Kyushu doesn’t get enough credit. While Japan’s main island, Honshu, gets all the attention for big cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, the country’s westernmost island offers a more chilled-out, blissed-up ambiance. Beaches abound and there’s a reason that Monocle has acknowledged Fukuoka, Kyushu’s big city, as a top-ranking Quality of Life city for several years’ running. The people here just get it, and Karatsu’s Shioyu Naginoto is the perfect place to pump the brakes and get into the Japanese headspace.
At Shioyu, as with most ryokans, it’s all about extending the meditative rituals: long meals, long walks in the garden, and long sessions in the bathhouse. And with the bath house’s semi-open air setup, it’s a cinch to make those sessions extra-long indeed. Karatsu’s relative isolation – you won’t be walking to any other bars or restaurants in the area – are actually a blessing for fixating on the little things.
Apart from the ultra-proximate beach, Shioyu Naginoto’s immediate surroundings are as barebones as it gets, so it’s for the best that the ryokan’s restaurant and bar doesn’t disappoint. Plan on an assaultive array of traditional small dishes for breakfast and dinner so fresh that it’s still slightly alive. Truly, you’ve never had ‘breaking-news’ squid like this before. And the expansive sake selection pairs well during (and before) dinner, while the after-dinner bar’s self-service plum wine is the ideal digestif.
When do you eventually feel the need to break out of your fortress of solitude, you’ve got a few daytrippable destinations. To the west lies Karatsu and it’s picture-pleasant castle. But you’ll find more a more appealing destination east in the form of Itoshima, a super-hip peninsula packed w beaches and aloha-centric nostalgia. Along the northern coast, hit Natty Dread for the best burger in the region with a low-slung vibe, or the cafe at BBB for more elevated fare. And pop by Speak Easy back in the main town for cocktails and talks with locals.
But rest assured that you’ll rest well back at Shioyu Naginoto – if you dream of sleeping on stone slabs then you’ll dig the classic ryokan bedding pad and waking up to the waves blows any white noise machine out of the water. Factor in the perfect staff that gives the connotation associated with ‘Swiss Hospitality’ a serious run for its money and you might just decide to slow down forever here.