Name in Japanese: 彦根キャッスル リゾート＆スパ
Pronunciation: hikone kyassuru rizōto ando supa
Hikone Castle Resort & Spa occupies a corner next to the middle moat of Hikone Castle, across the road from Gokoku Shrine. This luxurious hotel overlooks the main gate of the castle, with its lovely approach lined with mature pine trees. The main tower of the castle is clearly visible. In April, the cherry trees atop the walls across the moat blossom in an explosion of pink, followed by the fresh green of early spring and summer, and later, the autumn colours. In the days when the feudal lords of Hikone were required by the Tokugawa Shogunate to spend time in Edo, it’s said that they only began to feel at home when they reached the gate that can be seen from the hotel. So in that sense, when you stay at the Hikone Castle Resort & Spa, you can feel like the lord of Hikone.
I visited the hotel to talk to owner Ichien Taisei and to have dinner. I’m curious about the ‘resort’ part of the hotel’s name.
“When we decided the name, we had a lot of discussion and angst about that part. In other countries, resorts have golf courses and gyms and so on, but there’s no space for that here. But we wanted to make Hikone our ‘resort’. In addition to bathing and dining, guests can stroll out and walk around the castle, and enjoy the natural environment of this area.”
The hotel was built in 1997 and underwent a major renovation six years ago. In keeping with the ‘spa’ part of the name, there are large, public baths with an impressive view of the castle, and four rooms with an ensuite tub have the same view.
“These rooms are very popular with holiday guests. It’s nice to feel like a lord from time to time”.
The water used in the baths has minerals added to give it the feel of a genuine onsen. To ensure the safety of guests, the number of people entering the big baths at any time is currently restricted.
I wanted to know how many foreign nationals use the hotel.
“It’s about the same percentage as people who visit the castle – about seven percent of visitors are from overseas.”
“Do you have any staff who speak English?”
“Yes, we have staff in the lobby and restaurant who speak English.”
“How do you train these staff.”
“We don’t. They come to us on their own initiative because they want to use their language skills in their work life, and they know that they’ll have that opportunity here.”
“What’s your impression of how foreign guests spend their time here.”
“I think many of our guests use the hotel as a base for day trips to Kyōto, Kanazawa and other regional cities. I have the impression that foreign visitors don’t tend to spend much time in their rooms. Rather than staying sequestered in private, they like to come to the public areas and talk to the other guests and staff.”
Indeed, the hotel has many inviting lounges on several levels, some inside and some outside. Large sliding windows that can be opened and closed according to the season and time of day blur the boundary between indoors and out. Flaming braziers grace the second-floor balcony terrace, framing the scene across the moat.
I’m scheduled to have dinner with Ichien-san, and I’m looking forward to it.
“Do you have a particular concept or philosophy for the food you serve?”
“Yes. Until fairly recently, there wasn’t really any thought given to local production for local consumption in Shiga. Initially we travelled all over Japan to find ingredients, but then we began to think about sourcing foodstuffs in Ōmi. So we began to contract with local farmers for the ingredients we wanted. Now this kind of agricultural management is an integral part of our business.”
“I suppose once you start down that path, there’s no end to it.”
“That’s right. Actually, we opened a bread shop yesterday, with a particular emphasis on local honey. We found a producer in Otsu who makes a very aromatic honey.”
Now it’s time for dinner and we go downstairs to the restaurant, Kisshō. There are tables in an open area, and in private rooms. There’s also a terrace area for when the weather’s nice.
Sake is very much a part of luxury dining, and Ichien-san recommends the flight of six varieties. These come labelled with name, type, and rice variety. The starter arrives in lacquered boxes, and chef Adachi Takuya expounds briefly on what everything is. The waiter kindly explains which sake goes best with each of the many dainty morsels. It’s immediately clear that the waiter is himself a sake enthusiast. The meal unfolds at a relaxed pace. Several of the dishes are cooked there in the room by Adachi-san. He’s a something or other Michelin. The starter includes funazushi, a delicacy of Ōmi, and Adachi-san also uses the umami-rich rice portion of the funazushi to provide a cheesy zing in other dishes, such as the grilled Ise lobster, and even the dessert. Another ingredient that plays a varied and creative role is the red turnip unique to the region, which appears as an accent throughout the meal.
With the excellent regional sake, and the unique vegetables and preserved foods that make up this gorgeous meal, it’s clear that Hikone Castle Resort & Spa is approaching their ideal of local production for local consumption.
place 1-8, Sawachō, Hikone, Shiga Prefecture
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