For a week or two after our love hotel experience, I would joke with Japan about taking Carmen, our 13-year-old whippet, to a love hotel. This would either generate laughter or a stern look from Janet, depending on where she felt she stood vis-a-vis Carmen in the pecking order that day. However, I really thought I was only kidding until we were making reservations for a Thanksgiving Day weekend trip to Nikko. Since Thanksgiving is a time when many people on base take advantage of the four days off to tour Japan, house-sitters for Carmen were unavailable, so I asked a local travel agent if there were any hotels in Nikko that took dogs.
"Hai!" she said. "There's a hotel just for people with pets called Pensione Animale. Would you like to go?"
What else would the Japanese think of?! I could tell they've gone dog crazy, but a hotel for humans and dogs? Who would have thought?! At $160 a night (including Carmen) the price seemed steep for a pensione, but I thought it would be an interesting cultural experience. I don't think Janet felt she could say no, given the excitement with which I announced this finding to her.
Of course, Carmen, the aging racer that she is, seemed deceptively uninterested Nikko's history as we drove up the Tohoku Expressway toward Nikko, sleeping all the way. She was very little help finding the place, which we passed three times, and even had to be roused to get out of the car. So, though she didn't say, I'm sure she shared Janet's and my initial disappointment when Pensione Animale didn't look nearly as posh as it appeared on the website. The hall stairs were very steep and narrow, challenging the old girl (Carmen) to climb. THe rooms were sparten, with faux wood floors and two narrow beds that had to be pushed together, consistently catching Carmen in the crack. The bathroom was exceptionally tiny -- so small that the shower and sink ran off the same hose -- and the room was heated by a kersones stove sitting by the TV. The door jams were so low we almost had to duck to get in. I secretly worried that Janet, a veteran of Conrads and Ritzes, would be horrified, but that fear disappeard when Carmen gleefully hopped on to the bed and buried herself in the covers. Ah, she likes it!!
Even better, the hotel's sparse amenities concealed a very warm heart. The people running the pensione for the Animale franchise, were warm and friendly. Kenji was an aspiing chef just out of culinary school, and he put his heart into his cooking, despite munane ingrediants, creating tasty, if simple, meals. Mika spoke English, having studied, in all places, Nebraska and was friendly warm and adoring of Carmen. She didn't care if Carmen wandered into the kitchen during meals and she didn't make us leash her to the hooks they had attached to each chair for the normal dining room animals. Mika even checked on her when we were out temple touring. They were wonderful hosts.
Also important in the cool late fall of the mountains, the pensione had an outdoor, fenced in onsen, which built in ground so that Carmen could sleep in her dog bed at our level while we bathed. We had the place to ourselves every night, where we recovered from the cold touring of every day. Of course, we were the only guests in the hotel, which was kind of disappointing as we had hoped to see how some of the Japanese travel with their pets (they get cats at this hotel, too).
In the end, the experienced turned out to be hugely positive, though I'm not sure how Jabet's going to react when I reserve our place at the Pensione Animale on the Izu Peninsula this spring!
Directions: North of the main train station
1300, Kami-Hatsuishi-machi, Nikko
2828-5 Tokorono, Nikko
1560 Tokorono, Nikko
6-48 Yasukawacho, Nikko
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