My wife and I stayed at Kiyashiki for 2 nights mid-late May 2014. We had a superb experience. Below are some of the bits that were more unique to our stay (since many aspects have been covered by better-written reviewers). Keep in mind that we have no prior ryokan experience to draw from, and I only have 1 other experience with onsen.
We made reservations via email, after calling to get their email address. I flexed my weak Japanese language muscles on the phone. The staff seemed to have some good English skills had I needed them. Once communicating via email, communication was excellent. They asked when my bus was arriving and arranged to pick us up.
As others have said, we had a couple of hours before check-in, and our bags were taking to the ryokan without us, and we were given towels since we planned to visit some onsen in the meantime. The visitor information center at Kurokawa Onsen contacted Kiyashiki for us when we were ready to be picked up.
Check in went very smoothly, the staff was very competent in English (far more than my Japanese!) While checking in, the staff handled our unusual dietary request (no rice, and gluten-free) as well as I could have hoped. We are not super strict with our dietary needs, but we didn't want bowls of rice to be thrown out every meal, and after trying to explain our situation, the staff would occasionally ask about an upcoming meal ingredient to make sure it was okay.
Regarding meals, we had 1 day's meals upgraded (to the Irori/Hearth cooking style), and it only took the quality from fantastic to sublime. Worth the upgrade if you have the funds, but don't feel like you're missing out if you don't. We tended to eat slowly, the staff was very patient. If we were making things difficult for them, they did not let us know at all. The serving staff did their best to explain what the food was to the best of OUR abilities to understand, and we appreciated the effort. Must not be the easiest thing, serving with the language barrier.
The ryokan's main baths are nice, but the standout bath for us was the large mixed bath. The surrounding nature was beautiful. While it may not have had the vistas or views that other places may have, since the ryokan is more isolated it didn't feel as though the scenery was just a facade for the sake of the bathers (unlike I sometimes have felt at other onsen). The mixed bath was a delight on the one day when it rained steadily, transforming it into a steamy beautiful area.
We reserved 2 of the family baths, one of the riverside baths and another one overlooking the trees below. Both were delightful. 45 minutes was far too short (only because it was so enjoyable), but we didn't try booking 2 slots consecutively - didn't want to be greedy! The river bath offers the better view of the two, but not nearly as hot water. That said, the other bath has a fantastic view overlooking the same trees and mountains as the bar, and at night it was quite a view!
While I cannot imagine that the ryokan is ancient, it had a better feel than some of the other locations we bathed at in Kurokawa Onsen, didn't feel like it had a newer annex that had recently been tacked on. The room was comfortable and clean (though being 6' tall, I did notice that the higher tiny ledges in the room weren't dusted nearly as frequently as the rest of the room, but that's completely understandable!).
I love the winding layout of the ryokan, the transitions from indoor check-in, to outdoor covered walkway, to winding garden, to another indoor lodging area, to the outdoor bathing area. It was so unique, and made getting from point A to B a joy, rather than simply navigating corridors.
At the end of our stay, we had about 3 hours from check-out time until our bus arrived. The staff held our luggage and arranged to drop it off at the bus stop 10 minutes before arrival. We were able to walk around Kurokawa Onsen unencumbered.
While it may not be the cheapest ryokan price point in Japan, Kurokawa Onsen is a beautiful town, and Kiyashiki seems to be in-line with the town's offerings. It's lovely, isolated, on the smaller size, and we will definitely be going back.
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- Also Known As:
- Kiyashiki Japan/Kumamoto Prefecture - Aso-Gun