HIDDEN IN THE HEART: Oirase Keiryu Hotel, Aomori Prefecture, Japan

You can tell a lot about the guests staying at a Japanese hotel by the thoughtful extras positioned around the room.

You can tell a lot about the guests staying at a Japanese hotel by the thoughtful extras positioned around the room.

Places to stay near railway stations often pop a cotton leisure suit on the bed so the salarymen that frequent these commuter addresses need not carry after-hours outfits in their compact carry-on cases while darting around the country on speedy Shinkansen bullet trains.

Lake Towada at one end of Aomori Prefecture’s Oirase Gorge. Pic supplied by Aomori Tourism

The humidifier in snow-season lodges help skiers and snowboarders rehydrate after a day in the dry mountain air, hotels with an onsite onsen will present a little basket so guests can tote valuables around the baths, and harbour-side spots supply binoculars to watch the passing parade of ships.

When I check into Aomori Prefecture’s Oirase Keiryu Hotel, deep in Honshu’s Towada-Hachimantai National Park which is a haven for outdoor lovers keen to indulge in everything from leaf peeping and moss spotting to bush walking and bird watching, the foot massager in the corner indicates this is a hot spot for hiking.

Following a stream-side path through Aomori Prefecture’s Oirase Gorge. Pic Sarah NIcholson

The hidden four-storey building sits in the heart of the Oirase Gorge which is a picture-perfect valley stretching 14km from Lake Towada that boasts waterfalls, a gurgling stream winding through a lush evergreen forest, and network of empty walking trails.

Most guests visit to wander these peaceful paths, pausing to study the vibrant moss varieties that thrive in the humidity or detouring to follow the chortle of mysterious birds, and at dusk return to tranquil guestrooms to employ the foot massager on tuckered legs.

Oirase Keriyu Hotel modern room view

The property blends bygone Japanese style with details catering to the needs of today’s traveller and while my ‘’modern’’ suite features tatami mats, a capsule bathroom with deep square tub, and paper screens dividing the space there’s fast wifi, a king-size bed to prevent sleeping on the floor, and a comfy couch.

There are 11 room categories, ranging from the western-style chambers like mine to traditional quarters that let Western visitors savour a ryokan-style stay, and most of the accommodation is at the back of the building inside vast windows framing views across neighbouring mountains carpeted in green.

While Oirase Keiryu Hotel is only 50km from Aomori City – public buses make the journey into the valley from the settlement on Honshu Island’s northern tip, and hotel shuttles complete the journey from the local airport and railway station – it feels a million miles from the big smoke and once tucked up inside there’s little reason to leave.

The dinner buffet at Oirase Keiryu Hotel’s Aomori Ringo Restaurant. Pic Sarah Nicholson

There’s a selection of places to eat and drink around the quiet complex, a lobby shop stocks an array of local produce for those keen to savour the region’s culinary flavours, and hot springs with outdoor baths are perched to take in forest views.

And then there’s that personal foot massager that helps guests collapse into complete relaxation should a quiet Japanese whisky in the lounge and long soak in the steaming thermal water not be enough.

Tip: be sure to visit the Aomori Ringo Restaurant at dinnertime with the evening buffet a culinary masterpiece prepared by the army of hotel chefs that includes local recipes – using regional ingredients like Aomori Prefecture’s famous apple varieties – and western favourites.

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