A Swiss-style cottage sits atop of the Suma Alps of Kobe. Surrounded by cherry blossoms and grounds crawling with friendly cats, the Suma Kagetsu House will make you completely forget that you’re in the city at all. Going up the mountain road, the lush forest canopies over and transports you into a fairy-tale garden. Looking down from the front entrance, you can see a sweeping view of Osaka Bay.
Entering the building feels more like going home than stepping into a hotel lobby. The deep-brown hardwood floors and exposed timber rafters contrast with the tall windows, which allow sunlight to spill into the rooms below. The warm atmosphere lets you breathe out the dirt and stress of the city and feel the strength of the mountains under your feet. It’s no wonder the Suma Kagetsu House has been rated as one of the top 100 architectural structures in all of Japan.
The Suma Kagetsu House was first built in 1938 and was known as the official guesthouse of Kobe. In the years following World War II, the guesthouse and the surrounding grounds fell to ruin. When the guesthouse was rebuilt, it was designed after the style of a Swiss cottage. After previous generations rebuilt Suma Kagetsu, the guesthouse became one of Kobe’s most beloved sites and catered to political and cultural leaders, as well as the social elite.
One of Suma Kagetsu House’s most honored guests was Pujie, the brother of the Last Emperor of China. Pujie loved the scenery and food at the Suma Kagetsu House, and he often vacationed here with his family and invited his friends. Pujie was also an accomplished calligrapher and wrote about the Suma Kagetsu House’s restaurant and surrounding landscapes in the book Hanatsuki.
The current owner, Takao Kanai, reminisced that this was a favorite story of the previous owner—his grandfather. The guesthouse still holds many early Showa Era homages within its halls. The front restaurant and lobby are lit with soft gas lamps, relics of the westernization that took place in Japan during this time. The guest rooms follow the traditional Japanese style with tatami floors, old-fashioned dressers, and Japanese screen-work. Time passes pleasantly in this luxurious setting, where the ambiance is always first-class.
Although the front lobby is quite western, the Suma Kagetsu House is a ryokan—a traditional Japanese inn. All seven of the guest rooms are Japanese style with low tables, legless chairs, tatami floors, and futon beds. Each room has its own particular style and points of interest.
Most rooms can accommodate 1-4 guests, but the Cherry Blossom Room can fit 15-20 adults for banquets. The room gets its name for the panoramic views that the high windows offer during the cherry blossom season. From the soft pink tree-tops to the royal blue ocean below, this room is a particular boasting point for the guesthouse.
On the east side of the house, the Between the Peony Room can accommodate a party of 4-6 people. The windows come together in a 90° angle to overlook the scenic Suma Park below. Here, you can watch the sunrise with your friends and family without any obstruction from the mountains.
Conversely, the Peach Room, with its forest-green walls and soft light, offers a calmer atmosphere than the Peony Room. It sits on the 3rd floor of the house and overlooks the treetops below, which are the same color as the walls. This room is soaked in a nostalgic feeling and perfect for groups of family and friends with 2-3 people.
Between the Chrysanthemum Room has its own indoor terrace within the room. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a meal or just to relax as you look down on the lit garden below. Parties of 2-4 people can rest comfortably on the soft tatami floors here.
The Between the Plum Room casts you in a warm alcove of delightful light. It’s smaller than its counterparts (fitting only 1-2 people), but the wide window and glass sliding doors make it seem much larger. The treetops are so close that if you opened the window in spring, cherry blossom petals would flutter in.
The Between the Pine Room transports you back in time with its authentic Showa Era furniture. Like the Chrysanthemum Room, it features its own indoor terrace where you can enjoy a meal while taking in the sights of the surrounding landscape. 2-3 people can fit in this cozy room.
The chefs of the Suma Kagetsu House believe in “cooking with purpose,” and design their menus to follow the seasons. Their ingredients are almost exclusively from local areas like Taijima and the Seto Inland Sea. The cuisine features delicately balanced seasonings and changes slightly depending on seasonally-available ingredients. Also, the meals are a perfect blend of time-honored Japanese fare with modern flourishes. This makes the food here the perfect mix of tradition and trend. You can taste the essence of Japan in each mouthwatering bite.
