|Courtesy Gora Kadan|
A stay at this ryokan (traditional inn) is a graduate-level seminar in the art of Japanese bathing. Guests partake before breakfast and dinner, spending more than an hour each time. The indoor public baths have a graceful Zen simplicity, while the free-form outdoor ones are Edenic: embraced by cherry trees whose fallen petals dance on the steamy surface. Some of the top guest rooms have private baths. The extremely hot water boiled all urgency out of me, but for guests who want more help relaxing, there's also a Western-style spa (a ryokan rarity) offering aromatherapy massages and gentle facials — and the in-room shiatsu was one of the best massages I've ever had. The 37-room inn is an introduction to Japan's austere notion of luxury — you sit on the floor and sleep on a futon, meals are served at set times, and besides bathing, there's virtually nothing to do. The payoff: Gora Kadan forces you to slow down and imparts a genuine tranquility, a chance to step out of not just the 21st century but the 20th, too. — A.A.
Through the Ryokan Collection, 206-282-0727, www.ryokancollection.com