Japan offers a variety of accommodation styles. I will describe an example of three different types in Katashina for you – a Ryokan, a Pension & a Minshuku:
Umedaya Ryokan, located in the centre of Kamata, started its business in Meiji 23 (1890) when business men from Numata came to Katashina for its booming silk and wood sales. At that time people still traveled by horse or foot, so they had to find a guesthouse to stay for the night. This traditional Japanese ryokan has been passed down from generation to generation for more than 100 years – making it the 2nd oldest guesthouse in Katashina.
The hard-working Yukie-san – the current Okami-san (the owner), and also my host mother, always dressed in her traditional Japanese jumpsuits called ‘samui’ – explains to us that she will eventually pass the ryokan on to the 5th generation, namely to her oldest son, who is also responsible for creating the appetizing meals in the kitchen.
Katashina’s Umedaya Ryokan is renowned for its clear outside and inside onsen that contain a weak alkaline content, which is said to be very effective for the skin. Okami-san, with a warm smile on her face, proudly explains that the special qualities have been recognized and hence Umedaya is part of Hitou, Japan’s Association of Secluded Hot Spring Inns. This is an organization of 300 inns throughout Japan that aim to conserve and maintain traditions, our natural environment and a unique onsen experience.
Yukie-san and her family have 12 rooms for their guests; these are all traditional Japanese style: tatami floors, sliding doors and futon. Each room is named after a local alpine flower and has a garden view or even a little terrace. When staying in a ryokan it is tradition to revitalize the body and mind through finding peace and appreciating nature’s beauty by relaxing in the natural onsen, slipping into the given Yukata, enjoying freshly prepared food and gazing at paintings & landscapes.
Umedaya additionally offers breakfast and dinner. The dinner is served in a special tatami room where the tables are separated by Japanese room dividers. You feel like a shogun (a very high military chief from the 8th century) when kneeling on the tatami floor, sipping on your sake, with a table in front of you that is covered in many little mouthwatering dishes. Overall, Umedaya is much more than just a place to sleep – it is an entire unique experience.
Pension Currants is a place where you can relax in a homey and European atmosphere. Sakae-san and Keiko-san built and started their pension 30 years ago. Keiko-san once baked bread with currants (corinthian raisins) – and this is where the name originates from.
As soon as you slip into the slippers at their doorstep you are indulged in their very welcoming snug and friendly vibe. Keiko loves to travel herself and has explored more European countries than I have seen so far. She carefully gathers souvenirs and inspiration from all the places she visits. As a result, the pension radiates a very European spirit.
Furthermore, the pension serves delicious food made from Katashina’s local products – here you can eat freshly baked bread with Setoyama-san’s organic iikarakan flour, Ichio-san’s Oze Tofu and plenty of healthy seasonal vegetables.
Keiko-san loves to cook & bake, and not just in her decorations, but also in the kitchen she likes to create a fusion of Japan & Europe. Sakae-san will take the role as your waiter during the candlelit dinner but has the responsibility of cooking your perfectly golden omelet in the morning. The two are very open and interested in their guests. They speak basic English and if you ever have any questions or special requests feel free to ask them.
Pension currants has 10 rooms, some of them have a private bathroom. They offer both western style beds and Japanese style futons. The pension is only 500m away from the Marunuma Kougen – so a great place during the skiing season but also during summer to explore the nearby lakes, summer ski & luge, Mt Nikko-Shirane, along with everything else Katashina has to offer.
P.s. Ask for one of Keiko’s handmade bags out of recycled newspaper – they are great!
Miyama is a minshuku, a relatively big traditional Japanese style guesthouse similar to a bed & breakfast. Miyama is a good place to experience the Japanese style but at a relatively low price. Emiko-san, the okami-san (owner), with a constant natural smile and laugh lines, explained that Miyama has been a family business for 40 years.
Her parents were farmers that started their own restaurant for people to enjoy their freshly grown harvest. Their guests often stayed until very late, so they invited them to stay in their guestroom. This friendly habit quickly led to the opening of their own Minshuku.
Miyama offers different sized tatami rooms with futon. Additionally they have onsen, shared bathrooms, yukatas and serve traditional Japanese breakfast & dinner prepared from their own harvest. They grow a large variety of vegetables themselves, the list is very long: lettuce, tomato, cabbage, cucumber, rice, zucchini, sweet corn, beans, potato, radish…
The minshuku pays careful attention to their customers and the family is happy to share their culture and tradition. Emiko-san offered us some of her homemade mochi (sticky Japanese rice cakes) – Oishii! She told us about the process and led us to her backyard to show us the process of ‘mochitsuki’, mashing the rice to get that sticky texture.
The guesthouse is located in the Hotaka area, in Hanasaku – very close to Mt. Hotaka, Hotaka Bokujou, ski slopes and fresh streams. In addition, they will ask their customers what their plans are for their stay and hence offer a transport service on request.
There are many different guesthouses in Katashina – each with a different story, different falvours and different atmospheres. Come to Katashina to enjoy & learn more about Japan – the land of the rising sun!