Just doing the math is mind-boggling. A family business for over 1,300 years. Yes, there have been some heirs adopted in, but that is still 52 generations of the same family.
And even more amazing, tourists to the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan in Yamanashi Prefecture today still enjoy much the same experience as the ancient samurai who visited the hotel back in 705 CE. The hotel is certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as “the world’s most historical inn” and it may well be the world’s oldest business, period. By comparison, Europe’s oldest hotel, Zum Roten Baeren, is a mere child – the Freiburg, Germany hostelry will celebrate its 900th birthday in 2020. Old inns are sort of a Japanese thing as the second, third and fourth oldest hotels in the world are all in operation here (number two, the Hoshi Ryokan, is only 13 years younger than the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan).
The idea for the inn was originally Fujiwara Mahito’s. He was a son of an aid to Tenji, the 38th and then-reigning emperor, of Japan. Fujiwara built a small guest house near a hot spring (“onsen”) at a secluded spot in the mountains of the Kai region that is sometimes known as the South Japanese Alps. In addition to promoting the healing waters to the local townsfolk, Fujiwara encouraged weary military commanders to come and take the waters as well. Since this was the second year of the brief Keiun era before the ascension of the Empress Gemmei, the inn was dubbed Keiunkan.
Through the years, centuries in fact, the Nishiyama has focused on service and doing what the inn does best – providing hospitality that flows like the spring waters with the spirit of Japanese harmony. The spa still sports only 37 rooms, each outfitted with a traditional tatami-mat floor, and 52 generations of operators have taken care to make only modest expansions to keep up with the demands of modernity. Of course the guest rooms all have baths and showers sourced with free-flowing spring water. Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan is truly a space where time is measured in epochs and not years.
All that time the one constant has been the natural hot springs. The same low-alkaline, 126-degree water gushes from the earth now as then. In fact the hotel, last renovated in 1997, has dug an 888-meter well that taps 1,630 litres of soothing water per minute. The Keiunkan provides four open-air baths that melt into the serene mountain scenery and two indoor baths.
Guests enjoy a Mountain Kaiseki Banquet with in-season delights harvested from the mountains and rivers in season. Chefs prepare the highest quality A5-rank Koshu beef to a soft texture and elegant color. Meals are served to diners on the hotel’s prized dinnerware. Mt. Fuji and the treasured Jigokudani Monkey Park are nearby – the monkeys enjoy a dip in the local hot springs as much as their human counterparts. Packages are available between $500 and $600 per night; details can be found at the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan website.