I mentioned that when planning our Japan trip I had to book a hotel for 40K Ultimate Rewards points per night in exchange for a chance to visit Tokyo DisneySea. It should tell you something that I decided to do a Jozankei Tsuruga Resort and Spa review before writing about Tokyo DisneySea.
This hotel was hands down the highlight of our trip and a stay worthy of a ten year anniversary. Before I get started, I should note the full name of the hotel is Jozankei Tsuruga Resort and Spa Mori No Uta (which means song of the Woods? I think). The hotel is located in Jozankei, a resort town built on top of a hot spring about an hour away from Sapporo. It’s not accessible by train, so I’ll have some thoughts about how to get there at the end. Let’s take a look at this wonderful resort.
General overview of the resort
Japan is located on top of a lot of fault lines. Because of this, hot springs have sprung up all around the country and the Japanese have turned the use of onsen, hot springs and their associated baths, into a huge draw for locals and tourists alike. The Kyoto area onsens get most of the press and Noboribetsu is the most well known onsen town in Hokkaido, but Jozankei is an amazing hot spring town in its own right.
Most of the resorts in Jozankei have their own onsen for use by guests (and day guests). Tsuruga Resort and Spa Mori No Uta is no exception. The main reason to come to his hotel is to relax – you’ll spend most of your time enjoying the onsen, taking quiet walks through the town, and then relaxing some more. While you can go visit some nearby areas by car or even go skiing – you go to the onsen hotel to use the onsen. That’s what we decided to do, at least!
The resort is beautiful, even moreso in the winter snow. While not a traditional ryokan (Japanese bed and breakfast), Tsuruga Resort and Spa Mori No Uta splits the difference between ryokan and Western hotel. This might make things a little more comfortable if you want to ease your way into the ryokan experience. Incidentally, I highly recommend staying in a ryokan (anywhere) if you get the chance.
You receive pajamas/clothes, though not the traditional yukata (kimono) you’d get at a ryokan. You also receive slippers to wear throughout the resort – try not to wear your shoes. No keycards here either, every key is old school on a keychain with a wood fob that you can hang around your neck.
There’s a lovely lounge area in the lobby where you can roast marshmallows at night and listen to harp music, a library, and even a music section where you can listen to hi-fi. The amenities are nice, but the real star of our visit was our room – a cottage with a private onsen.
A private cottage with private outdoor onsen
Tsuruga Resort and Spa Mori No Uta offers multiple room types, both Japanese and Western style rooms. If we didn’t stay in the cottage we definitely would have chosen the Japanese style rooms – we love sleeping on tatami mats. If you’re unfamiliar with a Japanese style room, just note that they will have minimal furniture and you will do a lot of sitting and sleeping on the floor (usually on futons).
My wife really wanted me to find a private onsen, so we ended up having to book the most expensive room at this hotel (40K Ultimate Rewards points per night). Tsuruga Resort and Spa Mori No Uta offers four private cottages. Each of these private cottages has a private outdoor onsen for exclusive use.
For 40K Ultimate Rewards points per night I was hoping we’d get something I’d never forget and this private cottage delivered. The cottage features a large living space with couches and a very useful massage chair on the first floor. The sleeping area is in a loft on the second floor.
But the star of the show, of course, is the private outdoor onsen. The room’s shower is outside so you can shower/bathe before entering the onsen (as is standard Japanese custom). The onsen looks out into the forest which was beautiful when snow covered. It also featured some temperature regulation if you wanted to adjust the water temperature.
Not having to even walk through the lobby to use the onsen was a luxury that we really enjoyed. I think I used the onsen 3-4 times a day, including in the early morning when the sun was rising and at night when the forest was shrouded in darkness. Just an incredibly enjoyable experience.
The cottage was big enough that we could have brought all our children and we all would have fit comfortably. I think it’s a great option for families to stay and obviously an excellent option if you plan to celebrate something like we did. One of our most memorable stays and in the end, well worth the 80K Ultimate Rewards for two nights.
