"Extravagance, and the Meaning of 'Omotenashi', at a Traditional Japanese Inn, Taiya Ryokan"

"Extravagance, and the Meaning of 'Omotenashi', at a Traditional Japanese Inn, Taiya Ryokan"

Matsusaka, Mie Prefecture is so much history and tradition in the town. As Taiya is located in Matsusaka, they serve many different fine dishes featuring legendary Matsusaka beef. You can enjoy for the sukiyaki (lots of veggies and mushrooms cooked in a pan with beef). A town like Matsusaka, Mie Prefecture is the perfect place to stay in a ryokan. There is so much history and tradition in the town, with Ise only a stone’s throw away, it rounds out the experience quite nicely. As a matter of fact, there’s one in particular in Matsusaka that really stands out. It’s called Taiya.

Written by Chad Martin

-Author's Introduction
My otaku side brought me toNagoya, Japan in 2012, but I stayed for the food, countryside towns, andgorgeous mountain scenery. I was born and raised on the east coast of theUS, but I dare say I never grew up. I never shut up about Japan.

The great majority of foreign travelers that come to explore the Land of the Rising Sun hop from hostel to cheap hotel, just finding somewhere to crash before their whirlwind trip of the country moves on to the next city. Maybe even braving a capsule hotel. Not something I’d recommend, honestly. It’s certainly more economic, but tourists that do this should consider stopping and smelling the roses, or in this case, the beef.

The word “ryokan” (旅館) literally means “travel inn”. So it might sound like it should be something like a motel, but nothing could be further from the truth. Most are extravagant, stylish, and brimming with O-MO-TE-NA-SHI. Anyone remember that from the 2020 Olympics bid? No? Well, it’s Japanese for “hospitality” and that’s exactly what you should expect if you visit a ryokan.

You typically will see more ryokan outside urban areas. They are characterized by having some sort of communal socializing area for guests, hot springs or a public bath, traditional-style rooms with tatami mats and sliding doors, and perhaps most unique: serving meals in your room.

In the comfort of our own room, we dine on the finest sukiyaki I’d ever dreamed of, complete with a large bottle of Japanese beer. A welcoming home away from home after trying to cram as much sightseeing into each day as possible.

The sun’s gone down and Taiya is lit up, menu proudly displayed. Quality, home-cooked meals are a big draw for ryokan.

After unloading all of our luggage and kicking back for a moment, we got a chance to stretch out on the wide tatami floor of our room. Later, the staff would prepare futons for us to sleep on, but for now it was enough to just feel blood circulating in my feet again. We’d ordered our dinner, and I was excited about it, but I hadn’t yet realized just how memorable it would be.

The “okami” is the lady of the house. She’s in charge of all the other staff that service the rooms, prepare food, and otherwise attend the guests’ needs. We were fortunate enough to have the okami herself come to our room to prepare our meal. Her kimono and mannerisms gave her an aura of perfectionism. It certainly brought the concept of geisha to mind.

As Taiya is located in Matsusaka, they serve many different fine dishes featuring legendary Matsusaka beef. Tender, sweet beef that melts away, and can be cut with chopsticks. You could order it in a “nabe” (Japanese hot pot), “shabu shabu” (you cook the meat yourself by dipping thin slices in a boiling broth), various steak cuts, and others. Opting for the sukiyaki (lots of veggies and mushrooms cooked in a pan with beef), the ingredients started to be shuffled into the room.

The okami makes sure we understand just how special our meal will be, pointing out the gorgeous marbling on the beef. This was more than enough for two people.

The meal did not disappoint. The flavors of so many high-quality, locally produced ingredients mingled perfectly and danced around the Matsusaka beef centerpiece. The latter demanded savoring with each bite. Maybe I should have passed on having rice with it. I got full way too early and the okami could see it. “It’d be a real shame if you can’t finish this beef,” she said as she gathered the cooking implements and left us to the rest of our meal. I exchanged glances of pained over-satisfaction with my partner, and we gazed back down at the impossible task before us. “It’s gonna make her sad if we don’t finish it,” he said. Nodding in agreement, I gorged myself on the rest. It’d be terrible for my karma to throw away something so glorious. No regrets!

Taiya’s okami shows us an old depiction of Taiya’s storefront centuries ago.

When we finally left Taiya, we got another opportunity to chat with the okami, who told us a bit about the establishment. Its grand opening was around 250 years ago. To an American like me, this is an absolutely astonishing fact. Truth be told, there are hotels in Japan well over a thousand years old. But even one 250 years old guarantees that it’s a place of long-standing tradition and experience. They’re almost always kept in the same family, so each generation takes the knowledge of their ancestors and adapts it to the modern need for ryokan.

Saying goodbye was difficult, but I think I’ll have to go back again someday when I need a nice vacation from the big city. And of course, when I can’t possibly have “normal” beef again. Matsusaka beef has spoiled me!

You can get to Matsusaka Station via Kintetsu Lines from Osaka (Namba Station) or Nagoya Station. Taiya is only three blocks from the station. Be sure to make reservations in advance!

Taiya Ryokan
Address: 515-0084 Mie-ken, Matsusaka-shi, Hinocho
Telephone Number: 0598-23-1200

Tourist attractions covered by this article