Simple hospitality, serene atmosphere
This hot spring inn seems to have become one with the climate and natural features of Noto. The simplicity of the space is almost blunt, but the scrupulous attention to detail is palpable even in every nook and corner. The service is not the kind that pampers guests; in its place, the hospitality emerges in the cuisine, which is prepared not by a trained chef but by the family who operates the lodging. In the pruning of excessive decoration, there exists the dignity and serene atmosphere of a Zen temple; the resolute atmosphere is maintained by regular customers who prefer this sort of environment.
Sakamoto is located in Suzu City, on the tip of the Noto Peninsula. The proprietor, Shinichiro Sakamoto, says we should act with integrity to create an environment that embraces its distinctive qualities, those that have arisen from its geography and history. Noto, which once bustled with the business of the kitamaebune, merchant ships that sailed the Sea of Japan during the Edo period, is now one of the least accessible places in Japan. And for that reason, it has surely remained a quintessential Japanese landscape, the likes of which are gradually being lost to people today. Sakamoto believes it is vital for us to make a living while safeguarding and preserving such a place, where a traditional lifestyle is wholeheartedly embraced.
Sakamoto’s father, who had taken over the business of a hot spring health resort from its proprietor, died at a young age. In 1974, Sakamoto decided to accept the inheritance of the inn. He was just 20 years old. By renovating various parts of the facility, he has created what today is known as Sakamoto. About ten years after inheriting, Sakamoto gained an architect husband-and-wife team as regular customers. Every time they visited, they were unrelenting in pointing out the facility’s weaknesses, from the arrangement of the futons to the way cleaning was done, from the combination of the colors of the lacquer tableware to hints for preparing meals using local ingredients.
One of the dishes we were served was takenoko, or bamboo shoots. A steaming hot dish was brought to the table, takenoko in a heavy goroku bowl (locally produced lacquered tableware) from which wafted the aroma of Japanese pepper. When complimented on the generous helping, the outstanding flavor and texture, the owner told us that this, too, was the result of the direction of the visiting architects. It seems that the advice was not to put on airs, but rather offer country cooking, through which the sophisticated flavors of the ingredients would necessarily shine. Their advice was taken, to good effect. The bamboo shoots that were served were from the grove in the rear garden. They were simmered twice, in batches of dried bonito and fresh kelp broth.
The striking dishes included deep fried Japanese glass shrimp, low-heat smoked sayori (Japanese halfbeak), and wakame seaweed freshly harvested in early spring. Served with sea bream flavored with mitsuba and karashimiso (Japanese honeywort and mustard/miso) was the slightly red-fleshed striped beakfish sashimi. Following the aforementioned bamboo shoots was a type of black rockfish called hatsume, flame broiled. Also offered was a rich assortment of alcoholic beverages. Even the spring water of this area is remarkably delicious. Every detail of the bedding suits this lodging, from the thickness and firmness of the bottom futon to the texture of the sheets. After enjoying the food, I indulged myself in a luxurious sleep. My consciousness completely faded, descending deep into the shade of the Noto night.