a ryokan in Matsumoto! Akanejuku gets its name from the deep red color (akane in Japanese) of the sunset sky and the panoramic outlook from ryokan is painted in a beautiful rosy hue as the sunsets over the mountains. You can see this breathtaking view from the huge windows in Akanejuku’s cozy lounge and best of all, directly from the hot spring bath!
Besides the amazing scenery, the buildings of Akanejuku themselves are just as impressive. The buildings, some of them over 100 years old, are traditional examples of old-style, Meji Era architecture from around Matsumoto. For example, one distinctive characteristic of such buildings are the three-pronged roof ornaments called suzume odori or suzume odoshi that you’ll find above the entrance of Akanejuku (photo below). On the inside, Akanejuku’s rooms are furnished with traditional wooden folk art furniture and various Japanese antiques like the open hearth (“irori”) in the lobby, paintings, an intricately painted kite, and other crafts.
Of course, a trip to Akanejuku wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the hot spring! The hot spring baths are situated right on the west side of the mountain so you have a phenomenal view of the Japan Alps and the city below. The open-air bath has no walls blocking any part of the view so the sky and mountains stretch out right before your eyes. If you go at sunset, you might be able to see the scenery turn a beautiful deep red. If you go at night, you’ll have an unobstructed view of the starry sky above and sparkling city lights below. Go in the winter or early spring to get the clearest view of the Japan Alps covered in a blanket of snow.
You don’t need to be an overnight guest to enjoy the hot spring at Akanejuku. You can also stop by just for a dip in the bath, which is what I did this time. The indoor bath was constructed from stone tiles and has a lot of space. Since the indoor bath has huge windows, you can still see the panoramic view from there. The outdoor bath is smaller and is partially constructed from wood, but what I really liked about it was the temperature – it’s not as hot as the typical hot spring, so you can take extra time to soak in the water and enjoy the scenery before getting too hot and having to leave. And with the smaller space, I got to have a fun conversation with a couple of the regular visitors to the hot spring.
For day visitors at Akanejuku, the bath is available from 11 am – 7 pm (last entrance at 6 pm) on weekdays and Sunday. Be careful on Saturdays, on days before a holiday, and long holidays like O-bon and New Year’s because the bath is only open to day visitors from 11 am to 2 pm (last entrance at 1 pm). Price is 700 yen for adults.
If you stay to eat at Akanejuku, you get to enjoy a traditional-style Japanese meal with local dishes in a beautifully constructed dining hall with thick, wooden beams and darkly stained wooden folk furniture. I also liked seeing the display of all the homemade fruit liquors made at the ryokan. When you enter the dining hall, make sure you look up to see the amazing wooden beam structure of the roof!
Gakenoyu Hot Springs would be a great place to stay if you’re visiting Matsumoto or even if you’re a resident and want to spend a special day away from home. There are also hiking trails you can access from Gakenoyu Hot Springs to the top of Takabocchi Highlands. Overnight stays at Akanejuku start from 10,000 yen, or there are also options to have the full course dinner (including the hot spring) without staying overnight.
Yamashichi Ryokan and Yamajo Ryokan two other Japanese inns that are nestled in the quite forest around Gakenoyu Hot Springs. Both inns also offer indoor hot spring baths for day trippers. At Yamajo Ryokan, you’ll get a great view of the Japan Alps like at Akanejuku and enjoy easy access to the hiking trails to Takabocchi Highlands and Mt. Hachibuse, while at Yamashichi Ryokan you can also enjoy a more laid back walking trail around the inn and even pay a visit to their farm!