An inn for embracing the horizon
This lodging embraces the scenery of the watery horizon and its vicissitudes. The design is by Yoshiji Takehara. The impressive colcothar architecture with its red tiles, which are made on Shōdoshima, comprises six rooms jutting out towards the horizon. The lounge, whose design concept was inspired by architect Peter Zumthor’s chapel in Sungwitz, is structured like the bilge of a ship and has a roof that looks much like a procumbent camellia leaf. I’ve visited Zumthor’s cathedral in its small Swiss Alps village both in winter and summer, and this architecture, like an homage to a place of worship, extols the sea.
The rooms are modest, but as each one has a deck overlooking the ocean, the apertures are like picture frames outlining the seascape. Beyond the handrail camellias grow, its red blossoms blooming. Every room faces west towards the setting sun so when the weather is clear, you can step out on the deck and revel in a landscape bathed in the evening light. Mornings are quiet, with the sea and the sky revealing themselves simultaneously, while at night the ocean’s surface emerges in silver moonlight. Certainly, there is no better setting for indulging in the seascape and its metamorphoses.
Umitsubaki Hayama is managed by proprietor Hideo Itani and his family. It opened in 1991. The conception for the inn came about eight years prior, when Itani had begun helping his mother, who was managing a business combining a therapeutic hot spring resort and a traditional Japanese inn. His wife Kiyo agreed to the plan, and they decided to hire an architect. This unique lodging, making use of the terrain and the cedars and cypresses of Kumano, was immediately covered by numerous magazines, and has now drawn visitors who appreciate architecture and have an interest in lodgings with superb landscapes. Because the Kumano Kodo UNESCO pilgrimage route has begun attracting attention, Western visitors are also on the rise.
While diminutive, the Umitsubaki room, with its tokonoma (alcove for the display of art or flowers), creates a unique dynamism. An opening at the back of the wall on the right-hand side that faces the alcove invites in light from the terrace along the wall. On the left, there is no wall, but rather an isolated pillar. The combination of ambient light and the pillar creates a mysterious space that lifts the spirits of the guest appreciating the decorative objects in the tokonoma. For 20 years, the proprietress has arranged flowers for this space.
Because this onsen is a cold mineral spring, it’s limited in scope. However, a large onsen would not fit this inn, whose grand offering is the horizon. The bath is the same; while soaking in the heated water, you’re face to face with the horizon over the sea. Throwing the windows wide open, you can directly experience, on your very self, the changes of the sea. The baths are each genuinely named for their scenery; the men’s bath is Araiso no yu [Windswept bath], while the women’s is called Rakujitsu no yu [Sunset bath]. The cuisine features food sourced from a port on the southern tip of Japan’s main island and is prepared in the style of Tsujicho by the proprietor, who studied at the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka. For guests who make a request in advance, he may prepare a special, unexpected seafood menu.