Otaru Ryotei Kuramure

March 1st, 2011

We got up really early to catch the first train to Otaru, the train quickly turned into a local subway and the seemingly quick trip started to slow down. By the time we reached the Otaru station we were tired and desperately wanted to get rid of our luggage. We found the locker room, but every single locker was taken. We managed to find a baggage service down the street thanks to the helpful tourist office.

After a slow start, we were happy to be in Otaru.

Or we thought we were… It was kind of boring. The historic canal was exactly that, and it seemed tour bus after tour bus dumped dozens of people into the streets. For a good 15 minutes we were stuck walking behind a sea of people.

We knew that Otaru was famous for its glass blowing so we tried to stop by a few studios. The glass wasn’t really our style, and the shops were crazy busy, by this time we were already planning our escape to the hotel.

It did start getting pretty with some nice big snowflakes.

And the chocolate shop LeTAO was giving free chocolate samples on the street–delicious. We debated whether or not to stop in for a hot chocolate but decided to skip it and get into a cab in search of a cafe that Naoto recommended. We were starving.

We got in the cab with our map and showed the location of the cafe and tried to pronounce the cafe’s name. The Tourist office circled where the location was on the map, but we weren’t translating correctly to the cab driver. He couldn’t understand a word we were saying, and we sat there with our phrase book trying to direct him to the cafe on the map. After five minutes of this confused back and forth, we gave up and had him drive us to the train station in defeat. We were fed up with Otaru and wanted to get to our hotel as soon as possible for some food.

When we were first day dreaming about a trip to Hokkaido, Ryotei Kuramure was a hotel we wanted to experience. Designed by Makoto Nakayama, Kuramure is a modern interpretation of the traditional Ryokan. The black exterior contrasted against white snow with a wall of mountains in the background, we stepped out of the cab with smiles on our faces. We do have to thank our immediate family, it took some gift money to pay for our stay here.

A wire cage and rock wall lined the facade of the building.

Our check in at Kuramure was 4:00, but after the big let down in Otaru we showed up at 3:00. We thought we could hang out in the lobby and have some coffee, a quick bite, and the staff would keep our bags for us. When we walked up the stairs to the entrance we noticed that the door was locked, and it seemed the entire hotel was closed. The cab had left, we were stranded in the front of a boutique hotel with a pile of luggage in the middle of nowhere.

It only took a few minutes of waiting around for me to become more adventurous, leaving Juli with our bags to explore the grounds. I eventually discovered a back door that was unlocked. I don’t know where my motivation came from but I opened the door to the kitchen and walked through the expanse and into a hallway. I felt like James Bond a little until I was spotted by a cleaning woman who took me to the lobby and sat me down at the main desk. I was trying to negotiate unlocking the front door to get Juli, but she persisted that I sit down and left me to get the manager. It was at this moment I saw Juli’s legs creeping by one of the low windows, I ran over and started knocking to get her attention. Of course she couldn’t hear me so I tried to gesture to enter through the back door.

We were eventually reunited and asked to sit in this beautiful waiting area, while they decided what to do with us.

Everything was fine, they just weren’t expecting us early. It felt like we had the hotel to ourselves until another couple entered 5 minutes later through the now unlocked front door. They were blissfully unaware of what we just went through trying to get in. We were really hungry so we asked if there was a place to get some food, and the staff pointed us to a ski hotel down the street. It wasn’t that great, but it was enough to get us back in a good mood.

We hit reset on our Honeymoon and arrived back at the hotel at 4:00

The lobby was beautiful with stone floors, wooden tables, and Le Corbusier sofas.

This is more what we expected when we first arrived, a hot towel, tea, and a little candy.


We walked over to the gift display case. I don’t know why we went to Otaru when all of the best things were curated into this little display.

My favorite piece was this mouth blown sake glass with a metal base. It was even better in person, but I couldn’t justify the purchase.

We were guided to our room.

In standard Japanese fashion we took off our boots in the suite’s little entry way.

The walls were soft and felt like paper, there was a good use of diffused light everywhere.

The traditional perfectly contrasted with the modern.

The tatami room.

A traditional Japanese tea set.

The was the main floor of our suite. The chabudai table was right in front of a large window with shoji screens.

The bedroom with dyed linens and a Naoto Fukasawa designed humidifier.

Yukatas and beautiful linen pajamas, sleeping would never be the same.

Our private onsen room.

The bath, toilet, and sink are all separated which really comes in handy.

This was the view behind the shoji screens, serene in the winter I’m sure it is just ridiculously beautiful in the summer.

We love shoji screens.

One detail we really liked were the wooden vent covers, it was a nice contrast from the wall.

After spending a nice amount of time in the room, we put our yukatas on and headed to the Onsen for a long relaxing soak.

Kuramure accepts less than 20 guests at a time, and all meals and drinks are included with the room. I mention the amount of people in the hotel because when we came to the bar it was empty except for the bar tender cleaning glasses. It felt a little like The Shining, just a little.

The liqueur was displayed prominently on top of gorgeous rosewood cabinets, the drinks were free but they didn’t hide the good stuff.

I ordered a Japanese whiskey and a local beer.

Across from the bar there is an incredible library full of design books and an impressive collection of classic vinyl. The bar tender assisted in putting the music on for me. I know how to use a record player… Jeez.

I grabbed a couple of cool looking 1960s albums to play.

I also found an old Kayama Yuzo album that was fantastic.

We sat down with our drinks and just relaxed, we stopped ourselves from ordering another round because we knew we were in for a Kaiseki dinner. A traditional multi-course dinner, alcohol would definitely be served.

We were found and transported to our own private dining room where some sashimi, wild greens, and a very sweet plum based drink were waiting for us.

The sashimi was delicious, no idea what fish it was.

In honor of our wedding, the server poured us 2 glasses of champagne.

He also handed us the course list… Epic.

Local shrimp with lemon.

A warm and soothing pumpkin soup.

Uh oh! More raw fish testicles?! I thought I saw the last of these in Asahikawa.

With the addition of the stone grill we decided to give it another go.

and you know, with some pepper and fresh lemon juice it was pretty delicious. We ate the whole thing.

There is always one delicious dish that plays well into the western palate. This pork stew was that dish, it was superb.

These were cooked oysters.

Tempura tofu, with a green pepper.

White rice, clams, a big chunk of fish, and veggies.

The fish was a bit intimidating, but delicious none the less.

I think that after this we had something sweet, but forgot to photograph it. Oh well!

By this time we were feeling good, and decided to stop by to have a night cap at the bar. Earlier we were so intrigued by this “Milk Liquor” we decided to try it. It’s shochu, but I couldn’t place the taste (a bit like gin?), it was really good.

The next day we got up and headed to the onsen one last time. If you really want to start the day relaxed and feeling super clean we strongly recommend onsens in the morning. When we got back we were escorted to our private breakfast room with an amazing spread of food. It is definitely not brunch, and takes some getting used to but most of the items were tasty. I can say that none of these paired well with coffee.

Sitting in the floor is so nice!

We wanted to have one last quick tour of the hotel before we leave.

Here is the on site Japanese tea ceremony room.

you can actually book an appointment to be a part of one, if we had one more day I would have loved to try it.

Seeing the room is enough for now.

We left the hotel, got on a train and headed to Niseko…

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