Experience Staying at a Countryside Japanese Ryokan in Obama, Japan

Experience Staying at a Countryside Japanese Ryokan in Obama, Japan
Experience Staying at a Countryside Japanese Ryokan in Obama, Japan

This was a sponsored stay in partnership with Stay Japan and Matsunaga Rokkan Ryokan.

Located at the bottom of Fukui Prefecture is a small little town known not only for fresh fish and crystal-clear waters, but also for its name and connection to a beloved public figure. The town of Obama, in Fukui Prefecture, is a mixture of Kansai and Wakasa charm that distinguishes it from the rest of the Hokuriku Region. It may not be high on anyone’s travel list, but the small-town charm and love for quiet comforts will make anyone feel right at home.

Getting to Obama

Obama, not named after the former U.S. President Barack Obama (the town came first), is a small town located in the southernmost region of Fukui Prefecture, known as the Wakasa region. It is a beautiful region of expansive green cedar forests, sweeping mountains that produce clean mountain water, fresh air, and a slower way of life.

From Tokyo Station, take the shinkansen or bullet train through Maibara to Tsuruga Station. At Tsuruga Station, switch to one of the local trains that run about every hour or two and get off at Shin-Hirano Station. The local trains in Fukui are small, only two cars on average, so you may need to pay the attendant and get off at the front of the train. If there’s no attendant, then you must pay with exact change–on your honor, of course! 

Once you step off the train and onto the empty platform of Shin-Hirano Station, you’ll know you’re definitely not in Tokyo anymore! Welcome to your first step to unplugging and relaxing. 

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Traditional Ryokan Stay

Traditional Japanese Inn Matsunaga Rokkan Ryokan
Traditional Japanese Inn Matsunaga Rokkan Ryokan

Matsunaga Rokkan Ryokan

Matsunaga Rokkan Ryokan (松永六感 藤屋) is a small, renovated traditional Japanese inn located in the heart of Wakasa. It offers a mixture of quiet relaxation and wellness with its small size, quiet location and artistically arranged meals fit for a monk.

The ryokan is a beautifully built structure that mixes traditional Japanese textures such as wood and bamboo with natural stone elements. When you first walk into Matsunaga, slip off your shoes at the genkan (entryway) and slide into a pair of soft slippers, you’re transported into ultimate natural relaxation. Natural wood tones, earthy colors and deep reds greet you at the door along with an iron fireplace roaring quietly in the corner. 

At Matsunaga Rokkan, there are only five spacious guest rooms, a small dining room, and two gendered onsen baths making for a very intimate experience. Each room is designed in the traditional Japanese ryokan style with tatami or bamboo flooring, shoji or paper sliding doors, and futons.

Inside a room of Matsunaga Rokkan Ryokan
Inside a room of Matsunaga Rokkan Ryokan
Inside a room of Matsunaga Rokkan Ryokan

When I walked into my room on the second floor, not only did it have a private bathroom, but the Yamayuri room also had two sitting areas, large windows that let in streams of sunlight, and a colorful haori (kimono coat) hanging in the corner. From the windows, you could see the  surrounding mountains and dense forests with no neighbors on either side. There’s only one road that passes by the ryokan, but at night the area is quiet as there is little to no traffic. It is a truly relaxing experience. However, other than the spacious room and surprisingly plush and comfortable futon, the next best part of Matsunaga Rokkan is the 8-course vegetarian dinner.

Garden at Matsunaga Rokkan Ryokan
Garden at Matsunaga Rokkan Ryokan

Tip

Before heading off to dinner, take advantage of the library of Japanese books to the left of the entryway or indulge in complimentary tea, coffee and cookies in front of the cast iron kettle-warmer. While you’re at it, take a tour of the ryokan’s greenhouse and garden across the street and have your natural senses awakened.

8 Course Menu at Matsunaga Rokkan Ryokan
8 Course Meal at Matsunaga Rokkan Ryokan
Matsunaga Rokkan 8 Course Meal: Breaded Tofu
Matsunaga Rokkan 8 Course Meal: Miso Udon
Matsunaga Rokkan 8 Course Meal: Braised Tofu
Matsunaga Rokkan 8 Course Meal: Wagashi
Matsunaga Rokkan 8 Course Meal: Wagashi

Each course is served one-at-a-time so that you can really savor the flavors of the meal and use all six senses. Each dish is chosen and arranged based on the theme of the season and the seasonal vegetables available. The chef was even nice enough to make me something special with carrots because I mentioned my deep love for carrots during the greenhouse tour earlier in the day. Each dish is distinctively Japanese with elegant interpretations of dishes that normally would contain meat.

At the time that I had the pleasure of dining at Matsunaga Rokkan, the menu was filled with colorful seasonal vegetables such as black Japanese radish (daikon) and truffle mushrooms, fresh herbs, udon, flavored rice cakes (mochi) and traditional Japanese sweets (wagashi) for Hina Matsuri or the Doll Festival, a yearly festival to celebrate girls in Japan.

After the deliciously healthy 8-course vegetarian meal, you can slip into the small onsen bath on the property and then fall fast asleep so that you can start bright and early for your next day in Obama.

Experience Staying at a Countryside Japanese Ryokan in Obama, Japan
Onsen at Matsunaga Rokkan Ryokan

After the deliciously healthy 8-course vegetarian meal, you can slip into the small onsen bath on the property and then fall fast asleep so that you can start bright and early for your next day in Obama.

