Located halfway up a mountainside on the streets of Ikeda-machi in Nagano Prefecture, there is a quiet hotel named Yasueso which blends well with the natural surroundings of the area. I took a trip there, and I will give you my impressions of the visit -- along with a little background information on this very interesting hotel.
You will breathe in a gentle chamomile fragrance and a pleasant outdoorsy wood smell once you step inside Yasueso. It is no wonder these smells permeate the air, considering that chamomile extract is added to the bathwater (“Kamitsure-no-yu”) in the hotel; and the interior of the hotel is comprised of décor made from eight different types of local trees native to this region.
Chamomile fields surround the hotel, with a total area of 26,450 square meters. During the harvesting season in June, pretty white flowers with yellow centers can be seen far and wide. After the harvest, these beautiful flowers are processed into sweet-smelling bath products in the factory attached to the hotel.
Yasueso is receiving a lot of attention as the first hotel in Asia to receive the BIO Hotel certification. As its name suggests, everything provided in the hotel, from meals to soap and skin care products, is organic. The hotel also tries to use natural materials as often as possible -- not only for the certified organic towels and bed linens it supplies to guests -- but also for whatever is used both inside and outside the hotel. Yasueso truly cares about guests’ health, as well as the natural environment.
Standards for the certification are set by the BIO Hotels Association in Australia. There are approximately 100 hotels in seven countries which have acquired the certification, including the European countries of Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland (as of October 2013).
After renovation, Yasueso reopened in May 2015 and became the first hotel to get certified by BIO Hotel Japan, which was established after being officially recognized by the BIO Hotels Association.
All the materials and items you come in contact with in Yasueso are natural. No slippers are necessary for guests, since it is so refreshing to be able to walk on the natural red pine timber floor planks barefoot. You will truly feel connected to nature as you stroll along.
The air inside the hotel seems different. It somehow seems fresher, of a higher quality perhaps. Is it because the plaster and earth walls breathe like the wood timbers and control the humidity and moisture level in the surrounding air? Whatever the reason, guests like me will certainly feel refreshed once they enter Yasueso and will be able to breathe in the freshness throughout their stay.
The hotel also uses natural energy. Purchasing wood chips unsuitable for processing from the local forestry cooperative, Yasueso uses this “wood biomass” to heat water for drinking and heating the floors. Other natural energy uses are found both in the hotel dining room, where a wood stove is used, and outside the hotel, where a wood-burning furnace was recently added.
As one would certainly expect, the hotel uses organic ingredients which have passed the BIO certification standards in the meals served to guests. The owner Yuko Hokujo says, “The standards for food are the hardest to meet.” Vegetables used in the hotel are grown organically in Hokujo’s own garden, but certified meat and fish are not easy to obtain. I sampled several of the dishes made with these carefully selected and prepared ingredients, and they tasted delicious.
Even before the renovation, Yasueso has been supporting people with a wide variety of illnesses and allergic reactions, such as atopic dermatitis, and even more serious ailments like cancer. According to Ms. Hokujo, a larger number of adults have allergic reactions nowadays, and one of the main causes is stress.
In consideration of this, Yasueso recently invited women who lead busy working lives in the city to the hotel to see how effective experiencing the natural environment and practicing yoga would be for controlling their stress levels.
A doctor accompanied the women and checked the stress levels of each candidate when they arrived and before they left the hotel. Results of the tests showed that stress levels were greatly reduced; and additional conditions of the body, such as nervous functions, improved significantly for the women. I took the test myself and achieved similar results.
Surrounded by nature while viewing Japan’s Northern Alps, I did some farm work and had a relaxing chamomile bath during my stay at the hotel. Being surrounded by all the organic materials, I certainly must have restored my natural body rhythms -- something which is often very difficult to do when I’m in the midst of my busy, hectic life in the city.
We all know how bad stress is, and hear reports of how it can cause various illnesses. Therefore, we really should not take stress lightly, and we all need to ease our tension in a place like Yasueso now and then.
(Reporting by Yayoi Minowa)