My family and I stayed at Kikuya in Akasawa this past weekend. The house is very traditional, but there is a modern kitchen and a clean and bright toilet facility. From the moment I arrived at Kikuya, I instantly felt transported to a different time. Before dusk, I started to close the wooden shutters that surround the house. These shutters transform the outdoor corridors, seen below, into intimate indoor spaces. The task of closing the shutters was not an easy one, but it was interesting to discover the craftsmanship of Japanese carpenters through this mundane task of old. The most interesting part of the process was discovering how to lock the shutters from the inside.
Once my family was safely ensconced behind the shutters, we sat around the traditional hearth for our evening meal. Although we did not use the hearth for cooking, it still felt as if we were sitting around a fire. Sharing a meal in this manner was comforting. The experience not only connected us to Japan’s past, but also to our human past.
Before we turned in for the night, we took a short walk to see the stars and listen to the forest. The evening sky was gorgeous. Moonlight revealed the silhouette of the surrounding mountains draped in low-lying clouds as stars twinkled overhead. We heard the distinct call of deer emanating from the forest above Akasawa, and they continued to call out all through the night as we slept. Once everyone awoke the next morning, I opened the shutters to reveal the scene below. The transformation from intimate space to open space provided my entire family with the opportunity to interact with the generous folk living in Akasawa.
The first sounds to fill our little house came from the temple located directly behind Kikuya. The local monk was chanting and tapping on a mokusho, a type of round wooden drum. It was enchanting to have this sound wash over us as we set about preparing our breakfast. Little did we know at the time how much we would interact with the monk and his family in the coming hours.
All the members of Mr. Ide’s family were very warm and generous. As Mr. Ide and I sat talking inside the temple for what seemed to be about an hour, his wife took my kids and her kids to a little shop in the village. Unsurprisingly for Akasawa, the owner of the shop gave them all orange jelly for free. Later, my kids and the Ides’ children played soccer in front of the temple. I asked Mr. Ide if he experiences flow while he taps the mokusho and he admitted that even monks have difficulty attaining flow. It made me feel less like a loser and made him seem more like a normal guy.
One of the highlights of our morning in Akasawa was meeting Mr. Mochizuki. Apparently almost everyone in Akasawa has the same last name, but you can’t mistake this Mr. Mochizuki for anyone else as he is just so intriguing. First off, he has a man cave filled with things that make kids wide-eyed. He has bear skins, wild boar skulls, traditional Japanese masks, vintage sporting equipment and the like. Second, he has two hunting dogs that run through the forest so nimbly that it makes your head spin. Finally, he is extremely generous with his time. He entertained all my children’s questions and gave them each a handmade bamboo walking stick.
Just as we were about to leave the village, Mr. Mochizuki showed up with two bags of goodies. The first bag was full of walnuts he had collected in the forest. The second bag was full of sweet persimmons. I can’t tell you enough about how kind the people in Akasawa are to outsiders. Everyone, including the few tourists we bumped into, seemed to be in a good mood. Nobody was complaining about the concerns of everyday life. There were no disgruntled tourists. There were no traffic jams. It was peaceful. I heartily recommend an overnight stay in Akasawa Shuku.
On the previous afternoon, before my family joined me in Akasawa, I discovered an old inn that was being refurbished. The name of the inn, Osakaya, can be seen in reverse painted on the bamboo umbrella below. I was assured by the gentlemen doing the work that the inn should open in November. As this inn is focusing on backpackers, the price per night could be as low as ¥3,900 per person.
UPDATE: Osakaya can now be booked on Airbnb. You will have to bring your own food, but there is room in the guest fridge. In addition, you are allowed to use the kitchen facilities. The inn is just a 30-minute walk from the entrance to Mt. Shichimen. Moreover, there is a bus from Minobu Station that takes you to Sumise bus stop near Akasawa Village. The proprietor of Osakaya told me that he often picks guests up from the bus stop. Enjoy your stay!
Take the JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line to JR Shizuoka Station, change to the Limited Express Fujikawa bound for JR Minobu Station (departures at 8:17, 9:41, 11:41, 13:39, 15:40, 17:40, 19:40). You can also access Minobu from JR Shinjuku Station in 3 hours by taking an express train to JR Kofu Station on the JR Chuo Line. Once you arrive in Kofu, you will change to the JR Minobu Line for JR Minobu Station. Once you have arrived at JR Minobu Station, you can take a bus to Sumise Bus Stop which is located in a small village between Akasawa Village and Mount Shichimen. The buses are infrequent, so plan to arrive at JR Minobu Station at an appropriate time. You will find the Sumise Timetable below.