Most (all?) hotel stays at Tsuruga Resort and Spa Mori No Uta come with breakfast and dinner included. The standard package allows you to take breakfast and dinner in the hotel’s buffet dining room. There’s a large selection of both Western and Japanese dishes to choose from. The food was great! You also get white rice in these cool things:
Here are some pictures of the buffet and food:
While the buffet is nice, we also wanted to have a Kaiseki meal – a traditional Japanese ryokan meal. We e-mailed the hotel beforehand and were able to confirm a Kaiseki dinner for one night for a cost of about $60 for the two of us. I was a little confused why they had so little availability until I realized they only offer three private Kaiseki rooms per night! It must also be noted that the private rooms are meant for more than just two:
Truth be told, I enjoyed the buffet meal more, but that’s because the Kaiseki dinner forced me to be more adventurous in my eating. Here’s a look at a few things we had:
Like I said, the food was a little bit too adventurous, but I’d still recommend Kaiseki dinner to anyone (at this hotel or any ryokan). I loved the experience of having a private dinner with my wife and we had a good laugh about how ridiculous the table size was. And the food that was a little more in my wheelhouse was excellent! I just have never been a fan of abalone, haha.
Public Onsen and Spa
This hotel definitely made it to our “will return” list, but if we come back we might stay in a regular room. So we checked out the public onsen to get a feel for it.
The onsen and spa area actually has a lot of different sections. There are different rooms dedicated to spa treatments you can pay for, although we just used the massage chair in our cottage and elected not to pay for any spa treatments.
The onsen and spa area also features a “pillow gallery” where you can test out pillows and take one back to your room. My wife happily tested and borrowed a special pillow for our stay. Just another nice little touch that made our stay super relaxing.
The public onsen itself was lovely. There are multiple pools, indoor and outdoor, including a hot stone onsen that has “extra pure” water (or so we were told). Note that in the public onsen you still need to bathe first before entering, they have stools and showers set up for that (like all Japanese onsens). The onsen is open all day except from 3:00-4:00 AM and 9:30-11:00 AM so if you’re jet lagged you can probably find a quiet moment. My wife went at 5:30 AM and had the space all to herself.
Booking and how to get there
So when I looked for a private onsen, I did the majority of my searches on Expedia. While I’m not a huge fan of Chase switching its travel portal over to Expedia, at the very least I’ve found it faster to search on Expedia. Once you find a hotel you like on Expedia you can be fairly certain it’ll be on Chase’s travel portal (except for Disney. Still hurts).
So I found the Jozankei Tsuruga Resort and Spa Mori No Uta on Expedia and it ran about $600/night. Sure enough, it cost 40,000 Ultimate Rewards/night on Chase’s travel portal (with Chase Sapphire Reserve) so I booked it no muss no fuss.
We rented a car to get to Jozankei, but you can also take a variety of local buses. The town is fairly small so once you get to town you can walk to wherever you need to go. We ended up renting a car because no bus left early enough to catch the flight we wanted to take out of New Chitose airport at the end of our stay. If you’re intimidated by navigating the bus system in Japanese, I’d say you don’t need to worry too much, just allow enough time to buy your tickets beforehand.
Writing this post, I don’t feel like I’ve done Tsuruga Resort and Spa Mori No Uta justice. The pictures do a little better, but still don’t quite capture it. This was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable stays we’ve ever had – perfect for our anniversary celebration. We joked as we were planning, “Why are we going somewhere that is even colder than Boston?” But the combination of the room, onsen, meals, and the way the hotel is set up to just help you relax really made for an experience that was near perfect.
Chalk another one up on the board for “you don’t always have to stay at a Hyatt or Hilton with status” for an amazing stay.
If you have any questions about the hotel or getting to Jozankei I’d love to answer them. Contact me on Twitter or e-mail me asthejoeflies AT gmail DOT com.
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