You can find a variety of dishes between the lunch and dinner menus, as well as meals for children. Most dishes are "set meals," meaning that they include plentiful sides of vegetables, rice, pickles, and so on to complement the main entrée. You can choose among seafood, noodles, or Kobe Beef prepared in a variety of styles.
Kobe Beef’s popularity outside of Japan is rising at exponential rates. This means more farmers are exporting their beef rather than selling it domestically. The increase in exports has made the already exclusive meat even rarer, so the cost of Kobe Beef has steadily risen. The staff at Suma Kagetsu House do everything they can to give you the best price with an exceptional experience.
The soft, wood floors and exposed timber contrasts with the bright sun rays that spill in from the windows during the day. At night, the restaurant is lit by soft, Showa Era gas lamps. A comforting sense of calm hangs in the air of these old walls, like at a beloved grandparent’s home. You’ll feel no rush to finish your meal; you’ll want to savor every bite. Enjoy the view of the garden outside, where cherry blossoms bloom in the spring and look out to the sapphire Osaka Bay as its waves dance for you below.
While many of the dishes feature mouth-watering Kobe Beef, there are plenty of options available to vegetarians. Consider their soba set meal, which includes white buckwheat noodles surrounded by a bounty of local vegetables. For a light meal try the Chidori set that comes with a diverse collection of appetizing bites like seasonal seafood and vegetables. Children can also enjoy the fun of getting several courses served to them with the Children’s Party set that includes masterfully-fried tempura that even kids will enjoy and savor like an adult.
You don’t need to be a guest to enjoy their restaurant. Although, if you are, consider getting sukiyaki or shabu shabu (Japanese stews with beef) sent to your room. For a snack, check out their afternoon tea menu where you can choose between matcha with a traditional Japanese sweet, or English tea with a set of bite-size cakes, Japanese desserts, and savory snacks.
When the weather is pleasant, patrons (including those who won’t be staying over) can also enjoy a relaxed meal in the garden with a packed lunch. The restaurant can also pack Kobe Beef lunchboxes. When the cherry blossoms bloom in April, this is a great way to enjoy the flowers at your own pace.
In early spring, the immediate area surrounding of the Suma Kagetsu House overflows with cherry blossoms that fill the air with their soft fragrance. It’s possible to enjoy ohanami—cherry blossom viewing—as you sit back in the garden with a packed lunch of Kobe Beef.
In contrast to the more popular areas like Ueno Park in Tokyo, the Suma Kagetsu House is a place where you can sit and relax amongst the petals rather than trudge through the meandering crowds. During this season, you might be lucky enough to see a Japanese-style wedding party on the weekends. Outside of the cherry blossom season, the surrounding lands make a great place to hike amongst the greenery and witness some beautiful panoramic views of the sea below.
From the Suma Kagetsu House, it takes about 5 minutes to descend to the foot of the mountain. The nearby seaport offers fishing tours for travelers. Head further along the shore to reach the Suma Rikyu National Park. Once owned by the Imperial household, the gentle hillside of the Suma Rikyu National Park offers a Japanese garden, greenhouse, and a French rose garden that blooms in the autumn. The Suma Rikyu National Park was the marriage site for Emperor Heisei.
Head to the Sumaura Koen Station to get to downtown Kobe. Taking the train or driving to the city both take about 20 or 30 minutes, but Kobe’s rush hour traffic can get heavily congested on the highway. In Kobe, you can enjoy shopping or one of their famous jazz clubs for a bit of relaxation and fun. Compared to tourist-packed Kyoto and Osaka, Kobe is a relaxed city with all the modern amenities of Osaka, and all the beauty and history of Kyoto. When staying in Kobe, make your next reservation at the Suma Kagetsu House!
Final Note: Costco is a 30-minute drive in the opposite direction of downtown Kobe. I was surprised to hear Mr. Takao Kanai, the guesthouse’s owner, claim that many of his guests find this a point of interest when they stay at the Suma Kagetsu House!
To book your next stay in Kobe at the Suma Kagestsu House e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org