Written by Chad Martin
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Address: 515-0084 Mie-ken, Matsusaka-shi, Hinocho
Telephone Number: 0598-23-1200