Hepburn Springs in central Victoria is geologically very similar to parts of Japan; both are mountainous and have natural springs. Hepburn Springs is therefore a perfect setting for a Japanese spa and wellness retreat.
Shizuoka Ryokan is a wonderful place to nurture yourself and retreat from the stresses of day-to-day life. Ryokan is the Japanese word meaning traditional inn.
Shizuka Ryokan offers accommodation, breakfast, dinner and day spa services. However, it is the special touches that separate this retreat from other wellness resorts. The Japanese culture involves certain traditions that encourage relaxation; by following these traditions and rules you can gain an insight into another culture while you unwind and distress.
1. If you let it, your relaxation can begin as you walk along the stone path to reception. Japanese gardens are designed capture your interest and allow you to mindfully observe the landscape. Take a few deep breaths of the clean mountain air and remind yourself why you are here. (Hint: To Relax!)
2. Once inside, you are asked to remove your shoes. Sometimes people are annoyed at this eastern tradition – usually as they are hobbling around or frustrated with constantly tying and untying their bootlaces. Come prepared with some shoes that are easy to remove and make use of the stool provided. Slippers are provided. In Japanese homes, the dirt and stresses of work and the streets are left at the door with the shoes.
3. Allow the staff to look after your needs for the duration of your stay. Japanese people have a high standard of customer service and this is reflected at Shizuka Ryokan. The staff, Japanese and Australian, take great care in providing comfortable accommodation and serving delicious food in a calm atmosphere. Let them.
4. The rooms are Japanese-style and require special care. A futon is laid out on the woven tatami floor in the evening for you to sleep on. Shoes and slippers can damage the tatami flooring, so wear socks or bare feet. Shoji (paper screens) must also be handled delicately.
5. Minimise distractions. There are spa baths overlooking your own private garden. Guests are asked to respect others by not operating spa jets after 10pm. There are no televisions or Wi-Fi in the rooms and mobile phones should be used quietly. Guests are restricted to those over 16 years old.
Sinking into your deep spa bath as you gaze lazily out at your little Japanese garden while enjoying the quiet, you may just forget all the rules and traditions that have made this relaxation possible.
The following tips may help you get more out of your stay at Shizuka Ryokan:
1. If possible, plan ahead and book a spa service. One friend described her Shizuka massage as her "best ever ". I enjoyed a massage and a facial on one visit and would thoroughly recommend these to others.
2. The breakfasts are delicious. Take your time to enjoy your meal and surroundings. Guests are welcome to come to breakfast dressed in a yukata (a cotton dressing gown found in your room). Newspapers are available. I have found other guests to be polite yet respectful of others.
3. This place isn't cheap. Price-wise, Shizuko Ryokan compares favourably with other similar retreats in Victoria or an actual trip to Japan. However, I consider a stay here to be a rare treat. If you are interested in a visit but reluctant due to the cost, I'd recommend organising a mid-week break or "Liking" the Shizuka Ryokan on Facebook as discounts are sometimes offered.