Afeeling of serenity instantly enfolds me at this exceptional resort set over 130 hectares on a forested ridge in a national park on the Ise-Shima peninsula of southern Japan. It’s not just the temple-like hush or the quietly spoken staff or the faultless design. It is a magical fusion of all these factors at Amanemu, which is not a health resort but a place of healing for city-dulled minds and tired souls. From the welcome drink of iced ise kabuse sencha, served in a tea house-like pavilion facing Ago Bay, to the two perfectly matched nectarines, unblemished and possibly polished, that constitute my fruit bowl, all is highly refined and consistently understated.
The inventory comprises 24 suites in duplexes and four two-bedroom villas with private onsen. The village-like layout and crisp profiles of Amanemu’s central pavilions and accommodation wings, with dark-stained cedar exteriors and low-reaching tiled roofs, have been devised by Australia’s Kerry Hill to mimic the minka architecture of farming compounds. Bare colonnades of slatted wooden columns break sunlight into sharp, tiger-like stripes. A Japanese architect friend tells me, “There is almost nothing to see [in Japanese design] so you must make an effort to see it.”
From the moment I enter the sanctuary of Suite No 9, I want to leave behind my real life, which includes my messy suitcase. I hide it away in the dressing room where it can’t interfere with all this perfection. I would even disappear, too, if I could, phantom-ninja style, rather than risk sullying the interior. There is a seamless unity, with no sudden shots of bright colour or décor mishaps. Instead of flouncy flowers, tiny green sprigs peek from a ceramic vase. It is Japanese design in its most elemental form, as much about absence as presence; to do with concealment, not declaration. This pristine chamber is all pale, honeyed hinoki cypress timbers, neutral soft furnishings and ricepaper shoji screens that glide across wall-sized windows.
Shoes come off, of course; pop on soft slippers and a pastel cotton robe. Draw a deep bath in the black basalt ofuro tub, which includes a tap dedicated to scalding mineral water straight from the onsen source. Add bath salts that smell of figs and herbs. Soak for hours looking across meadows of tall grass. Breathe deeply. Sleep in white Egyptian cotton bedding of silken softness.
The suites are conceived as classic ryokan with a contemplation garden at the entry and a private back deck facing protected stands of fir trees. At night, staff draw the screens and lower the lights and it feels like being buttoned up. I dream of becoming Marie Kondo’s best disciple and decluttering my life.
There are buzzy insects and low, hot skies during my late-August stay; I potter about the grounds, admiring the autumn-turning maples and watching yellow butterflies dancing in long grass. Inside the remarkable Amanemu, all is perfection, but, beyond, nothing interferes with nature, not even the straw-hatted gardener who waits patiently for a tiny bird to move before he clips a bush. This could be nowhere else but Japan. Susan Kurosawa is The Australian’s travel editor.