Shoan is hidden away on its own peninsula in Matsushima Bay, far from the madding crowds of the town centre - and what a stunning location it is. We stayed there in the depths of the low season and were the only guests both nights, so it was like having a ryokan all to ourselves. The whole place is modern but traditional, beautifully appointed and with superb attention to detail, right down to the western-style lounge where a different classical artist is profiled in the music selection each month.
Best of all, though, was our spacious room. When we opened our screen doors the view took our breath away - a completely private bay of limestone islands which beats anything you see on the normal tourist routes. The inn also has two lovely footpaths running through the adjacent woodlands and out onto promontaries with views onto the main bay. It's all quite wonderful.
Limited English is spoken, to a sufficient extent for foreigners to feel comfortable and welcome, and service was generally excellent, as one would expect. We had a slight disappointment with our dinner on the first night, when the standard of a few dishes wasn't up to what one might expect for this class and price. But meals improved after that and it may have been a low season glitch.
The only other thing I'd fault was the ambience of the restaurant itself (called Umine, and open for lunch to non-guests). It's mish-mash of decor styles and hints of clutter here and there seemed very much out of keeping with the ryokan as a whole. Dinner can be taken in one's room, but breakfast must be eaten at Umine.
Otherwise, though, our stay was magical...and that view will remain in our minds for ever!
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