Photography by Wataru Nishiyama
The area around Mount Unzen near Nagasaki was one of Japan’s first designated national parks. The scent of sulfur permeates the entire mountainside, and steam wafts from more than 30 areas of active sulfur springs known as jigoku, or hells. Loftily perched more than 700 meters above sea level, this natural refuge from summer heat became a popular destination for 19th-century Western diplomats and expats in Hong Kong and Shanghai. In 1917 the Unzen Kyushu Hotel opened to cater to foreign visitors. The hotel was converted to an onsen hot-spring resort for group travelers in the 1960s. Then in 2018, after a restoration that created accommodations worthy of the world’s most discerning travelers, the property reopened as the Mt. Resort Unzen Kyushu Hotel.
The lobby reflects the resort’s history, combining European elements with traditional Japanese craftsmen’s touches such as shoji sliding doors and wooden latticework. Comfort, luxury, and convenience distinguish every guest room and villa. To provide a distinctly Japanese experience, each room has a slightly raised area with tatami flooring, where futon can be laid if desired.
The highlight of rooms in the main building is the extensive view of the steaming volcanic area, prompting guests to marvel at the power of nature from the minute they wake up in the morning. The large communal baths of the onsen resort days have been removed, and instead visitors relax in hot water from Unzen’s springs in the privacy of each guest room’s generously windowed bath. Each villa also has a rotenburo outdoor bath.
After a good soak guests can enjoy fresh air and birdsong on the guest-room terrace, or settle into the Mellow Ridge café’s outdoor seating with views of the courtyard and decorative pool. From the Roof Top Lounge the panorama is truly stunning. Both the café and lounge offer a variety of complimentary beverages.
The resort’s kitchen produces irresistible seasonal delicacies in a manner that sums up Kyushu’s rich culture, history, and industry. Meals feature plentiful local produce and seafood elegantly prepared in Western style (out of respect for the hotel founder, who served as a chef on ships plying the Shanghai route), blended with tasteful Japanese touches. Tableware speaks to the region’s rich craft heritage with examples of Hasami and Arita ceramics from neighboring Saga prefecture, and colored glassware making use of traditional patterns.
Venturing out into the Unzen area, guests might stroll the walking tracks crisscrossing the jigoku, trek the trails of Mount Unzen with its alpine vegetation, or visit a studio where Unzen ceramics are made using volcanic ash in the glaze. Here, too, you will find Japan’s oldest public golf course.
Find out more on many other choice accommodations all over Japan
in the Autumn / Winter Issue 2019.