Myotsuji Temple
Myotsuji Temple
Myotsuji Temple
Myotsuji Temple

Find Zen at a Myotsuji Temple

Myotsuji Temple, designated as a national treasure, is a Buddhist temple of the Shingon sect. It’s pagoda and main hall house at least four Buddha statues that are considered national treasures independent of the temple itself. The four statues can be seen only a few times a year when the Pagoda is opened, but the temple is beautiful in every season as it’s surrounded by the same rolling mountains and cedar forests as Matsunaga Rokkan.

As part of your stay in Matsunaga, you can experience three temple experiences: seated meditation (zazen), the writing of Buddhist scriptures using calligraphy (shuji) and a typical monk’s vegetarian meal (shojin ryori) of rice porridge (朝粥) and a “vegetarian devotion lunch box” (精進弁当). All of these experiences are designed to help one be centered into oneself and they are great ways to calm a hectic mind or stomach.

Zazen

Inside Myotsuji Temple

Shuji

Shuji at Myotsuji Temple
Shuji at Myotsuji Temple
Shuji at Myotsuji Temple

Buddhist Meal

Buddhist at Myotsuji Temple
Buddhist Meal at Myotsuji Temple
Buddhist Meal at Myotsuji Temple

Try Local Crafts

Vinegar Brewery in Obama, Japan
Vinegar Brewery in Obama, Japan

During my stay at Matsunaga Rokkan, I was able to not only relax and enjoy the quiet and spacious bath, but I also had the opportunity to meet some of the local craftsmen that make up Obama and it’s small community. At Matsunaga Rokkan, there are a few experiences that are bundled with a stay there. During my 2-day stay, I enjoyed a tour and tasting at a local Rice vinegar brewery, Tobaya Su (とば屋酢), and a hands-on experience of making a wooden plate at a local woodwork studio called Hyohon Furniture (票本家具).

Bicycle Tour Around the Area

Shimonegori Hachimangu Shrine

The best way to start or wrap up your stay in Obama is by taking a bike tour through town using one of the electric bikes provided by the ryokan. Not only is there expansive nature to be explored around the area, there are also many small local temples and cute cafes that you can explore on bike, on foot, or even by car.

Shimonegori Hachimangu Shrine

Local Shrines

Unlike in some of the bigger cities of Japan, Obama is filled with small neighborhood shrines full of unique charm and history. These shrines are often maintained by the community and kept within the family for generations. Obama in particular has a rich religious history as it is connected to the major Shinto shrines of Nara and Kyoto. In fact, every year in February, the Shimonegori Hachimangu Shrine performs a water-sending ceremony in which blessed water is sent from Obama down to the famous Todai-ji Temple in Nara. Because of this rich cultural tradition and Obama’s proximity to both Kyoto and Nara, even the smaller local shrines and temples in the area are known as power spots.

I visited Wakasahiko Shrine and Wakasa Hime Shrine. These sister shrines are connected to each other through a ranking system of shrines and known as strong power spots for the Wakasa province. The Wakasahiko Shrine, the only “upper shrine” (ichinomiya) in Wakasa, has been worshipped as the guardian of fishermen since the 7th Century.

Cafe Watoto
Cafe Watoto

Cafe Watoto

Watoto is a small cafe located in a traditional Japanese house and run by a friendly Japanese couple. The eclectic cafe takes advantage of its traditional woodwork and design by using every space to showcase the couple’s collection of guitars and ukuleles, trinkets and jewelry, books, and pictures of their cute dogs that greet you at the door. As everything is made fresh, the menu changes daily and is full of ofukuro-aji (a mother’s cooking).

Experience Staying at a Countryside Japanese Ryokan in Obama, Japan

Although Obama is a small, traditional town without all the bells and whistles of a bigger city in Japan, there’s so much that you can do there as long as you look in the right place. My 2-day stay was packed full of experiences that make Obama and the Wakasa area so special and historial, but I wasn’t able to visit everywhere. So, if you have a little extra time during your stay in the area, visit the fish market and Kumagawa Street to be transported back in time to the Edo period. 

You can reserve a stay at Matsunaga Rokkan Ryokan and the tour experience package  through their website at: https://www.matsunagarokkan.com/.

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14 thoughts on “Experience Staying at a Countryside Japanese Ryokan in Obama, Japan”

  1. What an interesting article and beautiful photos, thank you! We are planning a trip to Japan and know we would like to stay at a ryokan so I really appreciate all of the details you have included here. Obama looks like a wonderful choice (and not just because of the person I voted for!). Pinning for later to use as we plan our trip.

    1. Thank you, Erica! If you have any questions about staying at a Japanese ryokan, please let me know! I know it will be a wonderful experience for you and your family. 🙂

  2. Aww I miss Japan so much! I got to stay in several ryokan while living there and seeing your pictures and reading about your experience just made me realize how much I miss it!

  3. Supraja Lakshmi N

    Your article on the Japanese ryokan in Obama is so fascinating and enticing! You gave a lot of information and insights on what it’s like to stay in a traditional Japanese inn, including the history, the amenities, and the etiquette. I especially liked your photos of the tatami rooms and the kaiseki meals. They look so cozy and delicious!

    1. I’m very glad to learn that you enjoyed my article, Supraja! The ryokan experience in Obama is one of my favorite, and I recommend it to anyone who plans to visit Fukui prefecture.

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