Mino grew wealthy from its washi industry and the handsome homes of the paper barons still anchor the historical district at the center of town. Hotel baison is part of a new wave of renewal in the washi town. This boutique hotel has found a home in the mansion of a washi wholesaler, down a narrow lane from Mino’s former commercial district.
Hotel baison is part of a trend that has seen old facades in the district occupied by new businesses. Instead of bulldozing old buildings to put up generic business hotels and condos, the quirky spaces in the old quarter remain, waiting for entrepreneurs with big ideas. There is suddenly space for new ideas to flourish. Like the Alex Kerr-led renovation of the Tsumesho Mikuni in the coastal Mikuni town of Fukui, and similar guest houses in Kyoto, the result is a beautiful hotel but also a project of preservation. The project to renovate these historic buildings is an expensive and complicated undertaking, but it means that more people will be able to appreciate the charms of these homes.
As with other machiya renovations, the rooms are limited at Baison, and each is unique. There is the Shiki room, wrapped with wood, highlighted with bamboo features, with a view out onto the udatsu-crowned rooftops of Mino; the minimalist Ze room, a postmodern monk’s cell cast in polished concrete; the Soku room that contrasts modern materials with bare wood beams; the Ku room, where guests are ensconced in cedar; and the Ri room, echoing the office of a washi wholesaler with its rich leather and burnished wood.
The Kura Cellar Cafe is one of the hotel’s most stunning spaces, a hinoki den that looks like the setting for a clandestine meeting of the washi cartel. The space transforms what stood in its place before while also honoring the esthetic of the old home. In the garden courtyard, the Forest Cafe offers the chance to dine in the elemental minimalism of a traditional garden.
The hotel baison brings the best of what’s on offer at a ryokan, a folksy setting that honors the surrounding landscape, and what guests can find at an upscale boutique hotel, a unique experience and cutting-edge design. The hotel brings the extras, including a gallery where the owners curate a collection of art and handicrafts, baths with a view of the garden, an infrared stone sauna and a kitchen that turns out upscale takes on local cuisine.
Perhaps the best reason to recommend baison is that it offers an excuse to linger in Mino. It’s too easy to roll into a town, breeze through the recommended sites and then rush to the train station. The streets around the historical district branch into an interesting town set in a stunning river valley, and from there, it’s easy to venture into the surrounding countryside, some of the most beautiful in the country, perhaps catching a ride on the Etsumi-Nan Line, up into the mountains. baison lets its guests soak in the atmosphere of Mino.